From the Editor’s Keyboard

Zimbabwe: time for civil society to seize the space?

24 April 2007 at 14:22 | 416 views

Sam Kebele’s analysis of recent events in Zimbabwe highlights the internal and external complexities at work in the country. He considers the possibilities of a broad non-partisan front emerging from the ranks of Zimbabwean civil society with a common agenda. He suggests ways in which outsiders and human rights activists can support Zimbabwean civil society in effecting sustainable change in the country.

By Sam Kebele.

From last month, possibly for the first time, it seemed that in the African context, Zimbabwe was finally losing the propaganda war it had successfully pursued amongst its traditional allies.

The beatings in March of Morgan Tsvangirai and others flashed around the world caused an immediate drop in the Zimbabwe dollar of a quarter of its value. Any remaining tourism took another hit with mass cancellations at Victoria Falls hotels.

The strategies of the Zimbabwean state of both structural and physical violence reminiscent of the last years of apartheid seem to be both unravelling and becoming more vicious.

The combination of a centrally directed, presidential-inspired incitement to violence, securitisation of state institutions, state of emergency in all but name, use of informer networks and hit squads to destroy the opposition, and manipulation of the media seek to provide ideological justification for the demonisation of the opposition, and licensed informal violence.

Greater unity amongst independent democratic forces and the statement of the Catholic bishops conference unequivocally laying the blame for the first time for the current situation at the door of a ‘corrupt, greedy and repressive elite’ marks a significant step.

It is clear that regional uneasiness and internal ZANU PF struggles have created space for independent voices to organise for systemic democratic change. But, as in the scenarios that Mary Ndlovu outlines, there needs to be a realistic assessment of what can be done as well as strategic regional and international solidarity directed towards progressive targets.

The emergency Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders’ summit in Dar es Salaam on 29 March discussed the crisis. It appeared to give some succour to Mugabe’s regime, in line with its stance since the start of the crisis seven to ten years ago.

SADC appointed Thabo Mbeki, seen here in Zimbabwe as Mugabe’s chief defender, as mediator. It called for sanctions, i.e. the asset freeze and travel bans on Mugabe and cronies, to be lifted; and for the UK government to honour its land reform aid package promises.

Since these changes are unlikely to be implemented without some serious reform, this appears to some as yet more of the same non-interference and ‘Áfrican leadership solidarity’.

The alternative more optimistic assessment was that these two demands were a face-saving formula to get Mugabe to accept that SADC wanted an end to the crisis, which has begun to have a serious impact on the region.

For the first time there has been recent and outspoken public criticism of ZImbabwe from continental and regional leaders, notably the Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa, on more than one occasion.

This reading of the situation suggests there will be a more sustained engagement in Zimbabwe and the possibility for opening a space for manoeuvre.

Widely believed sources say that Mugabe was given the choice either to leave office at the end of his current term in March 2008, or to introduce significant reforms to end the economic and political crisis.

Many inside Zimbabwe felt that SADC could and should have gone much further in applying open political pressure. They argue that the regional organisation has dealt Mugabe a card to play.

The government press has certainly trumpeted the SADC statements as vindicating Mugabe’s speech to his fellow leaders: outlining his liberation war credentials, and berating the British as the sole cause of the crisis. One effect has been to give Mugabe a stronger hand to deal with his internal party critics.

At one point in the week of 26 March just before a politbureau meeting, sources within the Mujuru faction were reportedly informing journalists that they could persuade Mugabe to stand down for re-election in 2008. They allied opportunistically with the Mnangagwa faction (see below) to see off Mugabe’s bid to ‘standardise’ the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2010.

The assumption has been widely canvassed that Mugabe would become a ceremonial president with a Prime Minister. He would retire soon afterwards with no dangers of being whisked away to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Then opposition factions could re-engage with the West.

The problem for both factions was that Mugabe was too paranoid to trust anyone, and had probably seen that impunity often has a limited shelf life.

The party’s central committee, packed with Mugabe supporters such as the youth and women’s league, duly endorsed the president as their sole candidate for the 2008 elections.

This has left the two different factions on the back foot. Despite claims that this time they would force the issue of succession, they appear to have retreated. They are perhaps biding their time to see what the SADC mission looks like.

