When Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe unleashed a wave of terror on his fellow Zimbabweans after his ZANU-PF party was soundly defeated in the March 29 elections and he himself gained fewer votes than opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, he was calculating that he could still steal another election and add another five years to his 28 years in power.
Mr Tsvangirai’s recent withdrawal from the run-off election to save the lives of his supporters, followed by his advice to MDC supporters to even vote for Mugabe if necessary to avoid paying with their lives for an honest vote, all but ensures that Mugabe will be soon be proclaimed the winner by his own officials. However, it will be a Pyrrhic victory, because the means by which it will have been achieved will have been so extreme that Mugabe has destroyed all chances of being able to claim legitimacy for his government.
For a start, according to the Zimbabwean election law, since officially neither of the candidates gained 50% or more of the votes, a run-off had to be held within 21 days . That did not happen. It took an astounding 5 weeks for the results to even be announced, raising suspicions of last minute ballot-stuffing to push Tsvangirai’s result under the 50% margin. When the government then announced the run-off for June 27, almost another two months later, it clearly violated that law, under which, if no run-off takes place within three weeks, the highest placed candidate from the first election automatically is the winner (see two papers on the website of the South Africa Litigation Centre for details).
Legally, Morgan Tsvangirai, who according to the official count got 47.8% of the vote compared to Mugabe’s 43.2%, became the elected president of Zimbabwe in April, when the 21 days expired without a re-run.
Mugabe used the three months between the two elections for a war on anyone opposed to his rule. Whole villages and neighbourhoods were forcibly marched to public assemblies where known or suspected MDC-supporters were viciously tortured and mutilated in front of the stunned crowds. Some 200,000 Zimbabweans are reported to having fled their homes to escape torture or death.
One of the most recent victims of the terror campaign was the wife of the newly elected mayor of the capital of Harare, who was kidnapped by ZANU-PF supporters along with her four year old son. Her battered dead body was found later, so badly disfigured that her family found it hard to identify her.
The world has finally taken notice of what’s going on. Presidents and well known voices from Africa, ranging from Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga to ANC leader Jacob Zuma have condemned Mugabe’s campaign of terror in no uncertain terms. An open letter signed by dozens of former heads of states in Africa, including several former close allies of Mugabe, called for an end to the violence.
Mugabe will survive this sham election only as a pariah, unwelcome anywhere in Africa or most of the rest of the world (North Korea might still support him, given that he relied on North Korean instructors for his infamous Fifth Brigade during atrocities in the 1980s). It looks like African leaders have been shocked into breaking any remaining political ties.
One notable exception is still South African president Thabo Mbeki, who finds himself increasingly isolated in his own party for it.
Zimbabwe is at a breaking point. Literally anything could happen now. It is not clear how a government of national unity can come about. Will it take a military intervention by fellow AU or SADC members to convince the hardliners around Mugabe, the JOC, that there is no way for them to hang on to power? There are moderate elements in ZANU-PF who would negotiate a change of power, but they don’t control the army and the thugs. Will it come to a Rwanda-style genocide before regime change?
The person, next to Mugabe himself, who carries the biggest responsibility for the further hellish chaos that Zimbabwe could descend into is Thabo Mbeki. If he recognizes Morgan Tsvangirai’s right to form a new unity government to organise a transfer of power in Zimbabwe, based on the outcome of the legitimate election results in March, there is no way Mugabe could hang on much longer.
Since the 1950 the ANC had struggled against racist violence for the principle of One Man, One Vote. This elementary right has now been stolen from Zimbabweans by Mugabe, who says “only God” could remove him from power. It reminds me of Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith, who stubbornly said that “not in a thousand years” did he believe in majority rule in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has become what he hated most, and worse.
In the 1970s, when the illegitimate minority government of then Rhodesia was fighting a war to maintain its racist system, it relied primarily on South African support. The sudden withdrawal of South African police troops from “Rhodesia” and later a cutback in fuel supplies was the beginning of the end for the white regime. Mugabe can not go it alone any more than Smith could before him. If anything, Zimbabwe is in a much weaker situation economically than Rhodesia was then.
I am hoping that the second liberation of Zimbabwe will become a watershed event for democracy and human rights in Africa, a continent that has suffered so much already.