Michael Darby

Observations on politics and poetry by Australian bush poet, Michael Darby.

Michael was born in Sydney in 1945 and is a former Australian Army Officer who has been writing and broadcasting on politics and economics since 1972.

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Saturday, April 26, 2003
Scots of the Riverina

By Henry Lawson 1917

The boy cleared out for the city from his home at harvest time --
They were Scots of the Riverina, and to run from home was a crime.
The old man burned his letters, the first and last he burned,
And he scrubbed his name from the Bible when the old wife's back was turned.

A year went by and another, and the fruit went down the line
They heard the boy had enlisted, but the old man gave no sign.
His name must never be mentioned on the farm near Gundagai --
They were Scots of the Riverina with ever the kirk hard by.

The boy came home on his final leave, and the township's bonfires burned.
His mother's arms were about him; but the old man's back was turned.
The daughters tried to sway him ’til the old man raised his hand --
A Scot of the Riverina, and hard to understand.

The boy was killed in Flanders, where the best and bravest died.
There were tears in the Graham homestead and grief in Gundagai;
But the old man ploughed at daybreak and the old man ploughed till the murk --
There were furrows of pain in the orchard while the household went to the kirk.

The hurricane lamp in the rafters dimly and dimly burned;
And the old man died at the table when the old wife's back was turned.
Face down on his bare arms folded he sank with his wild grey hair
Outstretched o'er the open Bible with a name re-written there.


Young Fellow My Lad

By: Robert Service

First published in “The Rhymes of a Red-Cross Man”, T.Fisher Unwin Ltd, London, 1916, “To the Memiory of my brother Lieutenant Albert Service, Canadian Infantry, Killed in Action, France, August 1916.

“WHERE are you going, Young Fellow My Lad,
On this glittering morn of May ? "
"I'm going to join the Colours, Dad ;
They're looking for men, they say."

"But you're only a boy, Young Fellow My Lad;
You aren't obliged to go."
"I'm seventeen and a quarter, Dad,
And ever so strong, you know."

"So you're off to France, Young Fellow My Lad,
And you're looking so fit and bright."
"I'm terribly sorry to leave you, Dad,
But I feel that I'm doing right."

"God bless you and keep you,
Young Fellow My Lad,
You're all of my life, you know."
" Don't worry. I'll soon be back, dear Dad,
And I'm awfully proud to go."

"Why don't you write, Young Fellow My Lad ?
I watch for the post each day;
And I miss you so, and I'm awfully sad,
And it's months since you went away.

And I've had the fire in the parlour lit,
And I'm keeping it burning bright
Till my boy comes home; and here I sit
Into the quiet night."

"What is the matter, Young Fellow My Lad?
No letter again to-day,
Why did the postman look so sad,
And sigh as he turned away ?

I hear them tell that we've gained new ground,
But a terrible price we've paid
God grant, my boy, that you're safe and sound;
But oh I'm afraid, afraid"

"They've told me the truth, Young Fellow My Lad
You'll never come back again.
(Oh God! the dreams and the dreams I've had,
And the hopes I've nursed in vain!)

For you passed in the night, Young Fellow My Lad,
And you proved in the cruel test
Of the screaming shell and the battle hell
That my boy was one of the best."

"So you'll live, you'll live, Young Fellow My Lad,
In the gleam of the evening star,
In the woodnote wild and the laugh of the child,
In all sweet things that are.

And you'll never die, my wonderful boy,
While life is noble and true;
For all our beauty and hope and joy
We will owe to our lads like you."



By P.J. Hartigan (“John O’Brien”)

He comes when the gullies are wrapped in the gloaming
And limelights are trained on the tops of the gums,
To stand at the sliprails, awaiting the homing
Of one who marched off to the beat of the drums.

So handsome he looked in the putties and khaki,
Light-hearted he went like a youngster to play;
But why comes he never to speak to his Darkie,
Around at the rails at the close of the day?

And why have the neighbours foregathered so gently,
Their horses a-doze at the fence in a row?
And what are they talking of, softly, intently?
And why are the women-folk lingering so?

