In the runoff, Mugabe’s ‘victory’ must not shock
Published on June 14, 2008, 12:00 am
By Columbus Mavhunga in Harare
Despite presiding over a collapsed economy — probably the worst in the world — Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe can be declared the winner of the June 27 presidential run-off.
While this might turn to be shocking or unrealistic, events on the grounds and history of Zimbabwe prove that Mugabe might claim victory of the elections. This is despite having lost to Morgan Tsvangirai in the March General Election.
In that election, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)’s Tsvangirai rode on the back of a dejected electorate that wanted to end Mugabe’s 28-year rule. The electorate was not happy with the manner in which Mugabe was managing the once-prosperous country.
Zimbabweans went into the March elections with inflation — the highest in the world — officially at 165,000 per cent, now it is well over 200,000 per cent while other estimates put it at more than one million per cent. The county then was facing severe shortages of most basic essentials ranging from fuel, electricity, foreign currency, bread and maize meal among other items. The situation has since deteriorated. The Zimbabwean dollar has become virtually worthless. It is now trading above $500 million (after removing three zeroes) against the US dollar.
The country has a $50 billion note, but that note will not buy much since a loaf of bread costs about a billion dollars!
With all that background Mugabe has made it clear that he will reverse his defeat in March in which MDC leader got 47.3 per cent of the vote.
Mugabe is a veteran in politics; he has been in the game longer than Tsvangirai. That experience is likely to work to his advantage.
Mugabe, shaken by the rebuke he suffered at the hands of voters on March 29, was widely rumoured to be considering resigning. He was out of the public domain for more than two weeks, only to reappear on the country’s Independence Day, on April 18, with venom directed at the West, the whites and its ‘stooge’ — Tsvangirai and the MDC.
Since then Mugabe has not looked back. He has summoned all the resources and experience at his disposal to make sure that the campaign terrain is bumpy for Tsvangirai.
There has been intensified violence taking place mostly in the Mashonaland provinces. This, the opposition says, is targeted at its supporters while Zanu PF makes a counter accusation. Victims, however, say the perpetrators are members of the army and Zanu PF militia.
“We won the March polls, so the violence is being perpetrated by the loser, who has a score to settle with the electorate,” said Tsvangirai at a press briefing this week.
Whoever is responsible for violence, it has become apparent that MDC members are on the receiving end and that this is likely to make it difficult for them to go and express their wish on June 27.
The violence has not touched much on the Ndebele-speaking areas in the southern part of Zimbabwe, despite them having voted overwhelmingly against Mugabe. The violence is confined to rural areas in the Shona-speaking areas that used to be Zanu PF stronghold.
“This shows that Mugabe has failed to reign in on the Ndebeles,” says Alphas Mukonoweshuro, a political analyst and a strong critic of Mugabe.
Said he: “There was a massacre of the Ndebeles in the 1980s and that did not work. As to whether that will apply after this wave of violence, the jury will only give verdict after the June poll. But generally, violence is a tactic that does not work.”
But Mukonoweshuro must have forgotten that the ‘fear factor’ worked before. In February 2000, Zimbabweans voted awesomely against Zanu PF in a constitutional referendum. Immediately after, war veterans unleashed a spate of violence targeted at MDC supporters. In the June 2000 elections, Zanu PF won the elections despite the fact that the situation had not changed for the better.
That tactic, which was later named the ‘margin of terror’ by the late political analyst and nationalist Masipula Sithole, might leave Mugabe a victor in the run-off.
Zanu PF has argued that it stopped food aid programmes by non-governmental organisations, last week, because they had been campaigning for the opposition.
It is now using food as a weapon to punish Zimbabweans for voting against Mugabe in the March elections.
“We discovered that some NGOs were campaigning for the MDC hence taking this bold decision to suspend their operations,” said Bright Matonga, the Zimbabwe’s deputy minister of Information.
“We want to make the playground level by stopping their operations until the election is over. Those that are not biased can resume operations as soon as we finish vetting them.”
Zanu PF is now distributing food at its campaign rallies to bait voters, some of which the US says was food seized from its aid. US says the food consignment was meant for children.
On Tuesday, Tsvangirai said Mugabe had allowed the military to take charge of the country.
“This country is now effectively run by a military junta,” Tsvangirai told reporters in Harare. “As a people, we have been exposed to state-sponsored brutality.”
On Monday, the Human Rights Watch released a report that blames a secretive body of military and police commanders in the Joint Operations Command for orchestrating the political violence that has rocked the country since the March election.
MDC claims that 66 of its supporters have been killed and thousands more beaten, tortured, wrongfully arrested and forced to flee their homes.
While it has distanced itself from the violence or campaigning for Zanu PF, the army, that the MDC alleges, is now in charge has made clear that it will not accept the MDC in government.
After the March election, Army Chief of Staff, General Constantine Chiwenga, told the media that “the army would not support or salute sell-outs and agents of the West”, an apparent reference to the MDC.
Zimbabwe police have made sure that Tsvangirai and his leadership spend more time in detention than campaigning. Since his return home, after spending more than a month outside the country, Tsvangirai has been arrested more than four times — at one time being held for more than nine hours and on Thursday he was detained twice. On all occasions he was released without being charged.
About 10 MDC MPs are either in police custody, are wanted or have a case to answer. The latest being the party’s Secretary-General Tendai Biti, who was arrested upon return at the airport. He faces charges of treason, an offence that carries the death penalty in Zimbabwe.
“These are all trumped up charges just to ensure that our campaigning is reduced to nothing and we concentrate on fighting for our liberty instead of meeting the people,” says Nelson Chamisa, the MDC spokesperson.
However, his Zanu PF counterpart, Mr Patrick Chinamasa has a different view: “That (arrests) have nothing to do with the elections, it has everything to do with the law. Let the law take its course. We want a peaceful country. That can only be achieved if the police arrest suspects.”
Chinamasa, who is Mugabe’s Justice minister, dismissed the Human Rights Watch that says the chance of a fair and democratic run-off election in Zimbabwe had been “extinguished”.
“I am not surprised by such fiction in the report as it is meant to ensure there is something to say after president (Mugabe) is declared the victor. The report is full of patent lies,” said Chinamasa. The Human Rights Watch report says, with thousands of opposition supporters found to have been tortured and intimidated by Harare, while others are living in fear, the run-off will not be fair.
The report claims it has evidence that Zanu-PF was responsible for abductions, beatings, torture and killings of supporters of the opposition party.
“Zanu PF supporters are actually the victims and the report conveniently left out that to save its purpose. Despite that, our party will win this second round,” said Chinamasa.
Mugabe’s victory must not be a surprise, he and his party has done a lot of groundwork.