By Byron Dziva and Peta Thornycroft in Harare
Last Updated: 1:11am GMT 29/03/2008
A senior Zimbabwean intelligence official has admitted that today's
elections will be rigged to produce a huge victory for President Robert
The official, who did not wish to be quoted, indicated that the
rigging would secure the 57 per cent result for Mr Mugabe predicted in an
opinion poll published by state media.
This would hand his Zanu-PF party more than two thirds of the 210
parliamentary seats and the 84-year-old leader a sixth presidential term.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change,
stood at 27 per cent and Simba Makoni, a former finance minister in Mr
Mugabe's government, was on 14 per cent in the survey published in the
The official at the Central Intelligence Organisation said the rigging
was planned earlier this year, using the flawed voters' roll and
collaboration from electoral commission staff to produce victory for Mr
The number of polling stations has also mysteriously increased from
8,212 in early March to 9,400 this week, leaving election monitors thinly
Opposition activists said that there would be no need for ballot box
stuffing or double voting. They say the results will be manufactured and
that it would take weeks or even months for irregularities to be
The MDC has set up its command centre at a Harare hotel and will be
announcing results coming from its polling officers around the country.
This is an attempt to prevent the expected "rigging through
announcement" by Mr Mugabe's hand-picked election officials.
The intelligence official said he expected that Mr Mugabe would be
sworn in as soon as results were broadcast, perhaps tomorrow.
The security forces said they were on high alert to prevent the sort
of violence seen in Kenya at the start of the year.
By Peta Thornycroft and Sebastien Berger
Last Updated: 1:11am GMT 29/03/2008Page 1 of 3
However they vote today, Zimbabwe's people are set to suffer further
under Robert Mugabe's brutal regime, report Peta Thornycroft and Sebastien
In a dusty field on the edge of Harare, tens of thousands of people
gathered last week to listen to Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Zimbabwean
opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change.
Many in the excited crowd were holding up red cards - a symbol stolen
from football - that told President Robert Mugabe simply to "Go".
"We are beyond fear and intimidation - do not be afraid," Tsvangirai
told them. "The road we have travelled has been difficult and painful, but
we have taken up the challenge against this dictatorship."
Difficult and painful do not begin to describe Zimbabwe's experiences.
It is stuck in an economic death spiral, with 80 per cent of people
unemployed, and the Zimbabwean dollar - worth more than the American
greenback at independence - now trading at 70 million to the pound.
Inflation is believed to be over 100,000 per cent, but there are
simply not enough goods in the shops for calculations to be accurate.
Hundreds of thousands of desperate Zimbabweans - as well as the
outside world - are looking towards today's elections as the moment when
that changes, when Mugabe is forced from office and the reconstruction of
the country can begin.
But by far the most probable outcome is that he will cling to office
whatever the electorate decides - and that the immiseration of his country
In his 28 years in office, Mugabe has developed a ferocious grip on
power. His Zanu-PF party is highly centralised, and its upper echelons are
loyal to him.
While the party is deeply divided between radicalisers and
modernisers, the independent run for the presidency of the former finance
minister Simba Makoni does not appear to have triggered the large-scale
defections that were rumoured a few weeks ago.
The country's economic woes have affected even Mugabe's supporters:
many of the uniformed police officers patrolling the streets and watching
over opposition rallies are painfully thin, and they are certainly less
hostile to the MDC than in the past.
But their commissioner, Augustine Chihuri, has made it clear he will
obey neither Tsvangirai nor Makoni, and the army and civil service also
remain fanatically loyal to the regime.
Mugabe insists Tsvangirai will never be allowed to be president:
"Those who want to vote for him can do so, but those votes will be wasted
votes. It will never happen as long as we are still alive - those who
planned the liberation struggle." Many, particularly in Harare, fear an
election victory for the MDC would simply lead to a violent coup by Mugabe
Following Tsvangirai on the campaign trail, it is clear he is well
funded - he is able to hire quality loudspeaker systems and distribute
thousands of T-shirts.
He has enjoyed a surge in popularity after a period when the MDC's own
divisions left it marginalised and impotent. But it amounts to little.
Zimbabwe's elections are not normal exercises in democracy. Few
outside observers have any faith in the Zimbabwe Election Commission,
appointed by Mugabe: indeed, Tsvangirai is widely believed to have won the
last presidential poll in 2002 with a majority of 70,000.
"People are tense, hungry and longing for change," a senior
industrialist in Harare told the Telegraph this week. "My workforce is
openly saying that if Mugabe wins that means the vote will have been
They have good reason to be suspicious. According to the independent
Zimbabwe Election Support Network, there are so few polling stations in the
MDC's urban strongholds of Harare and Bulawayo that each resident will have
to be processed in just 20 seconds if all of them are to vote - an
And, according to the MDC, nine million ballot papers have been
ordered for an electorate of 5.9 million, opening the way for duplicity on a
Perhaps most significantly of all, the election results will be
tallied in a command centre in Harare, to which no monitors or journalists
have ever been allowed access.
Zimbabwe's neighbours in the Southern African Development Community
will, nevertheless, declare the polls free and fair. "Regardless of what
happens," says an American diplomat, "Mugabe will declare victory."
Some opposition figures are hoping that with Zanu-PF divided by the
Makoni candidacy, Mugabe might have lost some of this capacity to rig the
Makoni is widely believed to have been backed by Solomon Mujuru, a
former army commander who is seen as an alternative centre of power in the
David Coltart, the MDC MP for Bulawayo South, who led legal challenges
to the 2002 election result, is optimistic that transparent ballot boxes and
counting at polling stations could also make stealing the result more
difficult. "Mugabe is no longer sure who he can count on in Zanu-PF," he
But even if Mugabe is perceived as having stolen the vote, Coltart
believes that, at least in Bulawayo, there is no chance of the kind of
violent reaction that engulfed Kenya after its recent elections.
The young, fit and able, who would normally be at the forefront of a
civil uprising, have left the country in droves for neighbouring South
Africa. Many of the remaining population are destitute, their bodies ravaged
by hunger and HIV/Aids. Four million Zimbabweans receive food aid, and life
expectancy - which is in the mid-thirties for men and women - is among the
lowest in the world.
Joseph Nkomo - not his real name - lives in a three-roomed house in a
low-class Bulawayo suburb. He is typical of Mugabe's many victims.
Bedridden and suffering from chronic diarrhoea, a symptom of Aids, he
has for months been looked after by his two daughters, aged 10 and 12. The
family's total food supply amounts to three days' worth of maize meal, a
small cupful of cooking oil, some tea and salt, and half a withered cabbage.
Electricity is intermittent, there is running water two days a week,
and the stench of sewage from a burst pipe outside wafts into the house.
Nkomo's frame is emaciated, his eyes sunken, and his fingernails grey
from a chronic fungal infection that is often a precursor to a lethal form
"The situation is deteriorating, so pathetic, especially on the food
side - both for me and the country," he says.
And his view of Mugabe? "He has mismanaged the country, he is selfish
and he is hard-hearted. He only thinks about himself."
Pressure from abroad to alleviate the situation is counterproductive.
Denunciations from London and Washington are grist to Mugabe's mill,
allowing him to portray himself as standing firm against his colonial
oppressors, and to argue that EU sanctions against Zimbabwe - which in
reality are toothless - are to blame for the country's plight.
Suggestions of reconstruction packages have come and gone, as has talk
of "retirement for immunity" deals for Mugabe.
After Charles Taylor, the former Liberian leader, was prosecuted for
war crimes despite having negotiated such a deal, Mugabe will never accept
So there is every possibility that the situation will get worse after
the election. A new law requires all companies to be majority-owned by
Zimbabweans, who are defined as non-white citizens.
This move will further devastate the economy, already in pieces after
the seizure of white farmland by Mugabe loyalists tore the heart out of
commercial agriculture, the mainstay of the country's prosperity.
Then there is Mugabe's other threat: to take over shops he accuses of
defying price controls in an attempt to bring about "regime change".
"Maybe I will be closed down," a supermarket owner in Harare said this
week. "Then I will have lost everything, but I still don't regret living
here, except for the politics. Even if I was given a British passport and
money, I wouldn't leave. Although I accept that it is very, very difficult
"I see people every day coming in and looking at prices and walking
away because they can't afford to buy anything. That is very hard. I have to
The man has never owned his home, rarely goes on holiday and works 12
hours a day, seven days a week.
"This place is my home," he says of his supermarket. "It's my family,
a town within a city."