One hand, soft and small, that so often caressed him,
Was trembling just now as it fondled his head;
But what was that trickling warm drop that distressed him?
And what were those heart-broken words that she said?

Ne'er brighter the paddocks that bushmen remember
The green and the gold and the pink have displayed,
When Spring weaves a wreath for the brows of September,
Enrobed like a queen, and a-blush like a maid.

The gums are a-shoob and the wattles a-cluster,
The cattle are roaming the ranges astray;
But why are they late with the hunt and the muster?
And why is the black horse unsaddled to-day?

Hard by at the station the training commences,
In circles they're schooling the hacks for the shows;
The high-mettled hunters are sent at the fences,
And satins and dapples the brushes disclose.

Sound-winded and fit and quite ready is Darkie,
Impatient to strip for the sprint and the flight;
But what can be keeping the rider in khaki?
And why does the silence hang heavy tonight?

Ah, surely he'll come, when the waiting is ended,
To fly the stiff fences and take him in hand,
Blue-ribboned once more, and three-quarters extended,
Hard-held for the cheers from the fence and the stand.

Still there on the cross-beam the saddle hangs idle,
The cobweb around the loose stirrup is spun;
The rust's on the spurs, and the dust on the bridle,
And gathering mould on the badges he won.

We'll take the old horse to the paddocks tomorrow,
Where grasses are waving breast-high on the plain;
And there with the clean-skins we'll turn him in sorrow
And muster him never, ah, never, again.

The bush bird will sing when the shadows are creeping
A sweet plaintive note, soft and clear as a bell's -
Oh, would it might ring where the bush boy is sleeping,
And colour his dreams by the far Dardanelles.


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Friday, April 25, 2003


TODAY, FRIDAY 25 APRIL 2003 is Anzac Day, the anniversary of the 1915 landing at Gallipoli involving the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, as part of a force which included British, French and Indian troops.

In Australia, Anzac Day is dedicated to the memory of all Australians who lost their lives in the defence of freedom, and a day on which we honour the sacrifice of all who served and all who lost spouses, parents and children.

The bitter and twisted ideology of Whitlam Labor denied recognition to Australia’s Vietnam Veterans when Australia’s contribution ended. This is an appropriate time to remind Veterans of the Vietnam conflict that we honour them equally with the Veterans of other wars. So please seek out a Vietnam veteran and say: “Thank you for what you did. Australia is very proud of you”.

Enduring harm of war

The harm which war does to soldiers does not cease with an armistice. It is an historical fact that the lifespan of veterans is shortened, and this applies to veterans who returned with no obvious injuries.

Part of the problem is exposure to the deadly cocktail of chemicals which applies in a battlefield environment. To pesticides, rodenticides, herbicides, fuels, and solvents may be added the wide range of unpleasant chemicals contained in munitions and medications including anti-malarials.

Colonel Allan E. Limburg,CVO, US LoH CFC,MBIM, AFAIM,Dip, BA, AIBA, (Retd), jssc,im,psc, like many other Korean War veterans, is a victim of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). Colonel Limburg has devoted years to research into the mortality and health of Korean War veterans, and to campaigning for recognition of MCS as a war-caused disease.

Colonel Limburg’s alarming conclusion is:

“There is a clear thread running through the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and other recent conflicts, of the devastating disabling effects of exposures to a wide range of toxic chemicals.”



What is attractive about threatening Mugabe and if needed, backing that up by action, is his regime is not yet so entrenched that he has reduced the middle classes and leaders, including common law judiciary. Unlike Iraq's armed forces which have been thoroughly analysed and accordingly commented upon, one is not familiar with Zimabwe's armed forces. Given, however, that officers, one presumes, have been trained along traditions and practices similar to those of Australia, UK and US, an interesting prospect emerges.

On what has been related of the regime, Mugabe and Zanu are reliant on the `veterans' and corrupted police for the execution of their nastiest actions. This leaves the army.

Allowing for some officers complicit in supporting the regime, one does not conclude by a generalised inference. Officers and their men are bound to follow orders, do their duty. With a decisive, forceful promise to do to Mugabe what the allies have done to Hussein, would it be unreasonable then to expect that the Zimbabwean army would standby and let Mugabe get his come-uppance.

