The situation is at its most dangerous point

The debate in the House last week on the budget for 2011 was very interesting. All 19-portfolio committee chairpersons presented their views on the budget to a quiet and attentive House. It’s not normally like that – it fact it can get pretty rowdy and rough at times as the contesting parties take sides on issues

There was a different atmosphere – almost bi-partisan as these committees delivered their views on the new budget.

What was interesting is that the views expressed represented both sides and the leaders of both major parties were not happy with the outcome. I listened carefully as several Chairpersons from Zanu PF presented their reports and was pleasantly surprised at the moderation and sensible nature of their points of view. Several MDC Chairpersons delivered reports that were decidedly not MDC views, and that also was a surprise. The atmosphere was serious business and represented a radical change from the politics of conflict that have prevailed hitherto.

Not for long, the budget is a very tough document that seeks to balance limited tax revenues against massive reconstruction and rehabilitation needs and the demands of 250 000 civil servants who get less than the accepted Poverty Datum Line in salaries and other benefits. Members of the House did not make things any easier, demanding that they be recognised as senior members of our society and remunerated accordingly for what they did. That did not go down well with the general population who saw it as a group of powerful people seeking to raise their own incomes above the rest of the community.

The Minister had no choice but to refuse to try and accommodate the views of the committees. A pity really, because it was an opportunity lost. Even if there was no money to accommodate their demands, their views should have been respected and heard. Instead we quickly moved back into conflict mode with Zanu PF threatening to block the passage of the budget and MDC gearing up to test its strength. Later, once the budget had passed, the majority of the Zanu PF members left the House and the MDC majority then passed its controversial revision of the Public Order and Security Act; the first major change to repressive legislation since the days of Ian Smith and its predecessor “the Law and Order Maintenance Act.”.

A very seasoned and experienced political commentator in South Africa once advised me that the “most dangerous time for an autocratic regime is the day it starts to institute reforms”. We are well beyond that day in Zimbabwe and the bipartisan discussion in the House followed by the radical changes to POSA signalled that despite all the efforts of the autocrats to claw back some space, the pace of change in Zimbabwe is accelerating and is rapidly becoming irreversible.

The decision this week by Cabinet to nationalise and seize control of the alluvial diamond deposits at Marange, signals that even in the hallowed halls of power, the influence of the need for real change is being felt.

In the wider realm, the recent visit to Zimbabwe by the President of South Africa had great significance. I hear continuous criticism of regional and South African leadership from all quarters, but we must recognise what they have achieved so far and what they have done recently. The Zimbabwe crisis is more than a century old. The past 30 years is a continuum to what went on once the small band of my forefathers arrived armed with the Gatling gun in 1893. We are still trying to sort out how to live and work together to build a better life for our people. In fact we could say that many of our problems stemmed from the day Mzilikazi decided to make Gubulawayo his home in the early 1820’s.

What is new about our present situation is that for the first time, it is African leadership that is making the decisions and guiding the solutions. For all its shortcomings, the GPA is an African construct and is being led by Africans. In recent weeks we have seen the SADC leadership toughen its stance on the implementation of the GPA, refusal to allow the GPA road map being violated and an insistence that the road map to an election must follow the reform process that is established by the GPA. I have said on several occasions that we must not underestimate the political commitment to the GPA process in the region and in Africa.

If we cast our eyes further up the continent we can see that the abuse of the electoral system in the Ivory Coast is not going to be accepted. Their membership of the regional body (ECOWAS) and the AU has been suspended. That would not have happened 10 years ago and is a clear sign that Africa is growing up.

What President Zuma did when he flew into Harare was to speak first to each member of the troika that manages our affairs, and then he met them jointly and made it very clear that he was speaking on behalf of the region and not just South Africa. He demanded that the troika fulfil their obligations under the GPA and agree to a road map to take the country through to an election as soon as possible – but following the reform process that is already contained in the GPA. He made it clear he wanted to see action immediately to get the road map adopted and progress in the stalled reform process resume.

The major problem for Zanu PF with this situation is that they realised, immediately after the GPA signing ceremony that their leadership had agreed to a reform process that would almost certainly result in their complete annihilation in any future poll. They started out by working with the MDC on the reform process and then, in a repeat of what they had done after the fateful Kariba agreement had been signed on a Houseboat on the lake in September 2007, that they had gone too far and they tried to back track.

In 1997 this had worked because the President of South Africa was still willing to allow every opportunity to give Zanu PF a chance to reform and retain power. In 2010, that is no longer acceptable and Zanu PF, for the first time, is being required to face up to its obligations under an agreement that they have signed. Their response to these demands by the region has been silence. Zanu PF is always dangerous when they are silent and we will probably have to wait until after their annual conference to see how they will handle this new situation.

I do not believe that they can say no to SADC and South Africa. We are a land locked country and therefore vulnerable to the actions of our neighbours. In the past decade the MDC has always taken the high road in seeking change, not the easiest or the quickest, but best in the long term. During that decade we have not broken a window or raised a fist in political violence. Instead we have worked to achieve a peaceful, legal, democratic change of government. But for this process to be successful we had to have the support of the region. Not support for the MDC, but support for the process, leaving the Parties in Zimbabwe to then contest for power through the ballot.

For the neo-fascist, autocratic kleptocracy that Zanu PF has become, the real threat is this reform process. They know the people no longer support them and fear a real democratic election. The GPA offers them no alternative and it is their signature on that document that gives them nightmares today.