He sends a bus to pick up his 160 workers each morning and gives them
a meal at lunchtime: "Otherwise they will be too hungry to work."
"I am longing for peace and quiet and an end to despair," he adds. "
We just want to run our businesses without fear. The rules change every day.
Every day the government reacts to the latest crisis it has caused. In
Zimbabwe, there is always a new crisis."
Today's election is unlikely to change that.
i on global trends
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Political tension hit a new high in Zimbabwe on the eve of crucial general
elections at the weekend in which an embattled President Robert Mugabe will
be seeking a sixth consecutive term in office.
The veteran leader, 84, helped set the tone in a campaign speech in the
eastern border town of Nyanga on Thursday, when in response to opposition
allegations of planned rigging, dared them to come on the streets to
“We have received information that the opposition has promised to make
violent protests after losing the elections. I dare you to protest against
the outcome of the elections and you will see what will happen to you. We
want people to vote in peace, but no nonsense after my victory.”
The military, whose commanders have said they would not recognise any
president other than Mugabe, deployed Soviet-era tanks on the streets of the
capital, Harare, on Thursday night.
Police Commissioner General, Augustine Chihuri, who spoke on behalf of the
commanders said: “Those who have been breathing fire about Kenyan-style
violence should be warned. We are not going to allow a situation where
individuals arrogate themselves the roles of election officials and announce
themselves winners at any stage of the electoral process.”
Mugabe is being challenged by Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader
Morgan Tsvangirai, and former finance minister Simba Makoni, who is running
as an independent. The harmonised elections will see Zimbabweans for the
first time electing local councillors, members of parliament, senators and
the president on the same day on 29 March.
Free and fair?
Despite the opposition claims of a fixing of the ballot, and the authorities
threats to crackdown on dissent, the election campaign had, up until this
week, been unusually quiet.
Mashonaland East has traditionally been a ZANU-PF stronghold, where the
opposition had all but been outlawed. But when IRIN visited a shopping
centre in Mutoko, MDC posters outnumbered those of ZANU-PF candidates.
People mingled and shared a traditional brew wearing campaign regalia from
different political parties - something unheard of in the past.
Seventy-year-old Rinos Bwanya, a ZANU-PF supporter, told IRIN that political
violence did not benefit anybody.
“In the past, senior ZANU-PF officials would come to our villages and
encourage us to harass or beat up opposition supporters. This always caused
divisions and enmity until way after the elections. Over time, it has come
to our realisation that politicians from the ruling party and the opposition
get along very well … we have realised that we were being used for their own
His nephew, 25-year-old Peter Chirume, a staunch opposition supporter,
“I see no reason why anybody should try to make me an enemy of my uncle over
simple things like political allegiance. Political violence is an indication
of just how barbaric people can become. Can you imagine what would happen if
all big football teams in the world resorted to beating up football
followers to support them?”
The African Union election observer team has acknowledged the low levels of
political violence ahead of Saturday’s poll. The head of the observer team,
former Sierra Leone president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, said: “Since we arrived,
we have been looking around; we saw that the place was peaceful.”
However, while even the opposition has acknowledged the decline in levels of
political intimidation, commentators have warned that it does not mean the
election will be clean.
Takura Zhangazha, a political analyst, said ZANU-PF were keen to be seen as
legitimate victors, rather than having intimidated their way back into
power. “ZANU-PF is very confident of winning these elections, not because of
its popularity but because it knows that it is in charge of the electoral
management systems which it can manipulate in its favour.”
How many voters?
Tendai Biti, secretary general in the main faction of the MDC, said they had
established that nine million ballots had been printed, although the
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced two weeks ago that 5.9 million
people had registered to vote.
ZEC chairman, George Chiweshe, a retired soldier, told the media this week
that extra ballots had been printed to cater for any eventualities.
Luke Tamborinyoka, the director of information in the MDC, told IRIN that
did not make sense. “There have been a lot of deaths, while other people
have moved to other countries in search of a better life, while many will
not be able to vote for different reasons … What ZANU-PF and ZEC are trying
to do [by printing extra ballots] is to create an environment where rigging
can take place.”
Arthur Mutambara, leader of the rival wing of the MDC, who put aside his
presidential ambitions to support Makoni, told IRIN that the opposition
would be united in the fight against electoral fraud. “What we want to tell
Mugabe is that there will be a united response from the democratic forces to
defend their victory. Electoral theft will not be tolerated.”
The opposition and civil society have warned that recent amendments to
electoral laws making it mandatory for police officers to assist people
inside the voting booth to cast their ballots amounted to intimidation and
Although 8,000 people applied for postal ballots, ZEC has not denied reports
that it printed 600,000 postal ballots. In another potentially serious
loophole, the opposition has also alleged that an audit of the voters’ roll
had established that people who died more than two decades ago were still on
Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and
analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the
United Nations or its Member States.
President invokes a final struggle against imperialism but opponents see
poll as a fight for the very survival of the nation
Chris McGreal in Harare
Saturday March 29 2008
To Robert Mugabe, today's presidential election in Zimbabwe is not so much a
vote as war. From his campaign slogan - Get Behind the Fist, over a picture
of Mugabe waving a firmly clenched fist - to speeches invoking the
liberation war against white rule, the president of Zimbabwe has defined his
campaign to extend his 28-year rule as the final struggle against British
imperialism and its fifth columnists in the opposition.
"We must deliver the final blow against the British on March 29," he told
one of his final election rallies. "We are in a war situation. This is a
time to fight, not pleasure."
For many of those governed by Mugabe, it is more a war of personal survival.
The most important election since independence in 1980 is likely to decide
whether Zimbabwe descends into final economic collapse - mirroring countries
such as Mobutu Sese Seko's Zaire, which fell apart through neglect,
corruption and cynicism rather than conflict - or pulls back from the brink.
Desperate voters are grappling with hyperinflation, empty supermarket
shelves and worthless money. Eighty percent of the population are unemployed
and nearly half chronically malnourished. About 3 million people, a quarter
of the population, have left the country in search of work, principally in
David Coltart, a parliamentary candidate for the opposition Movement for
Democratic Change in Bulawayo, told voters in a campaign letter that the
election is their "chance to change the course of Zimbabwean history for the
better". He added: "Zimbabwe is in such a terrible state that we do not have
the luxury of making a mistake. Another five years of Zanu-PF rule will
completely destroy Zimbabwe.
"In football terms Zimbabwe was in the premier league in 1980 ... Next
season we will not even be able to play because the players have no boots,
balls or kit. The goalposts have fallen down and the ground is overgrown."
Mugabe's critics say that if he wins today or, as seems more likely,
declares victory after rigging the vote, Zimbabweans face an even bleaker
future as the economy gives up any sign of life.
Economists say inflation is probably four times the official figure of
100,000% and is likely to escalate further with the government presses
furiously turning out cash to pay for its election campaign and salary
increases for disaffected soldiers and civil servants whose income has been
wiped out by hyperinflation.
Regular power cuts are likely to give way to no electricity at all, the
water supply is drying up and the last of Zimbabwe's factories will close
for lack of supplies. Food supplies are scarce and the fields produce only a
fraction of Zimbabwe's needs amid a shortage of seeds, fertiliser and
irrigation. Many more people will leave the country. Rural areas are already
inhabited mostly by the very young who are looked after by the elderly after
the intervening generation fled Zimbabwe in search of work.
Those who are unlucky enough to fall ill will continue to die for want of
medicines and functioning equipment in the hospitals. For the one-third of
the population with HIV, the cost of drugs has just risen 4,000% to 1.3bn
Zimbabwe dollars a month, a little more than £20 at the black market
exchange rate but more than most people earn.
Life expectancy, already only 34 years for a Zimbabwean woman, will continue
to fall. Mugabe, who at 84 has lived two-and-a-half times as long as the
average Zimbabwean can expect today, says that another six years in power
will be the final victory over a "miserable" colonialist Britain, and that
Zimbabwe will flourish again with the "empowerment" of its people through
the redistribution of white-owned farms.
But many Zimbabweans say they feel more helpless than empowered, and support
for Mugabe appears to have collapsed even in rural areas that were his
ruling Zanu-PF party's strongholds.
"We used to have food, we used to have jobs. Mugabe liberated us but then he
enslaved us again," said a young man at an opposition rally in Harare. "Why
would we vote for him? What can he do for us now?"