At face value though, and as has happened without fail in the past, Mugabe has proved a better street fighter when he has his back against the wall than his would-be party presidential opponents. But the deep rifts in ZANU PF are very unlikely to go away.

It is far from certain, however, that Mugabe will automatically see off his critics outside the party whether internal, regional or international.

There was huge support for a signed petition in the press from regional civil society. There is considerable international support for the ZCTU stay away on 3-4 April. There has also been consolidation of concern and critical statements from church leaders. The deposing of the President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), Trevor Mananga, who was suspected of getting to close to the ruling party, and who denounced the ZCTU stay away on state television, points to renewed energy amongst opposition forces, and possibilities for change.

Since the late 1990s, Zimbabwe has been trapped in major interlinked crises that have resulted in economic and political free fall. This situation has been described by diplomatic sources, even with the examples of DRC and Somalia in mind, as ‘just about unsustainable’.

A series of disastrous land reform policies; the adoption by ZANU-PF of draconian measures curbing civil and political liberties; a devastating HIV/ AIDS epidemic; widespread hunger and food; 80 per cent unemployment in the formal sector has driven tens of thousands of professionals to leave the country to find work abroad in the region and Europe.

This was compounded by the attack on urban dwellers known as Operation Murambatsvina (‘clear out the filth’). Inflation is now running at 1,720 per cent and rising, expected by the IMF to hit 5000 per cent by the end of the year.

The Fund says Zimbabwe is losing control of its economy. Anecdotal evidence is of the government having to visit the parallel market to gain US dollars to pay off debts on a day-by-day basis. Fiscal deficit is 40 per cent of GDP, which has fallen by 35 per cent.

Official UN statistics show that life expectancy for women is now just 34 years. The HIV infection rate has been 25 per cent, one of the highest in the world.

Zimbabwe has fallen 23 places over the last decade in the ranking of the world’s poorest countries and now stands as the 145th poorest out of 177 ranked countries (UNDP Human Development Report 2005).

So what is the likelihood of serious change? For those who remember some of their Leninist theory, the ideal conditions for radical change include fractures in the state and its apparatuses, unity of the opposition with a vision, leadership and a strategy, serious multiple crises and significant outside support.

It is hard to say that any of these major elements are in place, although there are some recognisable characteristics and opportunities for the development of more. According to a young civil society activist the current choice is between ‘Á New Zimbabwe’ or Somalia’.

There are other options beyond this binary interpretation, including the danger of a tainted and compromised transition brokered by the region with the support of the West. This could leave in place the systemic features of the repressive and kleptocratic regime, impunity and little real democratic change.

There is a danger that there will not be adequate forces to prevent this as many in Zimbabwe may accept this arrangement, especially if accompanied, as it was apparently proposed at the SADC meeting, by a substantial rescue package put together by the US and UK governments. It would probably save lives.

In terms of possible fractures in the state, divisions, often underpinned by ethnic rivalries within and without the majority Shona-speaking group, have been endemic in ZANU-PF for many years, although they have sharpened considerably over the last year.

Mugabe has been able to use and contain divisions with lesser or greater degrees of coercion, given his awareness of ‘where the bodies are buried’.

The current major divisions are between the equally corrupt Vice-President Joyce Mujuru (and husband Solomon) and Emmerson Mnangagwa factions, all of whom represent the ageing liberation generation.

Mugabe appears to retain most support. Although now arguably a faction leader himself, he remains dominant and is unlikely to be unseated before 2008.

As a result of the fallouts, Mnangagwa’s faction may be on top at the moment. Since Mugabe has explicity attacked the Mujuru faction for plotting against him, it might be now or never for Mnangagwa since he is widely believed to be dependent on anti-retro virals.

Much of the faction-fighting - beyond the usual desire for power and control of resources - is over who controls the army, Mugabe’s power base. The army controls most of the major institutions of the state and is likely to be a power broker in any new situation, through, it is generally thought, Solomon Mujuru, given his former position as liberation war vet and post independence army commander.

At his recent 83rd birthday party, Mugabe attacked Joyce Mujuru in a long rambling tirade that even ZBC felt obliged to censor - in itself an amazing step. Joyce it is understood subsequently to have resigned, but was reportedly persuaded by her husband to withdraw it.

