The past few weeks have had a funny feel about them. Nothing you can put your finger on, just a sense that something is about to happen and we do not know quite what. Human senses can be like that. I recall a warm Matabeleland evening on a farm on the edge of the Matopo hills when a group of us were walking back to the farmhouse from a small dam. We had several small dogs with us and there were both adults and children. I had a feeling then that we were being followed. I turned and looked back to see if there was anything - nothing that I could see. But when we finally got to the house, a leopard came out of the grass at the side of the road, picked up one of the dogs and slipped away into the bush. So fast we were left wondering, "Did that really happen?"
Mugabe has just completed one of his forays onto the world stage - first a three-day State visit to Cuba and then his annual holiday in New York courtesy of the UN World Assembly. I am puzzled by the almost total absence of any sort of news about the Cuba visit. I saw a bit of television coverage - no sign of Fidel, just the Cuban Prime Minister looking very uncomfortable at a joint press conference. Silence means either something significant happened, or that nothing happened. I have a feeling that this time it was the latter. Mugabe has no friends left to whom he can turn to
This was clearly demonstrated in the China/Malaysia visit where he came away empty handed, we learn now that in fact the Chinese leadership told Mugabe that "so long as we are your only friends in the world, we will find it difficult to help you." In other words - "repair your relations with the other major players and then we will help". The Indians were even less accommodating - not willing even to entertain Mugabe and his entourage.
So we have the Mugabe regime about as isolated as any in the world - we do not have a nuclear programme to force others attentions and with which to threaten our region and play the "bad boy or else" game. But translating isolation into a democratic process of political change that will deliver the kind of transformation that we need to save the country is another matter.
As I write the opposition in Myanmar (Burma) is considering what they should do after 17 years of resistance and campaigning for change. Their leadership still under house arrest and a military Junta still in power and enjoying the connivance and support of its neighboring countries like Thailand and Malaysia. Are we destined for a similar fate? Our neighbors tolerating the state of affairs here simply because the effort to effect real change is just too much trouble?
But Mugabe is very vulnerable - he is 83 years old, has not set up a succession plan which might work, his ship is sinking fast - GDP will decline by up to 10 per cent this year - now down by 50 per cent in 7 years, export earnings continue to fall and the final nails are being driven into the coffin of agriculture so that farm output this coming summer will provide only about 20 per cent of our needs. Unless Mugabe is prepared to accept that up to half the population will either die or flee the country, he is simply running out of freeboard and the sea looks very cold and
The issue is what will trigger the required changes? If we look at the power brokers in Zanu PF - Munangagwa and Mujuru (the husband not the wife), they are desperately looking for a way out of this dead end alley. They have canvassed this with the MDC seeking assurances that they cannot expect about the safety of their persons, freedom and assets (ill gotten gains). They have looked long and hard at fighting their way back to the shore - a strategy that requires further manipulation of the constitution to give them more time (extending the term of the President to 2010 or making it possible to appoint a successor for two years until fresh elections are held in 2010).
They are considering who might be in the team at that stage - Simba Makoni as a fresh face with a decent smile as President, Munangagwa as a tough street fighter as Prime Minister (more constitutional gerrymandering). John Nkomo and Mai Mujuru as Vice Presidents to give the team ethnic balance. Their problem is that even while they consider what to do and what staff changes to make in the captains cabin, the boat they are all riding in is actually sinking rather fast. Survival depends on millions of its passengers bailing out - weakening the opposition and reducing the cargo in the hold. Even this may not be enough and unless they can stop the crazy antics of those who are drilling holes in the bottom of the boat - like Chinamasa,
Mutasa and Chombo, this tub is still going to the bottom and then we are all in the drink - whatever our allegiances and position today.
The suggestions that the MDC abandon ship and set up an alternative government in another boat a safe distance away from this sinking ship, is not workable. Talk about us leading a charge on the Bridge and taking control is also not a workable strategy - workable, I said, it may be tempting but in fact in today's environment unlikely to work. So we are left with pressure on those on the Bridge - from those who will be most affected by the final sinking of this particular ship. From those who can offer safety to those who fear the worst from the sea.
The signs are all there that such approaches are taking place - South Africa remains steadfast - "we are here, right next door, you can see us from the Bridge, we can help - but first you must agree to certain conditions". The Captain of this sinking ship may splutter and explode with anger at the stated conditions, but he is no longer in any position to bargain. Even Mr. Anan has offered to come and look at the situation - from the safety of a helicopter - but he too has stated that if we want that to happen then we must concede the conditions the South Africans have laid down. No less.
This morning the BBC covered a story about the UN granting emergency relief worth US$30 million to help the victims of Murambatsvina. While they covered the story they showed footage shot secretly by local volunteers of the conditions in Zimbabwe. The pictures were disturbing to say the least. There is now no doubt that thousands are dying away from the reach of the television cameras, but those on the Bridge know this as do those next door offering help. The question is how much longer before a warning shot is fired across their bow?
Bulawayo, 28th September 2005
Zimbabwe, Eddie Cross,