Zanu-PF itself is split after a breakaway challenge by Mugabe's former
finance minister, Simba Makoni, that transformed the election by eating into
the president's remaining support.
The MDC candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, has drawn large crowds in rural areas
once regarded as Mugabe strongholds.
But that does not mean Mugabe is relinquishing power. As if to emphasise his
view of the election as a military struggle to be won or lost beyond the
ballot box, the security forces put on a show of force in Harare by driving
armoured vehicles and water cannon through the streets to remind citizens of
the consequences of dissent.
Yesterday the country's police chief, Augustine Chihuri, said he would not
permit protests or let the opposition declare it had won the election -
apparently a move to head off the MDC's plan to issue a parallel count and
defend what it says will be an overwhelming victory with Kenya-style mass
protests if the numbers are manipulated.
The state-run and belligerently pro-Mugabe Herald newspaper yesterday
published a poll giving the president 57% of the vote. If accurate, it would
mean support for the president has grown since the last election, when he
won with 52%. The opposition says that is not credible and the Herald's
figures are an indication of the scale of the fraud Mugabe intends to pull
"We're severely worried about rigging," said Tendai Biti, the MDC secretary
general. "This is a self-defence election. People are suffering - hungry,
jobless, dying. This is an election to defend their lives and to do that
they need to defend the vote."
The election will probably be decided in rural areas, where 60% of voters
are registered. Mugabe has attempted to win them over with mass distribution
of farm implements, from spades for subsistence farmers to tractors and
combine harvesters for local leaders, although there is little fuel to run
them and few seeds to plant.
Mugabe's election roadshow generally arrives with truckloads of maize for a
hungry population. The message is clear: vote Zanu-PF and you'll eat.
But there is a less overt message passed on by Mugabe's officials to village
headmen and other leaders: we will know how your area voted and if it goes
against the president you won't eat.
Fay Chung, a former education minister in Mugabe's government who is running
for parliament as an independent and backs Makoni, said that for all the
intimidation the tide had turned against the president. "People want Mugabe
retired. They don't want him put on trial but they do want him to go. Every
place I've been they're saying that," she said. "But it's difficult to say
who they will vote for, Tsvangirai or Makoni."
The Tsvangirai camp, which has drawn large crowds in rural areas, says
Makoni has little name recognition in the countryside and no organisation to
back him up. Tsvangirai on the other hand has a well-funded and extensive
campaign, and has built a reputation for physical courage after beatings at
the hands of Zanu-PF forces.
But dissent within the ruling party may help Makoni. His supporters say a
whispering campaign on his behalf by disaffected Zanu-PF officials among
rural voters may prove a huge benefit.
Tsvangirai is also grappling with a legacy of the last presidential election
in which he said he would return much of the land seized from white farmers
to its owners.
This time, Tsvangirai, like Makoni, says land redistribution is
irreversible, although both also say they will take land from senior Zanu-PF
officials who have been awarded several farms that are now unproductive.
But all of that may prove academic. Mugabe has said the MDC will "never,
ever" govern "my Zimbabwe".
Chihuri, and the armed forces commander, General Constantine Chiwenga, have
said they would not recognise victory by a "puppet" of Britain.
A coalition of Zimbabwean human rights groups, the National Constitutional
Assembly, has called on ordinary soldiers and policemen to recognise that
the liberation war is long over. "It is not too late to refuse to be used as
pawns by those who hold no allegiance to you and your families and whose
only interest is in their own personal greed and ambition," the group said.
Saturday, 29 March 2008
Things could turns nasty in Zimbabwe over the next few days. Troops have
been mobilised on to the streets of Harare and other population centres. It
is the surest sign that President Robert Mugabe knows that he is heading for
a massive drubbing in tomorrow's elections. But though he will almost
certainly lose the vote, he knows he will win the election. Three million
surplus ballot papers have been printed in preparation for the
ballot-stuffing frauds with which Mr Mugabe has cheated the Zimbabwe
electorate in the past.
All the signs from opinion polls, both public and private, are that the
leader of the MDC opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai, is in the lead with between
30 and 40 per cent. Second, with about 20 per cent, comes Simba Makoni, who
quit as Mr Mugabe's finance minister in 2002, and who many expected to
present a greater threat to his former boss than Mr Tsvangirai who is
generally believed to have won the last election, before the fiddling began.
Mr Mugabe is said to have only about 10 per cent of voters committed to
him – hardly a surprise since he has presided over economic chaos with
inflation at 100,000 per cent, unemployment at 80 per cent and life
expectancy that has plummeted to among the lowest in the world. Zimbabwe,
once southern Africa's breadbasket, is now ranked 151st out of 175 countries
in the UN poverty index. Even basic commodities such as bread and cooking
oil are now hard to come by. More Zimbabweans have died from the combined
effects of malnutrition, crumbling health care and Aids than have perished
in Darfur. It can't even be said Mr Mugabe has turned his nation into a
banana republic since the banana has become a luxury commodity costing
billions of Zimbabwean dollars.
What happens next depends in part on how blatant is the ballot-rigging. Mr
Mugabe needs 51 per cent of the vote to win, a figure he might struggle to
achieve even by ballot-stuffing, given the collapse of Zimbabwe's
infrastructure. He might have to resort to arranging for ballot boxes from
opposition strongholds to go missing, as happened in Kenya. If the
opposition reacts with mass demonstrations on the streets, the Mugabe regime
could react with a security clampdown, arrests, beatings and torture, as in
The international community needs a co-ordinated reaction to a rigged vote.
Members of the African Union must take the lead in issuing, along with the
European Union and United States, a joint statement withholding recognition
of the results. They then need to crank up the kind of concerted
intervention, fronted by a high-level African Union mediation mission, as
happened in Kenya. Its aim must be to assist the negotiation of a
power-sharing agreement to set up a transitional government in advance of
new elections. Rich nations must outline a package of economic and political
assistance which would be made available to any government of national unity
from which Mr Mugabe is excluded.
Keeping this together will be difficult. It was tricky in Kenya, taking many
weeks for Kofi Annan to negotiate, and it will be even trickier in Zimbabwe.
But there are reasons for optimism. South Africa may well take a harder
line; last year's long mediation attempt by Thabo Mbeki failed, and the new
chairman of the ANC, Jacob Zuma, has been more critical of Mr Mugabe than Mr
Mbeki was in the past; members of his trade union power base picket the
Zimbabwean embassy in Pretoria every day.
If such tactics fail, then the only option will be to intensify targeted
sanctions against Mr Mugabe and those of his cronies blocking a political
March 29, 2008
He has taken Zimbabwe to the brink of ruin in 28 years of violent one-party
rule, but now the President is fighting to hold on to power
Catherine Philp in Beitbridge
The road to the border runs through what was once prime fruit-growing land,
through the bush where vast herds of cattle grazed, down to the frontier
where lorries thundered through, piled high with the fat of Zimbabwe’s land,
for export to a hungry Africa.
Now the only lorries are empty fuel tankers, heading to South Africa to fill
up with the petrol that few back home will be able to afford. Cars trundle
across on weekly shopping trips, bringing back the basic foodstuffs that
Zimbabwe once exported in abundance. And off the road, where
crocodile-infested streams run through a bush patrolled by armed border
guards, another desperate soul tries to cross, joining four million
Zimbabweans in exile in search of earnings to send back to their hungry
This is where, last month, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s hero of independence
and its only leader in the nearly three decades since, began his campaign to
be reelected for the next five years. It was his 84th birthday. President
Mugabe has ruled this country for so long that his presence seems an
inescapable reality, an unchanging part of a changing landscape.
This time, however, for the first time since independence, his victory is no
longer a given. In today’s election, Comrade Mugabe, Uncle Bob, or simply
the “old man”, faces the toughest battle of his political life. “He was the
hero of the liberation struggle, just as he says,” Philip Chiro, a
bricklayer and former Mugabe supporter, said. “But now our struggle is
simply to survive and if he does not go, I believe Zimbabwe will die.”
Mr Chiro had come to the stadium in Bulawayo to see one of Mr Mugabe’s
biggest challengers. Not Morgan Tsvangirai, the long-time opposition leader,
who has battled the regime for a decade, but Simba Makoni, the former
Finance Minister and senior member of the Zanu (PF) politburo, who was
spectacularly flung out of the party last month when he broke ranks and
offered himself up as a candidate against Mr Mugabe.