Mujuru remains one of the richest men in ZImbabwe. Whilst he is largely believed to have significant army support, there is talk that this is not as strong as previously thought. There may be elements in the army who prefer Emmerson Mnangagwa to come out on top in the feuding over who would succeed Mugabe.

Whether there would be actual armed violence between the two factions is a matter of debate with younger activists seeming to expect it and older ones less sure. However, there have been no reports of conflicts so far. If they do occur, the point of conflict may be the recently discovered diamond field (se below) in which the Mujurus have a stake. There are also reports of plenty of buried weapons just over the border, from Mozambican war days.

There have been reports of great disaffection within the lower ranks of the army and police, even within the presidential guard, with reports of shootings at State House (and allegedly 22 executions, although in Zimababwe wild rumours are not uncommon).

It is believed that the presidential guard now consists of Congolese troops which suggests a deep mistrust of Zimbabwe’s own military. The lower ranks have also seen an increased rate of desertions which the regime has been unable to stem even by using the war veterans and the Green Bombers.

Reports of the imminent deployment of Angolan police units have been denied, with Luanda claiming they are providing ‘training’ to help replace the deserters. If, as is claimed, 3,000 Angolans will be deployed, this is clearly more that just a training mission.

There are also no facilities to support their deployment. According to the (London) Times correspondent, the police being sent are supposed be the dreaded Ninjas, famed for their brutality in Angola and in action against illegal garimpeiro miners from the DRC - which may not be coincidental.

If the Angolans are sending police, this strategy could backfire by generating further resentment from the ranks of the ZRP indigenous police as well as the population. Even the Angolans stressed the need for peace and security in overcoming internal problems.

It would not seem necessary that the Zimbabwean police need training in handing out beatings. There have been suggestions that the beatings meted out on and since 11 March are the responsibility of several special units, possibly including army in police uniforms. The violence also suggests the involvement of special units in ‘black operations’, such as the attacks on police stations and a passenger train - which the regime subsequently used as part of its propaganda in the region to portray their actions as necessary in the face of ’terrorism’, which the state claims is being orchestrated by the MDC. The confessions in the Mail and Guardian at the beginning of April of ‘John Gweru’, a special operative in the Charlie Four hit squad, provide disquieting reminders of the tactics of the last years of apartheid.

For the people, the major problem remains the expected massive food deficit of 1.2 million tonnes (Zimbabwe needs 1.8m tonnes), and the likelihood of politicisation of any aid, especially in an election.

The region as a whole needs to monitor this situation far more carefully than for instance at the time of the 2005 election. Assuring independent verifiable information must be made a central component of the mediation.

The government continues to deny there is a problem, yet in one incident a permanent secretary is believed to have followed the visiting World Food Programme head out of a meeting saying that he had made denials of food shortages because CIO intelligence people were present in the meeting and that Zimbabwe really did need emergency and food aid.

Only belatedly has the country asked the EU to provide food aid. Nor is the region likely to help out with maize, given shortfalls and drought in countries such as Zambia and South Africa: the latter will have to import in a situation of high world maize prices. Malawi may have a surplus, but wishes to build up a strategic reserve. Discussions about a regional food security stockpile are only in an early stage. The UN has already launched a US$215 million appeal, of which $62m is for food aid. The Zimbabwe government has so far imported 400,000 tonnes to cover deficit. Zambia says it will honour existing contracts.

On energy, South Africa will also need all it produces and Zimbabwe is in debt to ESKOM (the South African energy parastatal), Mozambique and to SNEL, the Congolese power authority, which was in Harare in early April chasing the money it has already been promised several times.

Tobacco farmers who provide much of the foreign exchange are in dispute with the government over price and are not bringing their reduced crop to the selling floors.

So are the Zimbabweans losing their automatic regional and continental outside support? The Zambian president Mwanawasa, who will be the next chair of SADC, has compared Zimbabwe with a sinking Titanic - a statement that drew an immediate visit to Lusaka from Zimbabwean officials.

