Zimbabwe back on the front burner

Peter Godwin is a journalist who was born in Zimbabwe but who now lives in and works out of New York. He has written two excellent and profoundly moving books on Zimbabwe Mukiwa and When a crocodile eats the sun. His latest publication just out Fear – the last days of Robert Mugabe is quite extraordinary.

It is a blood-curdling account of how Robert Mugabe and his gang stole the March 2008 election, and the campaign of terror which they inflicted on the Zimbabwe people and especially Mugabe’s opponents in the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) during the election campaign and in the immediate aftermath of the election.

The publication of Fear is very timely as Zimbabwe is scheduled to have elections in 2011 – after the adoption of a new constitution. Without that new constitution the election will once again be rigged. The immediate concern is that, given rising tensions between Prime Minister Tsvangirai and Mugabe, if Tsvangirai withdraws from the shaky “inclusive” government which was formed nine months after the deeply-flawed election of March 2008, this would precipitate an early election – and nobody doubts that that election would be rigged.

In other words, an early election will favour Mugabe because, aside from the use of the police and army, the election would take place under the old constitution. And the intention was, and still is, that the constitution be reformed, so limiting the president’s far-reaching powers to appoint judges, arrest opposition members, and order mass crackdowns by Zimbabwe’s many security agencies prior to the election. Right now, however, no outside observer believes for one moment that the political climate is conducive for free and fair elections. As the Institution for Security Studies in Pretoria says in a statement:  “Draconian laws still exist, and the election will definitely be flawed as a result of legislation which denies members of the public the right to gather for rallies without police clearance.”

What is to be done?  South Africa’s President Zuma is on his way this week to Zimbabwe to press for the implementation of the terms of the “global agreement” and therefore the recognition of the MDC as an equal party in power. Zuma will be acting on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

To the extent that former President Thabo Mbeki achieved anything as far as Zimbabwe is concerned, it was the agreement on an “inclusive government”. However, when he had the opportunity, Mbeki failed dismally to pressure Mugabe into accepting Tsvangirai as an equal partner and implementing the more important terms of that agreement. In fact, Peter Godwin in Fear says:  “South Africa’s conduct in respect to Zimbabwe is nothing short of disgraceful” – a view which I and many South Africans share. For example, only last week Graça Machel, the spouse of former President Nelson Mandela and a member of The Global Elders, a group of world leaders who contribute their wisdom, leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems, said Mugabe and his administration had lost all authority. She diplomatically blamed SADC rather than the South African government “for dragging its feet for too long in confronting Mugabe to solve the crisis in Zimbabwe”.

With pressure now mounting on Mugabe, what is required is an international strategy which (I believe) should have four objectives: First, Mugabe must be pressured into immediately implementing the terms of the “inclusive government” agreement or face the extension of international personal sanctions against he and his cohorts; secondly, the constitutional reform process should be accelerated and allowed to proceed without interference by Mugabe’s goons; thirdly, the African and international community must start preparing all the necessary steps to ensure that the election (when it happens) is free and fair. And fourthly, the African and international community should jointly be ready to assist a duly-elected Zimbabwe government with the programme of reconstruction which circumstances require – because the stark and undeniable reality is that Zimbabwe and its citizens by themselves are simply not in a position to turn the situation around. This can only be done – and then only with immense imagination, skill, vision and significant funding – with direct help from the rest of Africa and the international community.

And who should take the lead? Not the South African government or SADC. They have had numerous chances to do what is needed. But here is an opportunity for Sipho Pityana’s recently established Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC). CASAC has the necessary moral authority, intellectual clout, and international credibility.

In approaching Zimbabwe, what must not be forgotten is that Zimbabwe had the best education system in southern Africa and was once rightly proud of its public and financial services. Even today, well-trained and highly competent Zimbabwe professionals can be found in companies all over the world. Most of them retain a lively interest in what is happening in their country. The measure of the success of the African and international response to the present Zimbabwe situation will be when these people start to come home.

Dr Denis Worrall is a South African lawyer, politician and business personality. He can be contacted at: [email protected]