“Until then, the election was dead in the water,” said David Coltart, the MP
for Bulawayo South, and a leading member of Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for
Democratic Change until the party split two years ago. The schism cast a
pall of gloom over the opposition, already downcast over Mr Mugabe’s blatant
theft of the 2002 and 2005 elections, which was ignored by Zimbabwe’s
neighbours, reluctant to turn on a hero of black liberation.
Mr Makoni’s emergence threw up new, previously unthinkable scenarios. He is
known to have the tacit allegiance of much of the intelligence and security
apparatus, the very people Mr Mugabe has relied on to steal votes for him in
the past. What if the rigging, instead of returning the President, were to
go in favour of his renegade former minister? What if others from the ruling
party defected to his side at the ballot box. What if, rather than splitting
the opposition vote, he took it from the ruling party itself? And so to the
next, daring thought: what if this were the end of the road for Mr Mugabe?
The Mr Mugabe that Mr Chiro remembers was a hero once. When he stood beside
the Prince of Wales in 1980 as the old Rhodesian flag was lowered and the
new Zimbabwean standard was raised, the new leader vowed that blacks and
whites would stand together and leave the brutal past behind to build a
nation together. But within two years, he had turned on his own people,
launching the Gukurahundi, or “the rain that washes away the chaff”, a
series of massacres against supporters of the Zapu party, which had fought
alongside Zanu (PF) in the war against white rule. The Government claimed
that only 400 dissidents died, but 20,000 people were killed across
Matabeleland in the west of the country. Bulawayo is its main city.
Hundreds of schools and hospitals were built elsewhere during that decade,
and into the Nineties, as Zimbabwe prospered. Dumiso Dabengwa, the former
Zapu intelligence chief, served as Mr Mugabe’s Home Minister during that
period, despite having served time in prison for treason. He remembers a
committed and conscientious leader, poring over the details of every
document that he was given.
As time went on, Mr Mugabe wavered. “He would make excuses, he was no longer
committed,” Mr Dabengwa told The Times at a clandestine meeting in
Matabeleland. Foreign journalists are barred from reporting in Zimbabwe and
those here operate under the radar. “He was getting too old, he had too much
on his plate.” Discontent began to brew within the party and there was talk
of reining in the President.
Then Mr Mugabe launched his plans to seize white-owned farms. Most of the
party backed the idea of land redistribution – the situation at independence
was blatantly inequitable, with 90 per cent of the country’s most productive
land in the hands of 5,000 white farmers.
But many watched in horror as he unleashed the war veterans in a violent
campaign to seize the farms, handing them not to landless peasants but to
friends, families and cronies. By now, Mr Dabengwa said, Mr Mugabe was so
out of touch that he may not even have been aware that governors were
plundering the farms and handing land to their own families. “He didn’t want
to know the truth, and the people around him just told him what he wanted to
hear,” he said. “He had lost touch with reality.”
The reality was the collapse of the agricultural economy and the crops of
tobacco, cotton and maize that once brought in 40 percent of Zimbabwe’s
export earnings. Hundreds of thousands of black farm workers lost their
jobs, becoming beggars and pedlars. Zimbabwe, for the first time, began
importing maize, with which it had once fed much of southern Africa.
Inflation shot up, destroying the earnings of the prosperous middle classes,
who left in their millions.
When Mr Makoni tried to stop Mr Mugabe from printing more money to solve the
problem, he was sacked. Inflation now stands at 100,600 per cent, the
highest in the world.
When Mr Makoni declared his candidacy, Mr Mugabe labelled him “a prostitute
without customers”. But according to Mr Dabengwa, Mr Makoni did not act
alone. At last year’s party congress, a group of disaffected politburo
members got together to challenge the President as the party’s candidate.
When they failed, they chose Mr Makoni to challenge him instead.
Others in Zanu, he said, have privately backed Mr Makoni and are waiting to
The only opinion poll to be taken puts Mr Tsvangirai in the lead, with 28
per cent, with Mr Mugabe on 20 per cent and Mr Makoni at 9 per cent. While
it must be treated with caution, it still leaves a huge number, more than 40
per cent, undeclared.
Incredible as it may seem that willing votes could go to the man who has
presided over Zimbabwe’s fall from prosperous African success story to
economic basketcase, most analysts believe 20 per cent is a genuine figure.
Under the rules, one candidate must win an absolute majority to take power,
or the election goes to a second round. As his two challengers have already
agreed to share power whatever the result, it seems inconceivable that Mr
Mugabe could win a run-off.
All this presumes a fair election, however, and that is impossible. While
the election commission has shown unexpected independence – votes will be
tallied at each station, rather than centrally – the rigging machinery is in
full swing. Reports speak of millions of ghost voters – some long dead,
including most of Ian Smith’s old white supremacist Cabinet – millions of
extra ballots, computer trickery, and so few polling stations in urban
areas, which the MDC should sweep, that only half or even a third of voters
there may get to vote.
What has almost ceased is the brutality of the two previous elections,
during which hundreds were tortured and police intimidation was rampant. The
opposition has been given unprecedented freedom to campaign and access to
Mr Dabengwa claims that the President has lost the support of the rank and
file of the military and police. Ground down by the same pressures as the
rest of the population, they are defecting to Mr Makoni, Some see the new
freedoms as evidence that Mr Mugabe already has the election sewn up, and so
can afford to gild the process with the appearance of fairness.
There are signs, too, that he is worried. On Thursday, a huge convoy of
police and army rolled into Bulawayo, an opposition stronghold, with three
new water cannon in tow. And in his strident speeches Mr Mugabe has started
to raise another spectre: Kenya. There, a dispute over the result of last
December’s election erupted into tribal violence that killed 1,500, and
stopped only when a deal was struck to share power. This week, he warned the
MDC not to resort to violence should it lose. “If they make a disturbance
like in Kenya, you will see,” he said. “We are not joking. We warn the MDC:
if they want to put a rope around their necks, that is OK.”
Others wonder whether it is Mr Mugabe who will use violence to cling on to
power if he loses or if the rest of southern Africa refuses for the first
time to accept the result.
Few imagine that he will go quietly. “He is a man that loves power,” Mr
Dabengwa said. “He will never accept less.” Mr Mugabe has said he will leave
office only in a coffin, a reference, some believe, to his fear of
retribution for the Gukurahundi crimes. Matabeleland is littered with mass
graves filled with the victims of his purges. “He doesn’t want to die at the
International Criminal Court,” said Shari Eppel, a human rights activist.
Rumours persist that his family has already departed for Malaysia, where his
money is said to be held. Opposition leaders have promised an amnesty to
encourage him to go.
At his rallies, Mr Mugabe still rails against the “colonisers” and “British
stooges”. Sometimes it feels as if he is still back there in the bush,
fighting a battle that ended long ago. “He talks of the past only,” Mr Chiro
said. “But what we need now is a future.”
Globe and Mail, Canada
Mugabe ally's defection gives opposition hope, however slim, that they can
win today's elections in spite of long legacy of rigged polls
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
March 28, 2008 at 8:41 PM EDT
DOMBOSHAVA, ZIMBABWE — It's like a collective delusion, a mass, defiant
blindness brought on by desperation-fuelled optimism.
Supporters of Zimbabwe's opposition — which, polls indicate, are the vast
majority of Zimbabweans — seem convinced they can win today's elections,
which will choose everything from the president down to the local
If ever there was an electorate, anywhere in the world, who had reason to be
doubtful, pessimistic or cynical about a poll, it is this one. Four times in
the past eight years, the government of President Robert Mugabe has stolen
As international observers have painstakingly noted each time, Mr. Mugabe
and his team have used voter intimidation — including brutal beatings and
the demolition of the homes of tens of thousands of perceived opposition
supporters — and every manner of rigging, from gerrymandering to voters
lists full of the dead to people bused from polling station to polling
station to vote, to ensure they hold tightly on to power.
Men wears masks showing President Robert Mugabe and leader of Zimbabwe's
ruling party ZANU-PF during a campaign rally in Harare Friday. Zimbabwe's
security forces were placed on full alert Friday to head off possible
violence at this weekend's elections as Mr. Mugabe's opponents feared the
outcome had already been fixed. (Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images)
They have done this as Zimbabwe's economic and social crisis has worsened
steadily, passing benchmark after benchmark in decline. Inflation is now
more than 150,000 per cent, the highest in the world; the life expectancy
for men in this once-prospering nation has hit 37 years, the lowest in the
Today, Zimbabweans vote again. And in spite of solid evidence to the
contrary, and years of their own experience, an astonishing number of them
seem convinced that this time, they can unseat Mr. Mugabe, 84, who has ruled
this country since it won its independence from Britain in 1980.