This followed a visit from Jakaya Kikwete, president of Tanzania and head of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security. The SADC troika of Tanzania, Lesotho, Namibia allegedly want Zimbabwe to be top of the agenda at the next organ meeting (or did do before the recent summit). As well as being tasked with re-engagement with Zimbabwe and with the SA ambassador having had talks with Tsvangirai, the South Africans had already made it clear that they wanted commitment to at least formal democratic practices.

Furthermore, given their own history and that of the region, a declaration of a formal state of emergency would be received very negatively. It is arguable of course that Zimbabwe already has an informal one given the defiance by the state of its own repressive legislation e.g. refusing to obey court orders on allowing the opposition to stage rallies.

The ACP countries are also planning a special mission, according to diplomatic sources. Harare is said not to be resisting - presumably on the grounds they can continue to play the line: ‘imperialists are using terror against us’. Leaders of the African Union and African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights have offered to help Zimbabwe. This marks a further stage on from initial non-interference, then concerns expressed over Operation Murambatsvina, and now offers to help. Credibility will no doubt depend on what any mission does and who it talks to, and not falling for the benign guided tour Harare is likely to provide.

It seems unlikely that Harare’s historic allies, the Angolans and Namibians, will abandon their fellow invader of the DRC - despite reports that the Brazilians warned Angola not to overtly support Mugabe. But interestingly, the Namibian president remained silent during the Mwanawasa statement.

There is of course China and the ‘Look East’ policy. This policy follows a long line of failed rescue initiatives from the Libyans to the Malaysians. But each of those in the end want something in return for support, and the Zimbabweans had little to offer. According to diplomats, the Chinese are ’risk averse’ and were tired of the Zimbabweans claiming after meetings that the Chinese would be providing support e.g. building a steel mill - a story the Chinese immediately denied. Zimbabwe was notably absent from the itinerary for the recent Chinese Premier’s visit.

The five person Southern African team charged with negotiations and coming up with solutions looks like being coordinated from the President’s Office by Rev Frank Chikane, a one time key anti-apartheid activist. According to reliable sources, the Tanzanian president, Kikwete, will be brought in to talk to Mugabe, Mbeki will liaise with the MDC, AND South African local government minister Sydney Mufamadi with ZANU-PF. There are two deputy ministers and two other DGs as part of the team.

This will occur against the background of the US and EU looking at how they might sharpen up existing ‘sanctions’. Such sanctions possibilities might be extended to include relatives of those banned from travelling to the EU, business leaders of ZPF companies or to widen areas.

SADC’s call for the lifting of sanctions is a sign of moral disapproval rather than a serious overture to ease Zimbabwe’s economic woes, despite claims by Harare that sanctions are responsible for the economy’s collapse.

It is highly unlikely that there would be major investment anyway given the economic downturn and extremely unfriendly investment climate with threats to nationalise major parts of the economy. One possible advantage to the Zimbabwean government is, as stated, the recent discovery of a major diamond field near Marange whose ownership is disputed and could exacerbate tensions within ZANU PF. However the possible deal with Equatorial Guinea trading oil debts for diamonds could run into legaL problems with the Kimberley Process, which regulates the diamond industry.

How united are the democratic forces and the opposition?

It is clear that the Mugabe regime retains some measure of support both within SADC and the AU leaderships. Domestically, Mugabe can call on much of the party, in particular the women’s league. Mugabe/ZANU PF also retains some support amongst sections of the church and other civic leaders, although outright support does appear to be waning.

But this situation is far from static. A shrinking economy has inevitably eroded the regime’s ability to service its client or find new sources of patronage. This situation has undermined the government’s means to retain all-inclusive loyalty from the police and army, to some extent elements of the war vets, and from other state employees.

This is a serious problem for the authorities, and will only get worse as the economy continues to shrink. Indeed, the state can no longer insulate most civil servants from the desperation that ordinary Zimbabweans have been living with for some time as they try to make ends meet.

Already, teachers, nurses and other civil servants have signalled their displeasure with the government - the reports of mass desertions from the police and military are a signal of these groupings voting with their feet. The extent to which, if at all, the democratic opposition can capitalise on these fissures remains to be seen.