Now taking into account the as yet not decimated middle classes, post - Mugabe Zimbabwe would be in a stronger position to rebuild and restore civilised practices and institutions.

It is an interesting contrast to Iraq. On the other hand, one does not discount, despite Hussein's worst, the sheer number of Iraqis who are decent and merely need to be freed of Hussein. The Kurds, protected by the USAF and RAF demonstrate the point rather well, and in prospering, have done so with not to much in the way of `international aid' which opens up , as of Kenya, binding them to conditions set be the UN and at best questionable agencies imposing such niceties as forced sterilisation of women.

Yours humbly,
Douglas J. Bignell.


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Thursday, April 24, 2003


TODAY IS KAPYONG DAY, when we remember the heroism and sacrifice of Australians who served in Korea, especially the men of the Third Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.

Fifty-two years ago in the Kapyong Valley, on 23, 24 and 25 April 1951, fighting alongside their New Zealand, Canadian and American allies, the men of 3RAR earned a Distinguished Unit Citation at the heavy cost of 92 casualties.

This important action, fought against greatly superior numbers, stopped a major thrust towards Seoul by Communist Chinese Forces.



Mayor Dick Murphy
City of San Diego
202 C Street
San Diego, Ca. 92101

Dear Dick:

I need your help.

Why does both non-profit housing and public housing cost 25% to 50% more than privately built, for profit housing? (Sometimes twice as much). It's self-evident that this helps 25% to 50% fewer people in need. I'm hoping you have a simple explanation.

For example: In the San Diego Housing Commission Report dated May 10, 2002

(HCR02-041) it is estimated that non-profit units being built at 39th and Polk Streets will cost $199,000 each. This price of $199,000 is higher than 97% of what the "for profit" units sold for in the past 12 months. Incredible!

CoStarCOMPS reports that 823 apartment buildings, comprised of over 19,000 rental units, have sold since January 1, 2002. The median price per unit was $85,000. Only 21 buildings of the 823 sold for more than $199,000 per unit. Most of the 21 were small, 7 apartments per building or fewer and the majority were located in La Jolla or beach areas, where you'd expect higher prices.

A second question for you or city staff is what's fair about subsidized renters getting to live in newer apartments that cost more money than those that 97% of self-supporting renters live in, and why should the 97% have to subsidize a substantially better life style for people who earn less money? I imagine some of the renters on your office staff may also be curious as to the answer.

I expect to present this information in a public forum and want to avoid misrepresenting the city council's policy or your position. I would be most appreciative, if you could get back to me by April 30th.

Best regards,
Fred Schnaubelt
2728 Adams Avenue
San Diego, California 92116
(619) 280-2082



I just finished reading your latest post about what is happening in Zimbabwe, and was once again reminded that I need to do something. Exactly what is a hard question, though. I was lucky enough to have been able to visit Zimbabwe for a couple of months a few years ago, and ever since, the people of Zimbabwe have been on my mind and truly close to my heart. With each year that passes, the situation just gets worse, and I, for one, feel completely helpless, especially sitting thousands of miles away in the United States. It's quite frustrating right now, as the situation in Zimbabwe gets worse, but since the United States is at war, most, if not all news coverage lately has been about Iraq. The war is obviously very important, but the world needs to be reminded about the situation in Zimbabwe, we need to know. That is why I like so much your discussions on Zimbabwe, and I think that they are very important in helping to educate the people about what is really going on. I'm not sure exactly what I can do, but I am definitely inspired to do something.

Elizabeth Domholt

Reply to Elizabeth:
Zimbabwe has active international service clubs – including Rotary – which battle against difficult circumstances to support local projects. Encourage your local service club to make contact with a counterpart club in Zimbabwe, and ask for details of a project which needs financial support. At the political level, contact your local legislator and stress the importance of keeping up the pressure for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.


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Wednesday, April 23, 2003


I am incensed by the media's reporting of this war with Iraq. Watching their reports leaves me in no doubt that they are hindering the war efforts of our own troops and other coalition members.