"We will vote in such numbers, and we will count the votes right here, and
how can they tamper?" asked Hilton Maverengo, a 22-year-old University of
Zimbabwe engineering student who joined a crowd of 3,000 people in this
rural area a half-hour's journey from the capital at an opposition rally
yesterday. "I came here today to see our new president."
And indeed, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for
Democratic Change, soon arrived, punchy and upbeat, promising food and jobs
"I am near to graduating, but there is no industry, there is nothing for me.
ZANU [Mr. Mugabe's party] destroyed everything." Mr. Maverengo said. "ZANU
is old and they have no future. Now, we will get rid of them."
It is difficult to account for this optimism. It has its roots, in part, in
a startling turn of events six weeks ago, when Simba Makoni, who had been a
key Mugabe ally since ZANU-PF took power, suddenly split from the party and
announced that he would challenge the President.
He was the first senior ZANU-PF official to break ranks since Zimbabwe's
crisis began in the late 1990s. He does not have widespread support here.
Some see his candidacy as a ZANU-PF ploy, while others begrudge him the long
years he spent profiting as an intimate of the regime.
But his candidacy shows that ZANU-PF is not an impregnable monolith, that
there is dissent within the party, that Mr. Mugabe is not as strong as the
state-controlled media make it seem.
There was an expectation when Mr. Makoni announced his run that other senior
ZANU-PF figures would break ranks and follow him. Only one has, which
further undermines his chances, but it has been enough to give people hope.
"For the first time, people have seen that there is a real threat to the
security system, to ZANU," said Davie Malungisa, director of the Institute
for Democratic Alternatives for Zimbabwe.
"That caused real, unbridled optimism."
Second, there is the grim depth of desperation, which has fuelled the
opposition's conviction it must win. "People are hungry and they are angry
and there is no way they can vote for the status quo in those conditions,"
said Willias Madzimure, an MDC member of Parliament who spoke distractedly
as he supervised get-out-the-vote plans for his re-election today. "People
won't accept any other result than [an MDC] victory."
Third, this election campaign has been conducted almost entirely without
violence, and with very little of the overt intimidation that has
characterized all the elections since Zimbabwe's crisis began in the 1990s,
when Mr. Mugabe began a highly politicized land-reform program in an effort
to hold on to power. In previous elections, MDC supporters have been beaten
and their houses firebombed, an efficient way of terrifying all but the most
avid supporters away from political activity.
There has been none of that this time, and Mr. Tsvangirai and Mr. Makoni
have been able to conduct their rallies even in the areas known to have the
greatest loyalty to Mr. Mugabe.
This is not to say that the government has not gone to considerable lengths,
both directly and otherwise, to cripple the opposition: Print companies said
they did not have the ink to print their posters; their campaign vehicles
could never get fuel. The state-controlled media pour out stories about the
government's new health plan here and education plan there, interspersed
with inspirational snippets of Mr. Mugabe's speeches at independence, while
the opposition battled to buy tiny newspaper ads or fleeting radio spots.
And finally, there is the conviction, on the part of the MDC in particular,
that if enough of their supporters vote, they can swamp even the Mugabe
rigging machine. "We will have 90 per cent of the vote," said Parerenyatwa
Chari, 32, an MDC scrutineer. "So even if they rig, we will have more
Not likely. "Most people don't understand the extent of the rigging. They
don't understand how, when you have access to the kind of state machinery
this government does, you have control," said a Zimbabwean journalist who
has made extensive study of fraud on the voter's roll, the electoral
commission and the role of state security forces in the elections over the
past five years.
"You can't break this kind of machinery in a single election. They think
they can just overwhelm, but they can't. There's no way they can."
And that, of course, raises the question of what happens on Monday, or
Tuesday, when the official tally is announced and Mr. Mugabe is given
another victory by, say, a modest 53 per cent.
Or perhaps even sooner: The MDC and several Zimbabwean civil-society groups
are hoping to try to keep an independent tally and release results of their
own, as early as tonight. (To win, a presidential candidate needs 50 per
cent of the vote, and a runoff vote is held if no one achieves that on the
The word "Kenya" is being invoked here, in many quarters.
When Kenya's incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, won that country's
presidential election in late December, the opposition, accusing him of
fraud, took to the streets and unleashed militias to foment savage,
ethnically based violence that left at least a thousand people dead and
350,000 homeless and displaced. The cost was horrific, and Kenya will spend
years recovering, but as the Kenyan opposition points out now, they drove
the government to a power-sharing deal.
At his rally in a vast, dusty field yesterday, Mr. Tsvangirai indirectly
invoked Kenya in his words to the crowd. "Tomorrow's election I know is
already won," he said in chiShona. "What is left is to protect our votes."
Certainly, many Zimbabweans feel they have nothing to lose. Nevertheless, it
is difficult to imagine a Kenyan-style scenario here. People were desperate
in previous elections, too, but they did not take to the streets.
Zimbabweans are hungry, tired, and often ill; one in five of them has
HIV-AIDS. And they lack leadership. Mr. Tsvangirai, who has already once
narrowly escaped the death penalty for trumped-up treason charges, is
understandably wary of overtly inciting rebellion.
Regardless, many feel he lacks the basic leadership to channel an effective
uprising; in recent years the MDC has fumbled and fractured, and Mr.
Tsvangirai's political fortunes were only revived, ironically, when the
government beat him nearly to death a year ago.
And Mr. Malungisa noted that Kenya's opposition had the advantage of a
supremely efficient and affordable mobile-phone network, through which much
of its campaign was conducted. In Zimbabwe, by contrast, the network is in
tatters and communication is nigh on impossible.
Kenyans had a vibrant, independent press that seized on the election theft
as a story; Zimbabwe's media are run by Mr. Mugabe. And while the outbreak
of violence caught Kenya's security services off guard, Mr. Mugabe's
generals are poised to swoop on the slightest hint of protest here.
All of which suggests that when the votes are announced later next week, and
Mr. Mugabe arranges to once again have himself sworn in, it can only —
inevitably, excruciatingly — be more of the same for Zimbabwe.
By ANGUS SHAW – 6 hours ago
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Soldiers took to the streets with armored cars and
water cannons Friday as Zimbabwe's security chiefs warned that they were
ready to confront any violence during the weekend's crucial presidential
election in this economically wrecked African nation.
The opposition urged its supporters to defend their ballots against what
they have charged is a plot by the ruling party to rig Saturday's vote.
President Robert Mugabe, the 84-year-old revolution leader facing the
toughest challenge since he won power in 1980, told his final campaign rally
that the election would show Zimbabweans' opposition to former colonizer
Britain, which he accuses of supporting the opposition.
"Zimbabweans are making a statement against the meddling British
establishment," the president told about 6,000 people in Epworth, an
impoverished town outside the capital of Harare.
Mugabe called for discipline at the polls despite "provocation from
outsiders who are already claiming the elections are not free and fair."
Running against Mugabe are opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, 55, who
narrowly lost the disputed 2002 election, and former ruling party loyalist
and finance minister Simba Makoni, 58. Preliminary results are not expected
Tsvangirai urged opposition supporters to stay at polling stations until
they close and counting begins.
"They would not rig in front of you," he told about 4,000 people in
Domboshawa, a farming community north of Harare. "We have won this election
already. What's left is for us to defend our vote."
Friday night, election monitors from the 14-nation Southern African
Development Community said they had observed "a number of matters of
concern," which they did not specify. They said they would investigate and
raise the issue with relevant authorities.
Zimbabwe's security chiefs are firmly behind Mugabe and they gathered to
warn against unrest, telling reporters the armed forces were "up to the task
in thwarting all threats to national security."
In Harare, soldiers on all-terrain vehicles and police on motorcycles
escorted a convoy of armored cars and water cannons making a show of force.
"Those who have been breathing fire about Kenya-style violence should be
warned," the security chiefs said, referring to bloody protests in that East
African nation after a December presidential election so rigged no one knows
who won. More than 1,000 people were killed there.
The security chiefs have made veiled threats of a coup if Mugabe should
lose. The Defense Forces commander, Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, warned that
his soldiers would not serve anyone but Mugabe.
On Thursday, Tsvangirai appealed to soldiers and other public servants to
reject any attempt to fix the voting. "Mugabe cannot rig elections by
himself," he said. "If someone tells you to falsify the results of the
elections, ignore the instructions."
