via Coltart: Bob not your usual 91 year-old 10 September 2014
THERE was a time when the Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was constantly in the world headlines. Yet in the last few days, when he’s suggested that all whites remaining in the country should go back to England, or that president Obama is afraid of him, it’s hardly raised a ripple.
Without mass killings or systematic roundups of political prisoners, it seems Zimbabwe drops off the world’s radar. David Coltart is a human rights lawyer who was a senator and minister of education, sport, arts and culture in the unity government till last year’s election.
On a visit to Sydney, Coltart spoke to Mark Colvin, one of Australia’s top political journalists and commentators on how the way the media seem to have forgotten his country.
DAVID COLTART: One does get intensely frustrated by the fact that it’s completely off the radar screen. The world appears to have lost interest in Zimbabwe. I think it’s tired of the story. But the other side is the realisation that the only reason that we captured all of the headlines was because blood was running in the street, and as bad as things are in Zimbabwe, the economy has basically stabilised and there are less human rights violations taking place.
DAVID COLTART: It culminated in 2008. I think the second-highest rate of inflation the world has ever seen. We ended up with a 100 trillion dollar note, and that was with 21 noughts taken off the currency prior to the printing of the note. So it was staggering.
The currency collapsed and one of the first things done at the time of the start of the inclusive government in February 2009 was to abolish the Zimbabwe currency and to adopt the US dollar as our currency, which is still the case today, which has seen inflation come down to below 4 per cent.
DAVID COLTART: The economy picked up during the period of the inclusive government from 2009 through to August 2013, but with the fraudulent elections in July 2013 there was a huge loss of business confidence; a run, pretty much, on banks. Anyone who had spare capital got it out of the country.
DAVID COLTART: Well they were clever. Mugabe employed a variety of techniques. There was no violence, unlike previous elections, so they were pretty much violence-free. But it was multi-faceted, multi-layered fraud. He manipulated the voters roll; although he was obliged for example to let all parties have access to the voters roll in electronic format – that was denied.
DAVID COLTART: I saw a paper copy which, of course, can’t be analysed or searched, never saw the digital copy right up until this day. I mean, remarkably, we have unique computer problems in Zimbabwe. The registrar-general of elections, a year after the elections, says that his computers are still down a year after and sadly can’t let us have a copy of the electronic roll.
The other thing they did is that they prevented people from registering; they made sure that the military voted early and often, and as I said, a variety of techniques were used.
DAVID COLTART: Well there was some intimidation but more sort of rattling of the matchstick box, threatening a return to 2008 if there was a run-off election.
In terms of our constitution, a presidential candidate has to get 50 per cent of the vote to win outright, and if there’s no candidate who gets that, you go into a run-off election, which is what happened in 2008 which caused that terrible violence between the original general election in March 2008 and the presidential election in June 2008.
And of course the memory of that violence was still fresh in the minds of the electorate, so they simply needed that warning that if they didn’t do the right thing, the run-off would be bloody and it worked.
DAVID COLTART: Well, Robert Mugabe turns 91 in February, and so he is old. I have to say this without, let me say any admiration for him: that he is a remarkable 91-year-old. I was in Cabinet with him for four years. I was amazed by his grasp of facts, his institutional knowledge.
One should not think that Robert Mugabe is your usual 91-year-old. He keeps fit and whilst physically he’s slowing down, he’s still very agile mentally. But he is slowing down.
DAVID COLTART: Absolutely, and there are signs within Zanu PF, his party, of very severe disagreements arising. There are two broad factions in his party: one faction led by a hardliner, the current minister of justice; the other faction led by a more pragmatic person, the vice-president Joice Mujuru. There’s a very keen contest developing between the two of them leading up to a critically important congress which they are holding in December this year.
DAVID COLTART: Well I think that we will have a short rather nasty period while these two factions within Zanu PF establish who is going to take over the party.
MARK COLVIN: Nasty politically, or could it get nasty…
DAVID COLTART: No, I think it could get nasty…
DAVID COLTART: Blood could flow, but probably would be confined to within the party but would involve the military, because the military is also divided. Because the military is almost indistinguishable from Zanu PF the party, inevitably the two factions are found in the military as well. So that’s our great fear.
MARK COLVIN: Former Zimbabwean MDC senator David Coltart. The full interview will be available on our website shortly.