Monday, September 18, 2006

Eddie Cross: Seven years of courage and determination

Seven years ago I sat in the aquatic stadium in Chitungwiza and watched as 8000 ordinary Zimbabweans - mostly low-income workers and rural peasant farmers, formed a new political Party, which they called the "Movement for Democratic Change". It was the start of a new era in Zimbabwean politics.

I seem to have been in opposition politics all my life. It started in the 60's when I was a student at the University in Harare and underwent a metamorphosis in political terms - discovering the conditions under which people were living and working and for the first time appreciating the
unjustness of the situation. I vowed to work towards resolving the problem and spent the next 12 years in opposition politics - working against the Smith government.

At independence in 1980 I was part of the transition team - working to help the incoming administration (Zanu or Zapu) to come to grips with what had been a closed book to the rest of the world for 13 years following the imposition of mandatory UN sanctions in 1967. I then worked on the first donor conference and did the background papers that laid the groundwork for a very successful transition in agriculture. Over the next 15 years the farm sector was Zimbabwe's most consistent performer.

Although I sympathized with the forces that came to power in 1980, I always had an uneasy relationship with them even though I occupied quite senior positions in the first 8 years of Mr. Mugabe's rule. This was accentuated in 1983 when I was brought face to face with the early effects of the Gukurahundi exercise and raised my disquiet with the then Secretary to the Cabinet, Charles Utete. I went on to raise my concerns with certain European governments and got my first serious reprimand and threat from the Minister of State Security, Emerson Munangagwa.

It was the beginning of the end for me - the last time I had been threatened by a Minister of Security, it was by a Minister in the Smith government who called me a "threat to national security". Somewhat exaggerated in my view at the time and also in retrospect, but as we have come to learn, political paranoia has no bounds.

I eventually parted way with the regime here in 1990 and participated in various attempts to initiate real opposition politics in Zimbabwe. Those attempts culminated in the failed Forum Party and then came the action by the ZCTU.

At the time I was Chairman of the Industrial Employers Committee for the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industry and in that capacity watched over the issues that related to the working conditions of the 300 000 workers in industry. I met with the ZCTU leadership several times a year - usually at a labour summit that paved the way for subsequent detailed negotiations with over 30 trade unions. The ZCTU exhibited much more courage than the employer's organisation in confronting the real issues and early on stated that our growing economic difficulties were due to poor macro economic policies and management.

Attempts by the Unions to get their voice heard fell on deaf ears and eventually they decided that they had to confront the ruling party in the one area where they had no choice but to listen - national politics.

A long process then began that eventually led to the meeting I was attending 7 years ago today. I attended as an employer and curious bystander. It did not go unnoticed and shortly after the first Congress - I was invited to join the leadership as Secretary for Economic Affairs. I have remained in the leadership since then holding various positions and trying to help in the one field where I can contribute - that of policy formulation.

None of us appreciated what we were letting ourselves in for that day. What followed has been, to some extent, the classical African nightmare: the collapse and implosion of post independence African economy that was handed over in reasonable condition by those who had run it before.

I can recall visiting Ghana in 1983 - seeing first hand for the first time just what a lousy government can do. Subsequently I saw the situation in many other African States that we had never been able to visit before our own independence process. It was not a pleasant experience; I saw countries decimated by war and bad policies, massive corruption and the complete subordination of the people's will and welfare to the needs and greed of a tiny minority in power.

But life does not stand still - Ghana is now a thriving democracy with a booming economy. Africa as a whole this year will grow at above the average growth for the global economy and generally experience inflation below 10 per cent. If we take South Africa and Zimbabwe out of the SADC the region is doing even better than Africa as a whole. This gives me the conviction that we will one day also see Zimbabwe turn the corner and rediscover the values and principles on which it's independence struggle was founded.

But in September 1999 none of that was in view - we were embarking on the long road back to sanity and in the process would see our own government destroy its economy and undermine every principle on which it had led the struggle for justice during the earlier regime. Since then we have seen
hundreds killed, thousands beaten and maimed and been slandered and mocked in all State controlled media. We as a Party have been subjected to regional ostracism and isolation as well as propaganda led by South Africa - the one country we thought might help and one that has the power to change things here overnight.

But we have survived - we certainly won the 2002 Presidential elections -probably by a two-thirds majority, we probably won the 2000 elections and the subsequent parliamentary election in 2005. In the process we have sacrificed and worked - our leadership has often gone to jail and been beaten. We have been infiltrated by State agents using their money and training to do so and have been failed by elements of our own leadership. But we have survived.

We know, better than most that that is not enough. Political parties are judged by history and by their ability to deliver real change and transformation for their followers, which we have not yet managed to do. But we remain the main threat to this regime and the only hope of a new and better Zimbabwe. No amount of reform is going to rescue Zanu PF and those who record our history are judging their leadership harshly. Their weakness, paranoia and failure was no better demonstrated this past week, when they arrested and then subjected to savage, brutal beatings, the entire elected leadership of our Trade Union movement because they dared to want to submit a memorandum to government on the problems of the workers in this country.

I want to pay tribute today to those who have had the courage to stand up to this tyranny in Zimbabwe. I looked at the roll of honor we keep at the MDC recording the names of those killed in politically inspired murders since 2000. They include many friends and I am proud that there are a number of white Africans listed there. We salute the ZCTU leadership, we salute our own leadership who participated and were also imprisoned and beaten this past week. We commit ourselves afresh to this struggle and to achieving a new and better Zimbabwe, one that will make us proud to be Zimbabweans again. The one thing this regime and its supporters need to know is that we in the MDC will not quit this struggle until we have achieved our objectives - those set for us 7 years ago by the real representatives of the people of this great country.

Eddie Cross
16th September 2006

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