They continually harp on issues that they themselves raise as supposed facts that have no basis in fact at all. They find fault in the war timetable as if it is something written in blood when in fact there never was a time table at all. Any war is in a state of flux from beginning to end and commanders must be able to adjust any plan to take advantage of windfalls and to make up for setbacks.

They continually harp on negative aspects of the war whilst ignoring positive aspects. Why is the seven people killed in the van so horrendous. Why is the report not about the soldiers who nearly lost their lives or could have lost their lives, as happened to their comrades just a couple of days earlier, when a van drove into them?

Nearly every news report now involves so called journalists or presenters questioning our Prime Minister or other Ministers with an tone of absolute contempt whilst during the same news program laughable reports and claims made by Iraqi or other Arab country leaders are aired without ridicule or question. Why?

I believe Iraq is causing many deaths to gain sympathy from the rest of the world and the western media knows that it is happening and to continually present a view that is pro Iraq is perverse. Iraq needs no TV. or media department as the idiotic western media are doing just as good a job as they themselves could do. Why are they doing that?

Does western media take a seemingly higher moral ground in any situation so they can then have a holier than thou attitude when commenting or investigating any future developments?

Whose expectations are not being met? The public? The generals? The President or Prime Minister? No!!!!!!!! The only expectation that has been aired are those of the media. They set the agenda on what we see and hear and even when there is not a single item worth reporting they make "entertainment" by interviewing "experts" who support their contention that something has been missed or stuffed up in some way just so they can remain in front of the cameras. Why?

Are they so vain or is it a power thing? They can not be doing the job they are and not know the power of the medium in which they are working. Should we ask ourselves if the media should be answerable to no one? Should they be above criticism? Should they be above reproach? Should they be above responsibility? I think not!!!!!!!

They have the power to change world by the manner in which they portray events but they are unaccountable when it comes to the events that they do not consider "worth their while". When a particular event is drawn to their attention they have the hide to assert by their presentation that we should feel guilty about letting such things happen in the first place.

When they do all rush off to report on the new issue or war they once again they take the moral high ground reporting the matter in such a way that accuses the viewers of negligence or lack of vigilance so at the end of the day they, themselves, can not be held accountable.

Did they have the power to prevent this current war by bringing the pressure of the entire world's media to bear on Iraq. I suspect so. If they had ridiculed and shamed Iraq throughout their own region of the world with continual disclosure of the excesses of the tyrant I believe they could have forced him to resign. But, the media made no such attempt to prevent the war by fully disclosing the nature of this animal.

It is now apparent that they have been secluded with and feted by him and many of his cohorts while compiling story after story that have now been shown in recent days when they might have aired the evidence of their atrocities long ago to shame him amongst his Arab neighbours. It seems now that even the U.N. human rights committee knew very well the true nature of the butcher of Bagdad and said nothing.

The media are supposed to present issues impartially so why is it that they seem to have a bias in their reporting of this war, in favour of the Iraqi leadership. They appear to support this despotic government that has no moral qualms about shooting their own people who want to surrender. Their religious leadership is just as immoral too if it turns out to be true that their Imams were responsible for instructing the women to drive their van into the checkpoint and not stop so that Iraq would benefit from the sympathy generated by the predictable portrayal of the incident to western audiences.

I am incensed and I am sure others are too or am I being too cynical?


Bob Ker


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Tuesday, April 22, 2003


Excerpts from an article by Stephen Schwartz

IRAQ IS FREE. The dictatorship has fallen. The process that began with the end of Marcos, the fall of the Berlin wall, and other democratic victories has reached the last redoubt of tyrant and terror. The time has now come to address the overall nature of the American mission in liberating the Arab and Muslim countries. I would begin such a discussion with the issue of Wahhabism, which was the topic of my book The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa’ud From Tradition to Terror (Doubleday).

Let me be clear: I do not think victory in Iraq means we must wage war on Iran and Saudi Arabia. Rather, I believe democratization in Iraq will provide a powerful incentive to the consolidation of democracy in Iran and the commencement of a transition to a new social order in Arabia.