Mugabe has said he would crush any anti-government demonstrations.
"Just dare try it," he was quoted as saying by the state-controlled Herald
newspaper. "We don't play around while you try to please your British
allies. Just try it and you will see."
Mugabe blames Britain and other Western nations for the ruin of this
southern African nation's economy, which once exported food, tobacco and
minerals. Zimbabweans now struggle to survive amid 100,000 percent inflation
and dire shortages of food, water, electricity, fuel and medicine.
Some 5 million people, a third of the population, are thought to have fled
the country in recent years. An average of 1,000 Zimbabweans pick their way
through barbed wire barriers to sneak into South Africa every day, the
Organization of International Migration says.
Western sanctions introduced after independent monitors said the 2002
election was rigged involve visa bans and frozen bank accounts for Mugabe
and 100 of his cronies, but the president has convinced many supporters the
sanctions are to blame for the country's woes.
Mugabe's critics argue that the agriculture-based economy was derailed by
the government-ordered, often violent eviction of white farmers so their
lands could be handed over to blacks.
But Fungai Shangwa, a 30-year-old unemployed mother of two, said land reform
was one of the reasons she would vote for Mugabe.
"The opposition will give back land to the whites," said Shangwa, who got no
land herself. Most of the seized farms went to Mugabe's friends, relatives
The president also is accused of trying to buy votes by handing out
tractors, power generators and state-subsidized food.
Makoni, a longtime ruling party politburo member until he was kicked out for
challenging Mugabe in February, has shaken up Zimbabwe's politics with his
appeal to disillusioned citizens, threatening to take votes from both the
opposition and Mugabe.
Makoni told The Associated Press in an interview on Thursday that his
priority as president would be to restore the rule of law to pave the way
for economic recovery and re-engage with the international community.
"The cure is not big piles of money," he said. "We will need money to deal
with the crises of food, energy and water, but the solution lies in the
revival of our own institutions and production in a climate of
Tsvangirai and other opponents have said Mugabe should be tried, possibly at
an international human rights court, for abuses such as the massacres of an
estimated 30,000 people during a campaign to subjugate the minority Ndebele
tribe in the 1980s.
Makoni said he would not mount a witch hunt against Mugabe, but he also said
he would give no special immunity to Mugabe.
At a joint news conference Thursday, their first, Makoni and Tsvangirai
appealed to election organizers and regional observers to prevent vote
They complained they had yet to receive full nationwide voter lists. But
Makoni said the partial lists showed enough problems to indicate "a very
well thought out and sophisticated plan to steal the election from us."
Mood in Zimbabwe Is Optimistic for Today's Vote, Despite Prospect of
By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, March 29, 2008; Page A08
HARARE, Zimbabwe, March 28 -- On the eve of Saturday's elections, many
Zimbabweans say they have come to believe something that was once all but
unthinkable: After nearly 28 years of unbroken power, President Robert
Mugabe might lose.
Not just lose in the sense of receiving fewer votes than his opponent, which
many Zimbabweans figure has happened before. They predict that the results
could be so clear cut, so overwhelming, that they will swamp even the
extensive rigging mechanisms that Mugabe is widely presumed to command.
"The energy, the passion, the air of hope is absolutely amazing," said
Trevor Ncube, publisher of two independent weekly newspapers here, among the
scant remnants of the nation's once robust free press. "We might just have
reached the true tipping point."
The idea has taken on such force -- despite the fact that Mugabe controls
nearly every lever of power -- as to approach a national mania. The most
skeptical analysts regard this enthusiasm as barely rational.
A barber found himself spontaneously singing an opposition song. An upscale
businesswoman bought herself two bottles of champagne. Thousands of
opposition supporters at a boisterous rally in a former Mugabe stronghold
boldly waved red cards, imitating the gestures of soccer referees ejecting
ill-behaved players from games.
Fueling this defiant mood is the world's worst inflation, at 100,000
percent, and deepening desperation. Prices go up every day, sometimes more
than once a day, causing an erosion of purchasing power so debilitating that
many of those still employed have stopped cashing their paychecks. Hospitals
lack drugs. Schools lack teachers. Store shelves are, at best, half-empty.
Hunger has become endemic.
"Right now, I don't even remember the last time I had bread with butter.
Long time," said Loice Matavire, 62, who lives in Harare.
Another reason for optimism that this election may be different is the
decline in political violence. Attacks on opposition figures were frequent
during the 2002 campaign, but they eased off in the 2005 parliamentary vote
and are down decisively this year. Zimbabweans credit the shift to pressure
from southern African regional leaders, who reacted with alarm last year
when opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and dozens of others were arrested
and beaten severely by police.
The political playing field remains sharply tilted toward Mugabe, who
controls nearly every source of information available to Zimbabweans, along
with the police force, the military and a notorious intelligence service.
But attacks have become rare enough that fear is lifting. Tsvangirai's
picture, meanwhile, has become omnipresent, on wall posters, newspaper ads
Matavire arrived at the Tsvangirai rally Friday wearing a full complement of
opposition party garb -- T-shirt, skirt and head wrap -- something she never
would have dared in previous elections. "I'm not even scared, because I've
declared that whatever comes will just happen," she said.
At the rally, Tsvangirai bluntly warned the crowd: "Tomorrow's election I
know is already won. What is left is to protect our votes."
Tsvangirai urged supporters to cast their ballots, head home for a bath and
a meal, then return to polling places in the evening to monitor the
"It's a different country" than in previous elections, said political
analyst John Makumbe, who has long been critical of Mugabe. "The shattering
of the economy is so devastating that everybody is so very angry."
Not everyone has gotten caught up in the preelection excitement. The bitter
memories of the past three elections, all of which opposition supporters say
were stolen, remain fresh.
Gerald Fitzy Mupaso, 32, a car electrician and Tsvangirai supporter, said
dourly, "He's got the votes, but it will be rigged."
Dumisani Muleya, a leading political reporter for the Zimbabwe
Independent -- one of Ncube's newspapers -- said he was certain Mugabe would
be reelected, courtesy of an array of tools for adjusting unwanted results.
"I won't say 'win,' " Muleya cautioned. "He will manipulate his way back to
Among the worrisome signs: The announced number of polling stations keeps
changing, by thousands at a time. Millions of extra ballots reportedly have
been printed. Mugabe's own highly politicized police force will be working
inside polling stations, supposedly to assist voters. The opposition says
that the feared and powerful Central Intelligence Organization, rather than
the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, is running the vote and will tally the
Friday's Herald newspaper, a state propaganda organ, reported a supposed
poll showing that Mugabe would win 57 percent, compared with 27 for
Tsvangirai and 14 for Simba Makoni, a former Mugabe finance minister who
broke with the ruling party to run for president as an independent. A clear
majority such as that would allow Mugabe to avoid a second round of voting,
which analysts suggest could consolidate opposition to him.
No matter what happens Saturday, Mugabe, 84 -- known here as Comrade Mugabe,
Uncle Bob or simply "the Old Man" -- has enjoyed an outsized role. He led
the guerrilla war against white-supremacist rule before taking control of
the re-christened Zimbabwe in 1980. He built one of Africa's best public
education systems and was viewed internationally as a voice of post-colonial
moderation until 2000, when he supported invasions of white-owned commercial
farms by black peasants.
International isolation and increasingly authoritarian rule at home soon
followed. His government shut down independent newspapers, trained vicious
young thugs as enforcers and charged Tsvangirai with treason. The economy,
once one of Africa's strongest, collapsed, pushing unemployment to 80
percent. An estimated 3 million Zimbabweans, one quarter of the population,
Makoni's entrance into the race seemed to convince many Zimbabweans that
Mugabe's ruling party was split as never before, a development that raises
the prospect that the people in charge of rigging votes for Mugabe's party
might be split in their loyalties as well. The uncertainty revived the
campaign of Tsvangirai, who had been struggling to rekindle enthusiasm after
three straight losses for his party.
Mugabe has responded with familiar tactics, accusing Tsvangirai and Makoni
of being puppets of foreign powers intent on re-colonizing Zimbabwe. For
weeks, Mugabe has been traveling the nation doling out largess: tractors,
generators, buses, computers for schools and cars for loyal officials.
Mugabe also has threatened to respond forcefully to post-election
demonstrations or violence, and on Friday, police officers and soldiers
patrolled the city and set up roadblocks. He has strongly hinted that he
would not step down even if he lost the vote.
