|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
This week, the voice of the "old" Robert Mugabe - the president of Zimbabwe who has used every means possible to stay in that job for the past 24 years - was heard once again. Imperialists such as the United Kingdom and United States are threatening our nation, he told the generals and commanders of Zimbabwe's armed forces. President Mugabe mentions his theory about a western plot against the Zimbabwean government at almost every public speaking engagement.
Yet, in recent weeks, Zimbabwe has frequently heard Mr Mugabe speaking with a different voice, one that that asks the opposition and other troublemakers for their "cooperation". A Robert Mugabe who not only promises free and fair parliamentary elections in March next year, but who also indicates how he intends to bring about "electoral reform". A man who's started to have corrupt businessmen and politicians – from his own party – arrested, and who's managed to halve the country's inflation in just a few months.
This is the charming side of Mr Mugabe. A man who, according to Rindai Chipfunde of human rights organisation Zimbabwe Election Support Network, is desperately seeking credibility and legitimacy:
"Following the controversial 2002 elections, he's lost credibility, and he'll use this year to try and win it back."
Behind the facade
"Mugabe seems to believe he can also win the elections with less intimidation. I'm afraid he could be right."
Intimidation and violence against the opposition and others who hold different views have become commonplace in Zimbabwe over the last four years. At the beginning of 2000, the president lost an important referendum on his proposal to change the constitution so that his term in office could last indefinitely. Later that same year his party just managed to win the parliamentary elections thanks to a law which has ensured, for many years, that the governing party always gets 30 extra seats. Since then, Zimbabwe has seen how many opposition supporters - particularly in the countryside – have been tortured, raped and sometimes killed by armed gangs of youths.
Old habits, new methods
"We mainly get victims coming in here who've had the soles of their feet beaten or been injured on their behind or back. These are parts of the body which recover quickly, and the wounds have disappeared by the time the election observers arrive".
Human rights organisations say Mr Mugabe has adopted a new approach.
"On the surface, he's playing the pro-reform leader. Beneath the surface, the repression goes on unchanged.''
One of his key instruments is the law. Under proposed new legislation, human rights organisations will be required to register this year with a special state commission. The bill also states that these groups may not meddle in government affairs or rely on foreign donors. "You can safely assume that organisations which voice no criticism will be the only ones that can count on getting a licence," is the reaction of one anonymous campaigner. The draft law has caused fear among non-governmental organisations. Last year, the country's media were ordered to register with a state commission, and three independent papers were shut down as a result.
Political scientist Brian Raftopoulos of the University of Zimbabwe says Mr Mugabe particularly wants the approval of Zimbabwe's neighbours, who'll be sending observers to the elections in March next year. Over the last year, the regional development group SADC and the African Union have both grown fiercer in their criticism of human rights violations in Zimbabwe.
"Yet they're also very receptive to his rhetoric against big business,
against the United States and Great Britain. If Mugabe combines that with the
promise of democratic reform, they'll be able to back him again without any