cc. With the rejection by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) (Tsvangirai) of the flawed Southern African Development Community (SADC) plan for a government of national unity, there are signs of further economic collapse, increased repression of civil society and opposition and increasing hunger and death for Zimbabweans. As Zimbabwe's crisis worsened, Kofi Anna...read more
cc. With the rejection by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) (Tsvangirai) of the flawed Southern African Development Community (SADC) plan for a government of national unity, there are signs of further economic collapse, increased repression of civil society and opposition and increasing hunger and death for Zimbabweans. As Zimbabwe's crisis worsened, Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter and Graca Machel were banned from pursuing their humanitarian mission to Zimbabwe. They are members with Nelson Mandela of the Elders, a group of former leaders who try to resolve conflict. The cancellation of their visit came as a deadly cholera epidemic spread, amid reports of 20 prisoners dying daily of disease and malnutrition.
The revived ZANU-PF militarised government under the control of Mugabe and the Joint Operations Command (JOC) - which may well call itself a government of national unity (aka impunity) - is interested only in its own survival and has no solution (or even perhaps desire for one) to the problems facing ordinary Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe has been without a government for six months and things are falling apart. In the words of an academic and activist I interviewed during a recent visit we are seeing again 'the DNA of liberation movements allergic to giving up power to ‘civilian’ parties'.
On 14 November, an MDC communiqué at the end of a national council meeting criticised SADC, said it would peacefully campaign against any unilateral government appointed by Mugabe, and called for internationally-supervised new elections. It further alleged that since the signing of the power-sharing agreement on 12 September, Mugabe had pursued an "obstructionist approach" and an "entrenched power-retention agenda" including the "crafting of an assassination plot, codenamed Operation Ngatipedzenavo, intended to eliminate the MDC leadership", amid a wider campaign of violence and intimidation aimed at the party "and the people of Zimbabwe".
Thokozani Khupe, deputy leader of the MDC, said that although the MDC remained committed to dialogue, before joining a power-sharing government it wanted a constitutional amendment defining and implementing the terms of the power-sharing deal, especially defining the new post of prime minister, supposedly to be filled by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Further talks this week in South Africa on a ZANU-PF sponsored draft amendment, are unlikely to provide a breakthrough given the latter was unilaterally-produced.
The power-sharing deal, brokered by SADC-appointed Thabo Mbeki (whom the MDC no longer wish to see as a ‘neutral arbitrator’), was meant to divide ministries fairly between ZANU-PF, Tsvangirai's MDC, and a breakaway faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara. Despite losing the election of March 2008, Mugabe was to retain the presidency, Tsvangirai was to become prime minister until new elections in 2012. But no constitutional amendment was passed to create the post of premier, and the deal was quickly overcome by stalemate over posts and powers, including the composition of the new National Security Council. One can also note, as a church activist said, it was contrary to the popular will that voted for Tsvangirai as President and almost got him as the Prime Minister.
Whilst the illegal ‘president’ Mugabe has yet again outfoxed his opponents, it is at the cost of his ‘own’ people’s lives and livelihoods with a failed currency, hyper-inflation of an independently-estimated 2.7 quintillion % (18 zeroes), lack of access to basic services, including water and the spread of once-tamed killer diseases like cholera with 300 (under-) reported deaths already. Zimbabweans are now ‘hunter gathering in a casino economy’ where the elite can still make vast amounts of illegal money for personal use.
Although ordinary Zimbabweans voice disappointment over the collapse of the 'Global Political Agreement (GPA) in which SADC only appeared interested in accepting Mugabe’s continued rule, despite its rhetoric of increased pressure – many still say no deal is better than a flawed deal. The entire system was designed for ZANU-PF rule and all the key personnel such as permanent secretaries would have remained in place under the agreement.