The ideology known as Khomeinism is in full decline. The people of Iran, overwhelmingly young and forward-looking, supported by important Shi’a Muslim clerics, wish to end the period of religious rule that Khomeini initiated. The reformist clerics put it well: the experiment failed, and it is now time to craft a new political system in Iran that will separate religion from the state, and which will be based on popular sovereignty.

But the menace of Saudi-backed Wahhabism remains. Al-Qaida represents Wahhabism in its purest form. Wahhabism, the official sect in Saudi Arabia, is a fundamentalist, violent movement that rejects all existing Islam as unbelief – especially Islamic spirituality – as well as seeking the ultimate destruction of Shi’a Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism.

Wahhabism is not an old Islamic tradition, and the House of Sa’ud, contrary to Western beliefs, does not enjoy a major historic claim to rulership over Arabia.

Wahhabism emerged in the 18th century in central Arabia – only 250 years ago. The founder of the Wahhabi dispensation, an obscure figure named Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, formed an alliance with a clan of desert bandits, the al-Sa’ud. The area where these events transpired is located on the main route for pilgrims going to Mecca, on the Muslim hajj, from Kuwait – especially Indian pilgrims, who in the 18th century were a rich source of plunder for the al-Sa’ud.

Wahhabism was observed and commented upon by Western journalists and authors in its own time. For example, the 19th century English aesthete Thomas Hope wrote a novel, titled Anastasius, that made a tremendous impression in the 1830s. Therein, Hope, who had traveled widely in the Islamic world, painted the Wahhabi sect in colors strikingly familiar to a modern reader: as extremist Puritans bent on total control over the world’s Muslims, beginning with the destruction of the Ottoman empire; as Arab ultranationalists, to use a contemporary term, and as terrorists. In one of his most extraordinary passages, for a modern reader, Hope described Wahhabi agents scoping out targeted buildings in Baghdad in the 1790s, an activity chillingly reminiscent of what we know about how al-Qaida works.

The house of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and the house of Sa’ud created a theological and political alliance, in which the Wahhabis directed religious affairs and the Saudis exercised political control. This alliance seized control of the main holy sites of Islam, Mecca and Medina, twice, murdering thousands of people in the process. In 1924, with the complicity of the British, the Wahhabis seized Mecca for the second and last time. After that came the oil, and the oil money, and with what seemed to be limitless resources, the Wahhabi-Saudi alliance began, in the late 1970s, a serious attempt to take over world Islam. The result was a series of conflicts in Afghanistan and elsewhere, that culminated in the emergence of al-Qaida, and, finally, the horrific events of September 11th.

Today, as it did before September 11th, the Wahhabi religious bureaucracy and the Saudi state foster Islamic extremist ideology, and the terrorism enabled by it. When bombs go off in Israel, in Indonesia, in Kenya, and elsewhere, and when terrorists strike at the democratic coalition forces in Iraq, the main source of money is, without exception, found in Saudi Arabia.

Those who argue that Islamist extremism is a product of U.S.-hegemonic support for corrupt regimes have a point. But they ignore that the main source of ideology, incitement, and funds for Islamist terror has always been none other than official Saudi Arabia. The rulers of the Saudi kingdom now try to confuse Western opinion by proclaiming that they, too, are targets of Osama bin Laden, while their real intent is to mask their own complicity in his financing and organization. In reality, Islamist terrorism is only partially a protest movement by Saudi subjects aggrieved at the monarchy’s alliance with the West. It is, in much greater part, a phenomenon directly supported by Saudi authorities. Al-Qaida would not exist without Saudi money.

We must stop telling ourselves and others that Saudi Arabia represents some ineffably mysterious, ancient, and traditional society that we must approach reluctantly, with extreme caution, and at arm’s length – especially when discussing the need for political change there. In particular, we must stop telling ourselves and others that the main danger of political change in the kingdom would involve a shift to a more extreme Islamist regime.

There is no mystery to Saudi Arabia. It represents the worst example in modern times of a corrupt and reactionary absolute monarchy, whose rulers have great difficulty perceiving the depth of the crisis that faces them, as well as the way out of the crisis. The Saudi royal family can no longer rule in the old way, and their subjects, with a growing youthful majority, increasingly refuse to live in the old way. There is nothing novel about this. The same problem characterized the regime of the Iranian shah.