But larger questions must be asked. It remains to be seen whether SADC’s intervention will take heed of Zimbabwean civil society’s concerns and priorities. For it to do so, Zimbabwe’s civil society will need to organise itself sufficiently to ensure the mediation team is aware of those concerns and priorities and not leave it at state and party level. The prospective mediation may provide an unprecedented opportunity, but this will certainly require significant coalition building and greater cohesion amongst opposition forces, as well as an awareness that reliance on US funding is not going to help their regional image.

As mentioned, Lenin stressed that democratic opposition must have have unity, vision and leadership. The democratic/social movement in Zimbabwe, however, has been largely characterised by turf wars, parallel forms of opposition, a multiplicity of largely uncoordinated activities, and personalist forms of leadership.

Since January 2006 and the launch of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA) and the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, there appears to be signs of a greater unity and sense of purpose - not only rhetorically, but also in practice. It was noticeable, for example, that when police raided ZCTU offices and stole the posters advertising the stayaway of 3-4 April, other parts of civil society were able to help out.

So what are the possibilities of a broad front emerging from the ranks of Zimbabwean civil society, a non-partisan platform, with a common agenda in relation to a new constitution, and a commitment to no engagement with electoral process without major changes and a level playing field?

Despite the split in the main opposition MDC and a sustained attack on their structures, the two factions, Tsvangirai and Mutambar, are generally working together; although there are clearly differences and many of the issues that precipitated their falling out have not been addressed.

Nevertheless, their cooperation intensified after the events of 1 March and was much in evidence at the memorial service for activist Gift Tandare - shot by police and secretly buried. It seems as if police tactics of allowing Mutambare rallies to go ahead with the objective of promoting suspicion that he was a government stooge have failed to work. Unity is thought to be better in rural areas - activists belong to most of the relevant groups and work together, although there has been a major crackdown on opposition supporters in rural areas.

The ZCA report great enthusiasm for their approach from the grassroots and their driving of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign. Civil society at one time appeared purely reactive, but some now feel that they have the government on the back foot instead of proactive. Certainly, continuous pressure appears to be forcing the regime to commit unnecessary public relations blunders like the beating up of opposition MP Nelson Chamisa at the airport on his way to an EU-ACP meeting.

Whether or not civil society groupings have the capacity and commitment to take advantage of these developments is a moot point. As ever, the problem is how to keep the democratic momentum going, and what route it should take. Their inability to capitalise on opportunities in the past does not generate much optimism in the current circumstances.

In terms of strategy, the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) is continuing its brave street protests with the state seemingly only too willing to accept the invitation to commit unacceptable brutality. But these are often not well supported. A possible second phase to street protests is not yet there.

Amongst the talk of a new constitution there is also some disagreement around issues of process and what are the necessary preconditions. The opposition needs greater coordination behind the scenes as well, so that medics and lawyers who are prepared to put themselves in the front line, facing threats, do not end up doing all the mundane work.

What underground structures might be necessary, and who is willing to be out of the limelight? This ‘twilight zone’, between acting above board and covertly, has contributed to inertia and confusion - as the MDC and most of civil society continue to operate within the parameters of laws that they do not accept. Whilst some see the inevitability and utility of operating covertly, most are unwilling and indeed seemingly unprepared to do so.

There is also need to establish what strategies should be employed towards talks with the government. At the same time as calling for stayaways such as the partially successful one on 3-4 April 2007, the ZCTU is engaging with the government through the Tripartite National Forum on Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono’s ‘social contract’ - not that the latter which calls for price and wage stabilisation is likely to have any success given that even if prices stabilise -when they are rising astronomically - most goods only come through the parallel/black market.

The big question is whether civil society concerns are even on the mediators’ agenda. The intervention is essentially political - to talk to the Zimbabwe government (and Mugabe), ZANU PF and the MDC.

Civil society will not be on the radar screen unless they put themselves there. The small space will soon be gone. Unless civil society uses this brief opportunity to sent clear articulated message on what must be addressed they will be sidelined. They must do this in concert with their solidarity partners in the region, so they can also exert pressure on their respective governments.

In this regard, their link to the South African groupings is critical - but to date, solidarity has been piecemeal. This requires a clear communication strategy, not only between Zimbabwean groupings and the region, but within Zimbabwe civic society itself. At present, civil society is seen as a group of disparate groups and individuals, with a limited constituency base. Why should the mediators take them seriously? Despite the parallels with South Africa, there has not been the emergence of a UDF-type leadership that could provide strategic direction and utilise the practical energies of its constituent parts. Much work has been generated over the last few years, but there has not been a strategic division of labour that will pull activities and outputs towards a common vision.