Many Zimbabweans cannot believe that the region is more concerned with maintaining stability and averting supposed post-Mugabe chaos than following its own principles of democratisation and free and fair elections. SADC appears to fail to see this is a government determined to stay in power, no matter what cost to ‘its’ people and indeed to the region. Even Botswana and South Africa, which made noises about getting tough with ZANU-PF (as indeed did Kenya), fell in line with Zimbabwe’s natural allies the Angolans, Namibians and Congolese in the interests of ‘African leadership solidarity’, not that many actual leaders were at the summit. This comes amid reports that 3,000 Zimbabwean soldiers (with up to 7,000 more expected), along with Angolans have been sent again into the Democratic Republic of Congo, alongside President Kabila's army against the Rwanda-backed rebels of General Laurent Nkunda. Mugabe was quick to respond to Kabila's invitation, for the rich pickings including diamonds, gold and copper.
The recent interview with South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma alleging the crisis was the fault of the EU and US ‘sanctions’ rather than one of internal bad governance marked a nadir even from her low standards of unquestioning support for the ZANU PF regime. But the South African cabinet seems unsure of its response; it threatened on 21 November not to release $30 million in agricultural aid until a power-sharing government is formed, linking the cholera crisis to the stalled formation of a government of national unity. SADC is equally unsure as to its response. Even though Zimbabwean human rights lawyer Gabriel Shumba won a challenge in the SADC courts that Zimbabwe had an illegitimate ‘government’, SADC limply said it would deal with Mugabe’s dictatorship as a de facto government. In which case the region, according to activists, is complicit in allowing basically 200-300 people to hold their countrymen and women to ransom. It still remains possible that African heads of state could insist on March 29 being implemented as they did in Kenya, but the likelihood decreases as ZANU-PF reasserts its internal and external control of the situation.
Zimbabwean civil society and mass-based movements and outside supporters will now be re-thinking strategies and it will need to be medium term. The regime is well ahead of them in this. The mass pre-emptive arrests of activists including of health workers protesting against the collapse of the public health delivery system on 18 November suggests that planning for a failed power-sharing agreement, including a dirty tricks campaign, was part of the JOC strategy. The failure to release activists arrested from the end of October onwards suggests backup for the allegations that the MDC, along with the Botswana government, is attempting violent regime change.
The JOC's main focus will be on winning elections – again at any cost such as happened between March and June 2008 - knowing that the region will remain toothless and the international community will be preoccupied with the multiple crises. The youth militia (‘Green Bombers’) are already being mobilised under the control of the senior military as the shock troops for a ZANU-PF victory. As ZANU-PF has more or less destroyed the education system it now has available and pliable youth at its disposal. There are reports from international NGOs of the hijacking of their meetings by youth militia. Military chiefs are attending all party meetings, although the rank and file dislike of this plus their dissatisfaction over the lack of seeds and fertiliser of this may be highlighted at the ZANU-PF congress in December .
It appears less likely that the MDC was as prepared for SADC’s pro-Mugabe ultimatum, although in the past, whenever SADC has been pushed to do anything, it proves to prefer the devil it knows. Up to that point and indeed in refusing to commit political suicide a la Joshua Nkomo in 1987, the MDC handled things well on not signing. And they had good advisers in South African ANC-linked Mac Maharaj and Cyril Ramaphosa Their playing and timing was right in terms of staying in the process whilst ZANU-PF was merely playing for time, counting correctly on SADC to bottle the decision.
Where does the MDC go from here and what kind of alliances can it form? Many in civil society refuse to get engaged with them and they have not had strong relationships with the churches, although discussions may begin. Like ZANU-PF, MDC is holding its party congress shortly (in January), although whether by then it will still be an 'overground' party remains to be seen.