Nor does it represent anything ancient or traditional. To emphasize, Wahhabi Islam is not traditional Islam. It is an extremely destructive, nihilistic and radical form of Islam.

Wahhabism preaches an ultra-Puritanical way of life while the Saudi elite swims in whisky and dizzies itself with pornography. Wahhabism claims to be the purest form of Islam while the Saudi monarchy depends on Christian bayonets for its protection. These mixed signals, or, more bluntly, these forms of hypocrisy, have a deranging effect on Saudi society. But they are also the essential source of Islamist extremism and terrorism. To close the gap between Wahhabi blandishments and Saudi reality, and in a desperate attempt to recover their credibility, particularly in the 20 years since the emergence of Khomeini in Iran, the reactionary faction of the Saudi monarchy has financed terrorism and infiltration throughout the Islamic world: in Central Asia, Pakistan, Kashmir, the Balkans, Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Afghanistan, the Caucasus, the Philippines, Indonesia, Kurdistan and in the Iraqi war zones.


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Monday, April 21, 2003


The bravery of Eddie Cross is demonstrated by every Zimbabwean who stands up to the oppressors. The level of oppression is so onerous, the regime so brutal, that the breaking point of ordinary Zimbabweans will soon be reached. To whatever extent the dictator can control his instruments of power, the regime will react with terrible violence. In the name of humanity, the civilized world must be ready to intervene to protect the population. Here is Eddie’s latest dispatch:

Autumn in Zimbabwe 2003

I have always said that the most special months in the Zimbabwe calendar are April and May. The country is still green after the rains, it is starting to cool down and the evenings and mornings are crisp and fresh and there is almost no humidity. The air is clean and the views across the bushveld are clear and far-flung. The cattle are fat and the young stock full of life, the wildlife has its young and they are everywhere. The bird migrants have started their long trek north – either to the Congo or to Europe, many flying through the Middle East on their way to countries as far north as Russia.

This time is also special this year because we can smell the scent of change. This evening I listened as a statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down by a mob assisted by the Americans in Baghdad. The roar of the crowds calling for the regime to go and celebrating the freedom to say what they like for the first time was a reminder that every despot has his or her day. I could almost feel the shiver of apprehension in the corridors of State House in Harare. Mr. Mugabe and his cohorts must know by now that their time is limited, that the tide is running against them and it is only a matter of time before the people rise up and overthrow his regime. When they do, expect a similar spectacle on the streets of Zimbabwe cities as a hated and feared regime is torched.

It was amusing to many to see the Iraqi Minister of Information denying that the Americans were in Baghdad when plainly over his shoulder you could see US tanks and soldiers on the main square behind him. Our own Jonathan Moyo is in a similar predicament – paid to deny the truth and to maintain the façade of a stable regime when all else is falling down around his ears.

The end is nigh for the Zanu PF regime in Zimbabwe but it is a pity that external force was not available to help with its overthrow. It would have been so much easier, cleaner and manageable. What we are now faced with is a DIY transition – the people of Zimbabwe taking matters into their own hands and overthrowing the regime. The problem with a transition under these circumstances are legion and regional leaders had better either think of a better way of doing this or get ready to deal with the aftermath of a messy, violent takeover.

Why am I so certain that the end of this regime is imminent? It is because we have no alternative. We simply cannot go on living like this. Life has become impossible for the great majority and without change we are finished anyway. We have very little in the way of liquid fuels at present, are confronted with the prospect of serious electrical energy rationing, food is very expensive and basic foods virtually unobtainable except in the informal markets. The value of our money is shrinking daily and adjustments to wages and salaries simply cannot keep up. Only 1 person in every 14 is in employment and we have millions of people on the edge of starvation and being fed on charity. In a desperate attempt to keep the regime afloat the Ministry of Finance is pumping billions of dollars into the economy every day – the budget deficit, already out of control, will exceed 40 per cent of the total economic output of the country this year. In country terms, these are terminal conditions in any language.