Yet even those who have experienced the power of Mugabe's political machine
are predicting that this vote somehow will be different.
Last Maengahama, 31, a member of the opposition's executive committee, was
pulled from a car in March 2007 after leaving the funeral of an opposition
activist shot to death by the police. Over the next few hours, Maengahama
said, ruling party thugs blindfolded him, gagged him and drove him to a
remote spot far outside of Harare, where they beat him with iron bars and
whips. The abuse ended only when he stopped moving and played dead.
Bloodied and naked, limping from a broken left leg, he eventually waved down
a passing tractor and found his way to a hospital. Recuperation took three
But a year after his assault, Maengahama said there is more space than ever
for the opposition to campaign. He expressed confidence that Mugabe's power
finally is crumbling.
"The more you are beaten, the more you are arrested, somehow you are
strengthened," he said. "It gives you more reason to fight."
Special correspondent Darlington Majonga contributed to this report.
March 29, 2008
Jan Raath in Harare
Zimbabwe’s armed services chiefs issued an ominous warning on the eve of
today’s presidential election, aimed at deterring opposition supporters from
taking to the streets in protest should President Mugabe be declared the
A joint statement by the heads of the defence forces, the army, air force,
secret police and the prisons department announced that security forces were
“on full alert” and said “that those who think and do evil, must fear”.
Military armoured personnel carriers full of heavily armed soldiers were on
patrol around Harare in a show of force. Thousands of paramilitary police
were also stationed on street corners.
The statement cautioned “those who have been breathing fire about
Kenyan-style violence” and said that the military chiefs “will not tolerate”
candidates who “foment disorder and mayhem”. They also urged voters to go
home after voting “and await the results in the comfort of their homes”.
The remarks were directed at the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, head
of the biggest faction of the divided Movement for Democratic Change, who
appeared last night to be riding a surge of demand for change after 28 years
of rule by Mr Mugabe.
Mr Tsvangirai, backed by reports from numerous independent poll monitoring
organisations, has repeatedly given warning that Mr Mugabe will “steal the
election” and has told voters to wait at the polling stations after casting
their ballots, “to defend your vote”. He also declared that he would not
accept a result that made Mr Mugabe the winner.
General Constantine Chiwenga, commander of the defence forces, and the
prisons commissioner, Paradzayi Zimondi, both declared that they would not
salute Mr Tsvangirai if he were elected. Augustine Chihuri, the police
commissioner, called him “a puppet”. Observers say that a committee of top
military and intelligence officers close to Mr Mugabe recognises that strong
support for Mr Tsvangirai represents the most serious challenge yet to his
About 11,000 polling stations are due to open at 7am as voters choose
between Mr Mugabe, Mr Tsvangirai and Simba Makoni, Mr Mugabe’s former
finance minister. His challenge was expected to lure a large chunk of
traditional ruling party support away from Mr Mugabe. Parliamentary and
local government elections are being held simultaneously.
Alarm over manipulation of the vote rose amid reports that government
officials, aided by ruling party militias, were rounding up people in rural
areas and forcing them to be registered to vote. The MDC has accused the
Government of printing millions of surplus ballot papers, claiming that nine
million papers were ordered for 5.9 million registered voters.
Irene Petras, of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said the organisation
had received reports that indicated that the practice was widespread around
Mr Mugabe has repeatedly declared that: “Tsvangirai will never, never, never
rule this country.”
As the country goes to the polls, out correspondent finds the people daring
to hope for a new dawn
By Daniel Howden in Bulawayo
Saturday, 29 March 2008
Zimbabweans go to the polls today in the most important elections since the
country won independence from Britain 28 years ago, amid increasing signs
that Robert Mugabe's historic hold on the southern African country could be
Fears remain that a ground-swell of anger at the 84- year-old President and
the perilous state of the once-prosperous nation, could be thwarted by a
systematic campaign of election rigging and voter intimidation. Independent
observers have already dismissed government insistence that the poll will be
free and fair.
Armoured personnel carriers mounted with water cannons patrolled the
high-density suburbs in the country's two largest cities yesterday as
security services loyal to the ageing President said they were on "high
alert" and issued a stern warning that public protests would not be
tolerated. The chiefs of the armed forces, police and the widely feared
internal intelligence agency gathered in the capital, Harare, to say that
they were "up to the task in thwarting all threats to national security"
during today's general election.
But large numbers of people across the country have crowded into late
election rallies in recent days and activists have openly defied the Mugabe
regime in an unprecedented show of public support for the opposition.
Packed pick-up trucks decked in the colours of the opposition Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC) defied a heavy police presence to tour the second
city, Bulawayo, yesterday, in scenes that would have been impossible at
The electoral threats to the octogenarian are two-fold: the former union
leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who many believe defeated Mr Mugabe in 2002 only
to have that election stolen from him, is predicting a strong showing; and
for the first time there is a challenger from within the ruling party in the
respected former finance minister, Simba Makoni. One of the three rivals
will need to secure an outright majority in results which are expected
tomorrow afternoon, otherwise the presidential poll will go to a run-off in
The pessimism engendered by a divided opposition and blatant gerrymandering
by the ruling party which has redrawn the electoral map of Zimbabwe, has
given way to a genuine feeling that the Mugabe regime may be more vulnerable
"Hope is in the air," said Paul Temba Nyathi, a leading lieutenant of Mr
Makoni, whose challenge has enraged the President. At the Makoni election
offices in Bulawayo, he said there had been an upsurge in support for Mr
Makoni in the closing weeks of the campaign. "We are confident that the
people of Zimbabwe can deal a crushing defeat to Mugabe. People tend to
credit him with supernatural powers but he is an 84-year-old man and sooner
or later even he must come to an end."
Concern has been mounting that an obvious attempt to steal the vote by the
Mugabe regime could spark a violent backlash similar to that witnessed
recently in Kenya. The opposition leaders have issued a joint statement
expressing their severe concerns at the conduct of the election.
Among the mounting evidence of vote-rigging were a refusal to grant the
opposition access to the voters' roll; the appearance of thousands of "ghost
voters" on the register; and the placing of police inside polling stations.
In one district north of Harare, the MDC discovered 8,000 people had been
registered to vote in a tiny area with just 36 homes.
And there is a serious shortage of polling stations in urban areas, which
tend to favour the opposition, guaranteeing long queues today. Mr
Tsvangirai, who shot back to prominence last year after he was badly beaten
by police who broke up a party meeting, has cut a more aggressive figure
than in past campaigns. He has called on supporters to stay behind at
polling stations after they have voted to "protect" their votes. He also
urged public servants not to assist in fraud. "Mugabe cannot rig elections
by himself," he said. "If someone tells you to falsify the results, ignore
the instructions, because it is unlawful."
Government claims that the opposition has been granted equal access to state
media appeared implausible. Yesterday morning's state-owned Herald newspaper
ran several full-page advertisements denouncing the opposition and labelling
Mr Tsvangirai as the "white man's tea-boy" and accusing him of a plot to
hand farms back to whites.
Once the unchallenged hero of the independence movement the former
schoolteacher turned President has seen his popular support slide and his
country engulfed in economic chaos. Hyperinflation has soared to 200,000 per
cent and life expectancy among women is the lowest in the world at 34.
Unemployment runs at above 90 per cent as the formal economy has all but
disappeared and the majority survive on remittances sent home from the
millions in exile from a country once among the most prosperous in Africa.
The charity Save the Children said the number of Zimbabwean children who die
before their fifth birthday has more than doubled since independence.
Mr Mugabe has proven adept at holding on to power, over-seeing a vast system
of patronage. He and his ruling Zanu-PF party are hoping the opposition
support split between the Tsvangirai and Makoni campaigns will be enough to
halt a landslide against him. With little or no reliable opinion-polling,
census data or sense of where the loyalties of the rank and file police and
army lie, Zimbabwe votes in a state of unprecedented uncertainty.
29th Mar 2008 00:05 GMT
By a Correspondent
A REGIONAL organisation cannot travel to Zimbabwe to observe tomorrow's
elections because the authorities there ignored their request.
"The Legal Assistance Centre learned with disappointment of the failure,
refusal or neglect by the Zimbabwean government to process the application
of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Lawyers' Association to
observe the forthcoming elections in Zimbabwe," Norman Tjombe, who heads the
LAC and is also a member of the regional body, said yesterday.
"Although the application was filed at the Embassy of Zimbabwe in Gaborone ,
Botswana , more than a week ago, no formal response was received by
Wednesday 26 March - barely 48 hours before the voting commences.
"We understand that a list of observers was apparently approved by the
Zimbabwean cabinet, and that the SADC Lawyers' Association was not included
in that list.
"It appears that only a few selected countries, organisations and
institutions friendly to the Mugabe regime have been approved to observe the
elections," Tjombe said.
"The SADC Lawyers' Association has a special interest in the elections in
Zimbabwe and in the region, because among its main objects is the promotion
of human rights, democratic values and the rule of law in the SADC region,"
The association has its secretariat in Gaborone and its president is a
Zimbabwean lawyer in Harare , Sternford Moyo.
In a joint press statement, the LAC and the SADC LA on Thursday said that
all recent Zimbabwean elections were marred by controversies and serious
allegations tending to reflect negatively on the credibility, integrity and
legitimacy of the electoral process and outcome had been made.
Some of these allegations have led to protracted litigation in the
"We believe that it is important that independent and impartial institutions
such as the SADC Lawyers' Association are permitted to observe the elections
so as to promote fundamental democratic rights including the right to free
and fair participation in all processes aimed at selecting political
leaders," the statement said.
The SADC Lawyers' Association is an independent and impartial voluntary
association made up of law societies and bar associations of countries in
the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, including the Law
Society of Namibia.
By Basildon Peta in Johannesburg
Saturday, 29 March 2008
Munyaradzi Matuku knows the stakes are high and every vote will have to
count if Robert Mugabe is to be dislodged from power this weekend.
But Mr Matuku will not go home to vote even though he wants to see an
immediate end to Mr Mugabe's long, traumatic reign.
"Mugabe is not about to abandon his habit of stealing elections. So why
waste my time going back?" asked the electrical engineer who migrated to
South Africa last year.
Mr Matuku, 30, is just one of thousands of Zimbabweans who will remain in
Johannesburg this weekend despite their votes being much needed by the
Zimbabwe's civic leaders have been conducting a "Go Back and Vote Campaign"
in South Africa, which hosts more than five million Zimbabwean exiles. But
even they have conceded that there won't be any significant move by
Zimbabweans back into the country to vote. "The majority of folks here
[South Africa] are scared to go back because they believe South Africa won't
allow them to come back after the elections ... Many of the folks are
asylum-seekers and are not documented," said Tapera Kapuya, who represents
the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), which seeks constitutional
change in Zimbabwe, in Johannesburg.
Mr Mugabe rejected demands by the opposition to give votes to Zimbabweans
based abroad because he feared they would vote for his opponents. Other
civic groups, allegedly working with the main opposition MDC in Zimbabwe,
tried to provide free transport as part of the effort to get Zimbabweans to
go back and vote. But the plan lay in tatters yesterday after one of the
buses carrying would-be voters was stopped by the police and army soon after
it had crossed the Beitbridge border into Zimbabwe.
Mambo Rusere, a spokesman for the Zimbabwe Political Victims Association
(Zipova), said his organisation was unsuccessfully trying to locate where
the bus and passengers were being kept but believed they would only be
released after voting today. He said Zipova believed the bus was impounded
after its driver failed to provide a permit allowing it to ply the South
Those who had swum across the crocodile-infested Limpopo River to settle
illegally in South Africa said they did not think it was worth taking the
risk again by going back to vote and then trying to return.
Save the Children today reveals the massive difficulties facing Zimbabwe's
six million children.
Saturday 29 March 2008
In a new briefing released on the day Zimbaweans vote in the presidential
elections, the charity, which has been working in Zimbabwe for 25 years,
highlights rising levels of chronic malnutrition among children, an acute
lack of adequate healthcare and the highest number of orphans per capita in
the world. The briefing also brings to light the hundreds of children
illegally crossing the Zimbabwe border every week to find work in
neighbouring countries. Many risk rape and violence, or subject themselves
to highly dangerous work such as mining or prostitution, to get money back
to their families inside Zimbabwe.
Crumbling infrastructure has had disastrous consequences on health services,
which are profoundly under-staffed as skilled workers stream out of the
country to find work. Drought, flooding and poor agricultural policies have
led to successive poor harvests, and a recent survey of 60,000 under-fives
found that around 30 per cent of children in rural areas were suffering from
Rachel Pounds, Save the Children's director in Zimbabwe, said: "Daily life
for most children in Zimbabwe has become unbearable. Every element of their
lives has been affected. Children are going hungry and suffering from
illness because they can't get enough clean water to drink. Their families
can't afford to get them help when they are sick and one in ten children
will not make it to their fifth birthday.
Pounds continued: "Children are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis in
Zimbabwe, and the misery is compounded by high rates of HIV and AIDS. With
the highest number of orphans per capita in the world, many children are now
struggling to bring up their siblings alone, unable to go to school or feed
their families properly, and are often living in isolation and fear.
Zimbabwe?s children are some of the most vulnerable in the world."
The New Republic
by Marian L. Tupy
No matter the outcome of Saturday's elections, the Zimbabwean strongman's
rule, finally, looks to be over.
Post Date Friday, March 28, 2008
Zimbabweans will head to the polls on Saturday to elect a new president and
parliament. Even with the elections rigged to continue Robert Mugabe's
28-year reign and keep his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front
party in power, his return to the State House in Harare may be more
difficult now than ever, as the loyalty of his army and police is no longer
certain. The aging dictator looks as if he'll have to face a choice between
an electoral defeat and a violent overthrow.
Mugabe is in this position primarily because he has turned Zimbabwe into one
of the world's poorest countries--the result of his worsening political
repression, frontal attack on the independence of the judiciary,
confiscation of property, and evisceration of the once-thriving private
sector. With health, education, and incomes in freefall, Zimbabweans are
ready for change. An independent poll conducted by the University of
Zimbabwe on March 14 found that the Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the
Movement for Democratic Change party, enjoyed the support of 28 percent of
respondents, while Mugabe trailed with only 20 percent.
Yet Zimbabweans are unlikely to get change by peaceful means. The elections
are hopelessly rigged in Mugabe's favor. Zimbabwe has no free media and the
state-controlled media has denied coverage to the opposition. Opposition
candidates have been harassed, beaten and, sometimes, killed. The police,
who under the terms of an agreement brokered by South Africa earlier this
year were to keep out of the polling stations, have been allowed back
in--ostensibly "to help the disabled." (Of course, Mugabe has a long history
of using violence to deal with his political opponents. In the 1980s, he
ordered the massacre of 20,000 Matabeles who supported his rival, Joshua
Nkomo. Similarly, many commercial farmers lost their lives during Mugabe's
economically ruinous land-grab earlier in this decade.)
Mugabe is trying so hard to hang onto power because he knows that losing it
would leave him exposed to prosecution. A new government in Zimbabwe would
undoubtedly find itself under pressure to have him tried. A flight to a
friendly country, like Idi Amin's to Saudi Arabia, is no longer without
risks. In 2003, for example, Charles Taylor gave up the Liberian presidency
in exchange for a safe haven in Nigeria. Today, he is fighting for his
freedom at The Hague. Not surprisingly, Mugabe said this week that the MDC
will not come to power so long as he is alive.
Declaring himself a winner on Sunday may only deepen Mugabe's problems,
however. The country is in a rebellious mood. In rural Zimbabwe where the
ZANU-PF's support has always been the strongest, the impoverished populace
clamors for change, and people in the urban areas might take to the streets
rather than face another five years of economic decline and political
As was the case in the past, Mugabe is likely to order his army and police
to sort out public discontent. How will they react?
Officially, the army and police chiefs have stated that they will only
support Mugabe. That comes as no surprise. In spite of the falling economy,
the top commanders have been well treated by the ruling regime, enjoying
perks ranging from expensive SUVs to confiscated farms. Mugabe's problem,
however, is the rank-and-file, who share in the travails of the general
populace and who are growing more dissatisfied by the day. Five policemen
from the southern town of Masvingo, for example, have been given prison
sentences for expressing their support for the MDC. According to sources
close to the opposing candidates, army and police officers have signaled
that they too are ready for Mugabe to go.
And so, after years of defying predictions of his demise, Mugabe may finally
be about to reach his end. If he declares himself a winner on Sunday, he
will likely face unrest and overthrow. If he accepts defeat, he will lose
presidential immunity and could be indicted for crimes against humanity. To
paraphrase Harold Macmillan, next week will be a long time in Zimbabwean
Marian L. Tupy is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute's Center for Global
Liberty and Prosperity.