WITH a vigour that
belied his 81 years, a fist-pumping President Mugabe ended his party’s election
campaign yesterday with a vow that it will win today’s general election with a
“huge, mountainous victory”.
At a rally on the outskirts of Harare, the veteran
Zimbabwean leader shook hands with old women, closed his eyes as he sang along
with the choir and smiled as a midget danced for the crowd. He insisted that the
election would be free and fair. And for one last time, in this campaign at
least, he denounced his personal “axis of evil”: Tony Blair, George Bush and
Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader. “We have never been losers, because we
have always been a party of the people,” he told the crowd of 8,000 on a dusty
After the wave of “people-power” uprisings in Eastern Europe, many were
looking to Zimbabwe to continue the trend by ousting Mr Mugabe’s regime through
the ballot box.
But they are likely to be disappointed. The
President’s decision to tone down the violence against opposition supporters to
give the election a veneer of legitimacy, and to permit opposition rallies, has
unleashed a tide of exuberance and optimism throughout the country. Even though
the ruling Zanu (PF) party may be less popular than the opposition Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC), it is expected to win.
In its favour is a near-total blackout of independent
media coverage, a blatantly partial electoral authority, a highly dubious
electoral roll containing hundreds of thousands of “ghost voters”, and a skewed
Archbishop Pius Ncube, the head of the Roman Catholic
Church in western Zimbabwe, accused Mr Mugabe yesterday of the “systematic and
evil” use of food as a weapon to reward supporters and punish opponents in a
country where millions are close to starvation.
Yet the race is far closer than many imagined a few
weeks ago. And with the MDC drawing huge crowds to its rallies, the President
has shown signs of panic.
Two nights ago, MDC activists discovered a printing
works in central Harare churning out what party officials said were “millions”
of leaflets under the MDC’s emblem stating that it was withdrawing from the
race. The five men arrested told MDC lawyers that they had been hired by a
senior official in the Zanu (PF) youth league.
State radio repeatedly broadcasts a speech by Mr
Mugabe in which he said that people who voted for the Opposition were
And in a clear attempt to buy votes, the Government
yesterday announced that the minimum wage for domestic servants would increase
The reasons for the President’s fears were evident at
yesterday’s rally. Many in the crowd were bussed in. They cheered and shouted
“Long live Mugabe”, but the chants seemed less than spontaneous. Police stood in
front of the crowd, and Mr Mugabe’s notorious youth service searched all those
attending before they entered the football stadium.
The mood is very different at opposition rallies. On
Sunday, just up the road, Mr Tsvangirai attracted 25,000 people. There, people
danced freely, laughed, sang and chanted slogans as if they meant it.
The MDC’s strength worries the previously cocksure
Zanu (PF) supporters. Coleman Naka, 44, who owns a transport company, said
yesterday: “A short time ago we thought it was obvious we would win. But we
relaxed and now the MDC is challenging us.”
Mr Tsvangirai is exultant, and he and his party’s
candidates are now talking of victory in an election the MDC very nearly refused
to contest because it was so rigged. But independent observers are far more
“The change is incredible, but I think the outcome
should be seen more in terms of the MDC stopping Zanu (PF) from getting a
two-thirds majority (which would allow it to change the Constitution),” said
Brian Kagoro, chairman of Zimbabwe in Crisis Coalition, an umbrella group of