Now that we know the cavalry are not coming to help us in this situation, we are left to our own devices – that means we are left with only ourselves to overthrow a regime that has an army, a police force and a complete civil administration at its disposal. We do not have arms, we do not have money, and we do not have external support to which we can turn in a material sense. They will shout on the sidelines, take photographs and TV film but that is all – we are the only actors in this play.

Lets assume that a peoples uprising does take place and Mugabe is overthrown – we then have the problem that the people will not trust the local Police, so who will maintain law and order when the regime is gone and there is nothing to replace it? Do we allow the army to step in? Would that not be dangerous in southern Africa, how do we get them out when we want them to go? Who will constitute an interim authority with sufficient standing and power to take charge and administer the country? Remember we are more than broke, we are short of everything and our infrastructure is in a shambles.

The objectives of the MDC are quite clear – fresh elections for a new government under a new constitution, which will protect us from any future miscreants who might find themselves in power. At present the MDC is calling for this to be achieved either through the resignation of the present President followed by internationally supervised elections or the negotiation of an interim National Authority to run the country and to start sorting out the mess while we set up the conditions for free and fair elections in the near future. Such options might not survive a violent transition, but it is difficult to see any alternative if the recent statement by the SADC Foreign Ministers in Harare is anything to go by.

Then there is the question of just how we would sort out the present shambles – I am often asked, do I think this can be done and over what period?

I am the perennial optimist and people often hold this against me but I do believe that if the fundamentals are addressed then the rest will look after itself. This is a dynamic and energetic society with great spirit and resolve. The problems we currently face all boil down to a failure of governance in the widest sense. If we get that right – and that is not difficult with the right decisions and people in key places, then to a very large extent the country will heal itself.

We have had a pretty terrible summer – the rains were very slow in coming, distribution was not good and vast areas had too little rain to get the grass away. Early crops were decimated by the dry conditions and the late crop was severely stunted. Even so, the recent cyclone gave us a short spell of heavy rains that filled dams and brought on the grass. Now we can face a winter with at least water in the rivers and dams and grass for the livestock and wild life. The change was dramatic.

It will be like that in Zimbabwe – a cyclone of political activity bringing life back to the parched land, life to the people and hope that next year will be better. It will do damage but for the sake of change, we will take our chances in the hope that when it is all over we can go into the winter season with the prospect of a brighter, better spring.


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Sunday, April 20, 2003

The Final Act

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

I well remember September the 23rd 1976. It was one of those occasions, like the assassination of Kennedy, where you can clearly remember where you were and what was going through your mind at the time. For Americans, I am sure that September the 11th 2001 will oscillate in their minds for life and beyond in the same way.

On that fateful day (September 23rd, 1976) I was with a small group of friends in Mount Pleasant, Harare. The others were all academics of one kind or another at the University of Zimbabwe. We sat in the study and watched a small television set as Ian Douglas Smith, Prime Minister for 17 years, came onto the screen to address the Nation. This was the man whom we had fought for at least 15 years over his policies of isolation and racial intolerance.

Three years before that evening, I had led a small group of 35 of the most outstanding young Rhodesians in an effort to persuade him that he was going to lose the war and would eventually have to give up power. We tried to persuade him to negotiate his way out of the laager and get a deal with his opponents that would allow a transfer of power under controlled and managed circumstances. At the end of a three hour discussion, he very pointedly, said to the group I had put together with a colleague,

"I could never live in the kind of Rhodesia that Cross here wants, we are not losing the war, we are going to win and I cannot see any sense in changing our course".

All except eight of those young leaders left the country within 6 months. They could see little sense in continuing to fight for a lost cause. We lost in that way some of the very finest young future leaders we have ever produced. My colleague, Tom, left the country and became head of the Boston Consulting Group in Europe, married a German girl and is now a global player in business circles.

The country that night in 1976, was on its last legs, exports were falling, emigration was draining away the talent we needed to go on, global opposition was intensifying and the bush war was clearly being lost at that stage. Military leaders said that what we were engaged in was a holding operation to give political leaders time to sort things out. Every white male that could walk was spending half his time in uniform in one capacity or the other. We were losing the sympathy and support of those essential to our survival.