The question will be not only what are its strategies, but also where the battleground will be? ZANU-PF will be wanting to fight in the rural areas and streets where it has the monopoly over the use of violence. The state is also pursuing MDC by tying them up with legal cases, including reason charges against. MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti. Elements of civil society – such as the National Constitutional Assembly and Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) - will continue to use the streets for peaceful purposes. But the MDC would prefer to continue pressing for democratic reform in parliament which is not only their comfort zone, but also where they have a majority if the Mutambara faction votes with them. However, currently Parliament has no money to sit and there is certainly not a legitimate government to respond to. The MDC also has to work out how to regain access to the rural areas where rural people might now "love the MDC but how can they show that support?", as an activist asked. Additionally the party structures are not in good shape after years of ZANU-PF's strategy of physical, personal and ideological violence directed against the party with no rebuilding initiatives.
ZANU-PF's strategy will be to combine violence against MDC supporters with attempts to suborn or buy off MDC MPs and thereby regain parliamentary power. Although the economy is on the rocks, ZANU can, if it has to bring back money from bank accounts of plundered money, attempt to suborn certain MDC MPs – a process described as ‘recruit, corrupt, incorporate’. The elite is still plundering the economy of an estimated $1.2b per month to Malaysian, Namibian and perhaps Botswanan banks to be invested in stock and property.
ZANU-PF alleged at the SADC summit that there were MDC military training camps in Botswana. A Zimbabwean fact-finding team is supposedly being invited by Gaberone to check out the allegations. What appears more sinister are the rumours that the Chinese arms shipments that eventually arrived in Zimbabwe were never delivered to the armouries. The implication is that they would be planted to discredit the MDC, allowing ZANU-PF to declare a state of emergency. MDC structures would then be (and arguably is already) under threat of being ‘disappeared’. Already 13 activists have disappeared after being arrested by police, and they have not been presented in court despite a court order. This is a trademark ZANU-PF strategy from the 1980s that surfaces every time the elite feel under attack. ZANU-PF moderate factions may also be under threat of being eliminated/ swallowed.
In this situation the Mutambara faction appears also to have little room for manoeuvre – it was largely rejected by the electorate outside Matabeleland, has been flirting with ZANU-PF on accepting the deal. But if it does so and goes into government with ZANU-PF, it is unlikely to maintain either its MPs or popular support. ZANU-PF also has major faction fighting. Former leaders of the opposition PF ZAPU party ,forcibly incorporated into ZANU in 1987, plans to break away from ZANU-PF as they felt sidelined by the GPA – building on a history of the ruling party neglect of and violence towards Matabeleland.
At the present time there does appear to be a greater desire than before to hold demonstrations against the political and social situation that Zimbabweans find themselves in. There are also reports from rural areas that local populations are putting pressure on chiefs, with communities refusing to accept chiefs they know have been implicated in murder, rape and such crimes. Rumours abound in Zimbabwe that any resistance to a new ZANU-PF government being imposed could lead to a military coup. There are also mixed views on whether the MDC could go to ground and sit it out or whether their structures will be irrevocably damaged.
In this situation where are the pressure points for solidarity activists? There is talk of using the 2010 World Cup as a pressure point, to call for the withdrawal of EU cooperation with SADC states (demands made by the UK Zimbabwe Vigil), increased sanctions against the ZANU-PF elite whilst maintaining support for the vulnerable inside Zimbabwe. The MDC-T which appears to reject further tightening of sanctions has called for African Union and United Nations resolution of the crisis. However their record of procrastination and world recession, events in the DRC, Iraq and Afghanistan, this could take five years with and many Zimbabweans dead by then,
In the aftermath of Georgia, it is unlikely that any serious attempt at pressure on Zimbabwe would get through the UNSC. The West may ratchet up sanctions whilst maintaining humanitarian aid, but little other action appears likely. Mugabe is now past the point of being swayed by international or regional criticism. Responses like ‘food bombing’ Zimbabwe if access proves difficult, or invoking the UN ‘Responsibility to Protect’ procedures (when governments fail to protect their own populations) are very difficult to get started and even harder to implement.
Two particular indicators of ZANU-PF’s desperate need for forex to maintain their rule and patronage were the allegations of stealing money from the Global Fund. The latter desperate to fund needy people living with HIV and AIDS has sought ways of getting the money to them without it going through the Reserve Bank which regularly steals forex. The other example was that major goldmines, a source of government revenue, had to shut down when the government did not pay over US$ 30 million owed them for delivering gold. Zimbabwe gets 40% of its export earnings from gold, but production for 2009 appears already under threat at a time of high world gold and metal prices. The money went on providing vehicles for judges, ministers and tractors to bribe the rural electorate.
Amid the hyperinflation and the Zimbabwe dollar having been replaced effectively by the US dollar, the last amount of sustainable resilience is now. According to the UNDP it will take the economy 16 years of interrupted growth at 5% pa to get back to levels of 1990. Meanwhile Zimbabweans unable to get US dollars (which is the vast majority), queue forever for cash that is about equal to their bus ride to get to the bank. Imminent famine is a major possibility with people already dying outside the ‘hunger months’ of February to April. Government unconcern shown by the banning of the Elders Group is matched by allegations of UN agencies being similarly unconcerned. There are already calls for increased humanitarian aid with lack of food possibly being compounded by drought. But according to some reports aid is holed up in bonded warehouses on Zimbabwe's border to be released as part of ZANU-PF's electoral strategy. All indications are that the harvest will be very poor with reports already of deaths from hunger (as well as cholera). The regime is trying assert control over food distribution and trying to unload any food aid in chiefs’ homesteads and thereby evade MDC councils.
Suggestions that humanitarian agencies state that until the political situation is resolved and the forex money that is regularly raided by the Reserve Bank is returned, they will withhold aid would be very difficult. 'The rainy season is upon us and land should have been prepared but you have to know someone to access seeds and fertilisers' stated a church development worker. She added that Zimbabweans are not likely to be fooled by the eventual release of humanitarian aid – they know it comes from overseas. The rural population has now got rid of all assets and agencies are trying to help survival through basic asset protection. At the same time when both survival strategies and ethics have gone, there was a story of the local MP buying animals from his constituents at knockdown prices in return for maize.
The regime ritually blames sanctions for all its problems but the ZANU-PF politburo was also reportedly deeply divided over whether Mugabe should keep Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor, Gideon Gono in post, although reports on 26 November suggest that he has been re-appointed for a second five-year term, extending his time in the post to Nov. 30, 2013. Some blame him for the state of the economy whilst others see his uses as someone prepared to print money to maintain the regime’s patronage networks. A rumour is that when he learned that as part of the GPA Mugabe had reluctantly handed over the finance ministry to Tsvangirai, Gono went to the US Embassy, to offer to exchange details of the looting of the country by Mugabe via share transfers and foreign exchange deals for US$5 million and residence permits in a western country for himself, his wife and indeed his mistress.
The GPA impasse means the dire socio-economic conditions are bound to worsen. The cholera outbreak led Médecins Sans Frontières to state that a million people could be at risk. However, innovatively, the police banned MDC rallies due to the outbreaks. More seriously, the regime cannot deny however that the health system has collapsed and overwhelmed medical staff are on strike. Major hospitals have almost closed down due to staff exodus and unavailability of drugs. The shortage of life-saving drugs in state-run hospitals has led to patients' relatives being told to try to find them at private pharmacies in town.
So where are the focal points for resistance to this multiple crisis? Civil society is seemingly divided on its on its strategy towards MDC with some calling for a united front and moving to prop up MDC grassroots support. There is the paradox of the MDC and civil society as seemingly natural allies that do not help each other. There is the common perception that the NGOs are too urban, elitist, male-dominated and middle class with no knowledge of how to organise communities. There has also been a great loss of personnel in the sector with the civics being described to me as practically non-existent. After three months the spaces that briefly opened up are now closing.
In terms of the role of churches it would seem that eventually there has been a much stronger attempt to bring unity. An international faith-based NGO has attempted to bring the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA) and the Protestant churches closer in a reconciliation initiative between ZCA, ZCC (Protestants) and EFZ (evangelicals). A communiqué from that meeting talked of the churches failing each other and hence the people. There is talk of the church involving itself in any truth and reconciliation process. A national conference is planned with an invitation to Archbishop Tutu on lessons of truth and reconciliation but also on the need for repentance and within church. This appears to open up opportunities even if there is vagueness on key issues and timeframes. There was also the desire to bring in the various Apostolic churches that in the past have provided support for ZANU-PF.
So how do international activists provide support but also ensure that in any kind of transition Zimbabweans themselves shape that agenda not just the North and the international financial institutions, and that there is no going back to the unequal system of ownership of resources, especially land, before 2000? There is need for a process that combines joint actions, greater coordination and activity between northern and southern-based actors on their respective states and institutions; learning and exchanges between European organisations and between Zimbabwean, Southern African and European civil society groups; development and adequate use of high quality, timely briefings on specific issues and influencing funding decisions and timings for Zimbabwe, and responding to developments in Southern Africa. Zimbabwe needs:
* Full and equal access to humanitarian assistance
* Commitment to significant Zimbabwean (diaspora as well as resident citizen) input into transitional and stabilisation programmes to overcome the dangers that a recovery process be too ‘stabilisation-oriented’ (without adequate social provisions), does not adequately deal with macro-economic issues such as debt clearance and be ‘appeasement-oriented’ (avoiding accountability and perpetrator responsibility);
* Restoration of the rule of law, including an independent judiciary;
* Commitment to the democratic process and respect for internationally accepted human rights standards, including a commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of print and broadcast media, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association;
* A commitment to timely elections held in accordance with international standards, and in the presence of international election observers.
It might need an international peacekeeping force to put these into place, but no-one is expecting this to happen. In its absence, work should build on the significant sustained and coordinated regional solidarity actions undertaken in southern Africa around the blockage of Chinese arms shipment and the SADC summits. Initiatives on Zimbabwe have been coordinated by Cosatu and other trade unions as well as civic movements and churches throughout the region and Africa. These regional developments provide a positive example for Africa-wide – as well as Northern – advocacy on democracy, human rights and social justice.
A South African activist pointedly said this needs to be combined with grassroots work far away from the focus on international / regional structures, legal frameworks, rule of law, election related issues etc. ‘Whilst important, these issues are so remote from the grind of daily reality and the emphasis, therefore must be placed on empowering poor people to cope / survive and god knows, even thrive, in a context where government services will not be resuscitated in the short to medium term future, and in so doing we need to engender a culture that does not reinforce dependency and 'wait' for government service delivery but seeks to develop parallel service mechanisms to deal with health, education, food security issues.’
* Sam Kabele is a human rights activist
Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said today it was determined to have former president Thabo Mbeki removed as facilitator before it would proceed with Zimbabwe's power-sharing negotiations. Tsvangirai, who accuses Mbeki of continuing bias against the MDC in the talks with Zanu PF, has written to President Kgalema Motlanthe asking him to remove Mbeki. He will travel to Dar es Salaam this weekend to seek Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete's support for the move. The long-simmering tensions between Mbeki and the MDC boiled over yesterday over an exchange of letters between them, as negotiations resumed in Gauteng. Tsvangirai's deputy Tendai Biti wrote to Mbeki on November 19, rejecting as a "nullity" the Southern African Development Community's (SADC's) demand that the MDC share the home affairs ministry with Zanu PF. Mbeki wrote back a strongly worded letter on November 22 to Tsvangirai in which he slammed the MDC for denigrating SADC and - according to the MDC - implied that the party was being influenced by the West. Mbeki wrote "It may be that … you consider our region and continent as being of little consequence to the future of Zimbabwe, believing that others further away, in western Europe and North America, are of greater importance." These remarks seem to have been the final straw for the MDC. Tsvangirai's spokesman George Sibotshiwe said today that the MDC would now formally withdraw from the negotiations until the issue of Mbeki's removal was resolved. However the MDC would continue to engage with the facilitation and other Zimbabwean parties but only in a "without-prejudice discussion."