Up to recently, church leaders in this very religious country have been seen as either ineffective, in collusion with the government, or silent, or self-serving, with notable exceptions such as the Archbishop of Bulawayo Pius Ncube. Even those who were not ZANU PF and/or alleged intelligence (CIO) agents (and there are plenty of allegations) had appeared more concerned about their hierarchical status and their conversations with the President and Gono, not dissimilar from other parts of civil society that seem to prefer constructive engagement, at cost to their perceived integrity. This had disappointed many Zimbabweans, given what impact they could have had.

There now appears to be a turning point: the pastoral statement from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference stressed the unacceptable face of the state in repression, violence, economic decline and lack of moral values. Unlike previous ecumenical statements from the Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical churches, which have been watered down to the lowest common denominator, and attempted to equate blame for violence to ‘both sides’.

The recent Catholic declaration followed a rather more hard-hitting Zimbabwe Council of Churches statement and was followed by the ousting of Bishop Mananga as President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, who was seen as getting closer to the ruling regime. We wait to see if the recent Catholic pastoral letter has similar impact to their Malawian counterparts in 1993, or is dismissed as has happened to previous statements.

However it does not appear that the churches want to lead a civil society movement as yet, preferring for the time being to attempt to represent ‘all of their flock’, including no doubt their fellow Catholic Mugabe; and to continue ‘negotiations’ with the government; and talk to the South African churches about their government’s role in negotiations.

In talks with a church leader, there is as yet no follow-up on the letters although the called for days of prayer and fasting could provide such opportunities. There is also the National Vision Document process to integrate into this, whereby church leaders produced a document ‘The Zimbabwe We Want’; for some in the church this process had many contradictions and was seen as very hierarchical and topdown.

The consultations with government led to a second draft which had been substantially watered down at presumed government insistence. There is also, as with the trade unions, the contradictions of debating with the government as the space for debate is brutally closed down in all other areas. As one civil society activist put it ‘why engage with the government when they are beating you up?’

The ways forward

Are there yet key demands, commitments to an understood and widely-accepted process and some awareness of interactions with outside forces? It is difficult to ascertain, although the new situation presented by SADC’s intervention presents an opportunity that needs to be quickly seized.

There needs to be a solid front especially on not contesting elections under the present unfair and unfree conditions and for civil society and other democratic forces to organise to make that apparent to the South (ern) African team. To some extent as with the Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe (grouping NGOs) there could be a dual approach of calling for a boycott but preparing in case minimum conditions can be achieved.

The two MDC factions have stated both their wish to cooperate (possibly re-merge) and their determination not to stand in ‘pre-determined elections’ -said by Tsvangirai at the memorial service for killed activist Gift Tandare. In the past there have been calls for electoral boycotts but the MDC has then taken part, often under outside pressure. How can MPs, often desperate to keep their posts, be persuaded not to take part in elections; or even if the boycott is maintained not to enter stooge parties set up by the regime to provide democratic veneer?

One approach from a leading human rights activist says:

’The government is illegitimate and therefore it must go. We need a transition authority just to narrowly get the economy back on feet and perhaps prepare the ground for elections. Once in place we can have free and fair elections internationally observed.’

Other thinking revolves around calling for a national convention (parallel parliament) on the West African model, involving different sectors in policy making and transition. There may be need to call on outside regional civil society assistance. In other places the churches have played a major role in these types of initiatives, although that would not yet seem the case in Zimbabwe. Any such actions must incorporate an effective communications strategy within and outside the country, especially key players in the mediation process (including the MDC).

Areas that also need consideration are: who can help recapitalise and reprofessionalise the country? What mobilisation strategies are possible against rural chiefs in the regime’s pocket? What would be the earliest time it is possible to hold free and fair elections?

Possible outcomes

1) Stasis quo - maintenance of the present system whilst Mugabe purges his opponents inside ZANU-PF, enlarges the number of parliamentary, especially rural seats to ensure his tenure in power, and maintains what the South Africans called the kragdadigheid system of brutality.

