Letter from Harare: Harare sips a cocktail of hope and dread
LEO CENDROWICZ London Evening Standard
Published: 01 August 2013
A queasy cocktail of hope and dread drifts through Zimbabwe’s capital Harare.
Yesterday’s election promises the faint but real prospect of the end of an era for President Robert Mugabe, who ushered in independence from Britain 33 years ago and has held power continuously since then.
But with counting under way, locals are wary, remembering past polls that the 89-year-old Mugabe stole through bullying and vote-rigging.
“If it’s a fair fight, Mugabe can not win,” says Prosper, a flower seller on Africa Unity Square, the central Harare plaza opposite the parliament building. “But he will cheat, like he did last time and the time before.”
Harare voters overwhelmingly support Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the Movement for Democratic Change, who is currently leading an uneasy power-sharing government with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.
They openly express disgust over Zimbabwe’s steady decline under Mugabe.
Upon independence in 1980, the nation had sub-Saharan Africa’s second best economy but it is now a basket case, burdened with debt and saddled with a jobless rate conservatively estimated at 70 per cent.
Tsvangirai himself has branded Zanu-PF as thieves who have ransacked and looted the country into destitution. He hails Mugabe’s role as father of the nation but brands him old, tired and long overdue for retirement.
Most observers say Tsvangirai won previous elections in 2002 and 2008 but was denied the presidency by a combination of electoral fixes and intimidation by Mugabe’s henchmen.
This time there is relief that violence has largely been absent from both the campaigning and voting. Indeed, the diligence and patience of voters as they queued to perform their democratic duty has been the source of pride.
Yet it is assumed that Mugabe’s supporters are manipulating the election in other ways. Tsvangirai has complained bitterly that the electoral roll was doctored to include about one million dead voters or people who moved abroad, plus more than 100,000 centenarians.
He says Mugabe’s control of the state media, the courts and security forces means he can manipulate the election without overt intimidation.
His coalition government has done much to stabilise the country and redress its economy since taking office. Zimbabwe faced economic meltdown in 2008, with inflation near 500 million per cent and prices doubling in one day.
This May inflation was 2.2 per cent, mainly due to Zimbabwe adopting the US dollar. The economy, which shrank by half in the decade to 2008, averaged above seven per cent growth from 2009-12.
Yet even if Tsvangirai is declared the winner, Mugabe’s most zealous allies in the police and army could well kick up another campaign of violence.
This is despite Mugabe’s readiness to step down — at least according to Tsvangirai, who meets him weekly in his capacity as prime minister.
Last month Tsvangirai said Mugabe had confided that he was being forced to stay on by party hard-liners. “Zanu PF should not force an old man into an election,” said Tsvangirai.
The poll results are due next week. If Tsvangirai wins, it could be that in spite of his campaign performance Mugabe will be among those sighing with relief.