Smith came on the television and with that poker face of his, that seldom showed what he was really thinking, he stated that he had just come back from a meeting in Pretoria where he had conceded a transfer of power to a new government elected under universal suffrage. The rest of what he said was somewhat lost on us as we erupted with joy and relief that our long night of working and waiting was now over, there was something to look forward to at last.

Today you have to pay tribute to that man for accepting the inevitable and then agreeing to oversee what for him was a complete anathema - a transfer of power to a majority elected government under international supervision. He went on to tell the nation what he had agreed to and then staying in his post until it was done and then he retired from the scene. Always a recalcitrant, but honest man who never abused his position and was always distressingly frank. Kissinger said that it was one of the saddest days of his life that he had to end Ian Smith’s dreams in this way, but there was no alternative.

In four years, Mugabe was in power – taking over in a manner that was not to his liking any more than it had been Smiths, all were forced to compromise by the events of September the 23rd, 1976.

Now here we are, 26 years later. Somehow back to where we started. The economy in freefall, the government at war with the people, the country in a state of complete isolation and even those friends on whom our very survival depends are now at the stage of active opposition. At the helm, a man very similar in many ways to Ian Smith, very tough on his opponents, completely intolerant of any opposition in his own party, committed to a path that has run out of space on the edge of a precipice, with no where else to go. Those of us, who live under the regime, see no future for our children or ourselves if he does not go, but how, when?

We started the process of change three years ago when a "peoples convention" called for the establishment of a new political party that would fight Zanu PF and give the country a democratic alternative. The people who sponsored this initiative had tried everything else – to no avail. Mugabe would not listen, would not change course. His own Party totally under his control, too terrified of the consequences of doing anything other than standing behind the Master. Instead of leaving the country – voting with our feet, as it is called, we stayed and fought back, using democratic activities where we found space to maneuver. A great deal has been achieved in those three years. MDC now controls half the elected seats in Parliament, 6 out of 25 of the towns and cities, including the two major cities of Harare and Bulawayo. We are accepted throughout the world as a potential alternative government, capable of turning the country around when we finally take power.

This ground has not been won without struggle or pain – 150 of our members and leadership has been killed in politically motivated activity, thousands have been beaten and tortured, raped and burnt. The government has had to attack all the pillars of democracy – the media, the judiciary, and the independent businessperson, to try and halt our advance. Our acceptance as an alternative administration has also not come easily. We have been consistently bombarded with calls to join in a government of "national unity". We have been called all sorts of names – not only by the Zanu PF propaganda machine but also by countries in Africa who saw us as a challenge to the hegemony over power of the former liberation movements.

And now? I have that same feeling as we had in September 1976; change is in the air. Mugabe has run out of space. He is losing the war with his people, he has lost the support of those in Africa on whom his future depends and the global community has decided that he simply cannot be allowed to continue to stand in the way of positive change in southern Africa. The difference is that I do not see Mugabe accepting this in the same way as Smith did in 1976. I think he will resist and will therefore fail in a way that will be devoid of the dignity that Ian Smith has, even today, in this country that he so nearly completely destroyed.

There are two other elements in the situation today that also set the stage for a different outcome. Smith never starved his people. Mugabe has done so on a scale never before seen in Africa. In the Ethiopian famine in the 90=92s, Ethiopia had 70 per cent of the food it needed to get by – distribution was the main problem. We have barely 25 per cent of the food we need to survive in the next 8 months. People are going to die here, and Mugabe is to blame.

The other situation that is different is that Mugabe has failed his people – Smith never did, to the end he fought to defend the interests of the white minority. Mugabe has not defended the interests of the majority who elected him into power. He has abused his position and impoverished his people while at the same time corruptly bankrupting the state for his own benefit and the benefit of his clique. Ian Smith never needed an armour plated Mercedes Benz, even at the height of the civil war. He drove in an ordinary Peugeot sedan, with one security detail and a driver.

The end is near and Zanu PF knows this as does Mugabe – hence the panic and sudden flurry of military activity. It will not protect him now, just as it never protected Ian Douglas Smith in September 1976. Do not lose hope – we are waiting for the dawn of a new and better day.


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