This of course would be contrary to what SADC is planning, and would further economic and political freefall, anger and mass migration, and is not sustainable for much longer.

How would the Mbeki team counter it, and is the South African president wanting to make solving Zimbabwe part of his legacy - the recent interview with the Financial Times made reference to the Blair fix of Northern Ireland?

Some, including within diplomatic circles in Zimbabwe, would suggest that South Africa is too crippled by its own contradictions of the African Renaissance, bridge between North and South, not acting at the behest of the West, incomplete transition from liberation movement to governing party, historic and present day neo-liberal policies of the ANC to be able to make a significant difference. Zimbabweans are going to remain very suspicious of the true intentions of Pretoria/ Tshwane - despite the welcome from the MDC.

2) Outside-brokered incomplete transition. This still seems the most likely. Weary Zimbabweans might prefer it to what they have now, or to complete breakdown. The parallels with the incomplete transition of 1979 when ZANU took power are many.

If the solution is a government of national unity/ reformed ZANU-PF without Mugabe acting more or less under international tutelage, what happens to issues of accountability, impunity, genuine grass roots reconciliation, and whether the thieves keep their loot?

As well as keeping sections of the elite in power, the problems are of who can staff the transition given the systemic corruption and repression of precisely those organisations/institutions that need to lead change.

The alternative of parachuting in outside experts would quickly lead to alienation and possibly similar events as seen in Timor Leste. There is the diaspora to call on, but there is little sign of planning for the future bar some small organisations, mostly outside the country. There are however other transitions to provide comparative work - reunification of Germany, South Africa, Liberia perhaps.

Secondly who is it precisely that Mbeki is negotiating with and with what mandate? He seemed to pull out of involvement in Zimbabwe when things got tricky and much the same could be said of his peacebuilding attempts in DRC and Cote d’Ívoire He has courted disillusionment in Zimbabwe, feeding in wildly optimistic assessments of the government and opposition parties willingness to undertake genuine discussions and consider transformation. Few in Zimbabwe trust him given South Africa’s track record in defending Zimbabwe at the Human Rights Commission (as was) and in other forums. Obviously the democratic forces need enormous support from allies in South Africa such as COSATU, the church leaderships, the human rights activists and indeed ordinary people.

3) Spontaneous explosion possibly leading to option 4? There is the danger that anger could suddenly erupt out of nowhere as an inchoate explosion leading to possible reprisals and the dangers of formal army action.

4) Military option - either by a more overt military coup than the creeping securitisation that has so far characterised the state, or disaffected different parts of the army allied perhaps to different factions contesting power.

5) Civil society driven transition with some kind of national convention/ constitutent assembly process? At present there is no sign of this achieving critical mass and there needs to be an assessment what needs to be done internally and what pressure outside forces can provide - regionally and internationally.

There needs to be a multipronged approach, involving information gathering and dissemination on human rights abuses in international and regional forums, showing that the government is acting extra-legally as a matter of state policy.

The record of human rights abuse is a sustained and entirely credible one, but pressure for international reaction and action needs to be maintained. There is talk of a Human Rights Council office in Zimbabwe to monitor abuse. This needs to be backed up with interventions to the mediation team and maintenance of international support.

Outside supporters role.

Assistance to Zimbabwean civil society in working out its strategies including toward the SADC/South African ‘negotiating’ team. There needs to be pressure from outsiders such as the EU to provide greater and practical support for human rights defenders; maintaining the Common Position (‘sanctions’) in particular on no invitation to Zimbabwe to the EU-Africa Summit in November/December 2007; what use can be made of the money from the European Development Funding (EDF) line from 2002 and can it be used to help Zimbabwean civil society?; to ask trades unions, churches, youth groups to create/sustain links with Zimbabwean counterpart groups and to engage with South African counterparts to the same purpose; to ensure that the Commonwealth remains focused on the Zimbabwean issue (despite Zimbabwe expelling itself from the body); help Zimbabwean civil society and take up the issue for further discussion at CHOGM in November in Uganda.

* Sam Kebele is a writer on Zimbabwe currently using a pseudonym.

Source: Pambazuka News.

Photo: Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader.