It's time for Mugabe to step down

2008-04-10 00:00

This is the moment for Robert Mugabe’s peers in Africa to step in and force the old tyrant to stand down and spare Zimbabwe’s long-suffering people more misery. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party has delayed the election results to sort out “errors and miscalculations”.

It is shameful that his brazen and elaborate campaign to rig the results of the March 29 elections can go on without his peers doing anything.

President Thabo Mbeki says that the situation in Zimbabwe is “manageable”. How much further should Zimbabwe plunge into chaos before it becomes “unmanageable”.

Mbeki’s stance is disgraceful. He is travelling the world while the Zimbabwe crisis is about to explode. He should have been in Harare knocking sense in Mugabe’s head.

Zimbabwe has been one of Mbeki’s biggest policy blunders. His much-vaunted African Renaissance idea and its policy blueprint, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, collapsed because of his failure to intervene in Zimbabwe. His lack of intervention in Zimbabwe was one of the reasons why he lost the ANC presidency at Polokwane last December.

Zimbabwe is on the brink of total collapse because of Mugabe’s extraordinary callousness. If this happens, the devastating consequences will spill over into South Africa. At least the ANC’s national executive committee, in contrast to Mbeki, has already warned that South Africa should prepare for a total collapse in Zimbabwe if Mugabe hangs on, yet Mbeki appears deaf even to his own party.

Those in Mugabe’s elite inner circle said, after it was feared that the Zanu-PF was losing the elections, that Mugabe initially insisted that he would immediately declare martial rule and launch a clampdown against the victorious opposition. The heads of the security forces, police, army, intelligence and prisons service apparently egged him on. The remainder of his advisory committee were split in two.

One group wanted him to accept that he had lost and exit the political arena and the other group suggested that since he was in control of the electoral commission, he could alter the results in such a way that it did not look “too obvious” that he was cheating.

Mugabe told the head of the electoral commission not to announce the results, but rather to make them available in dribs and drabs. Meanwhile the African Union (AU), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the South African government asked Mugabe not to declare emergency rule and to agree to a power-sharing deal, which would include giving the Zanu-PF stalwarts immunity against prosecution.

However, at a meeting with Mugabe and his closest allies it was decided that he would concede “in the spirit of democracy”, as a Mugabe ally incredulously put it, the loss of the parliamentary elections, but that he would pursue a second presidential elections run-off, which would be scheduled, not within three weeks, but within three months. Such a change would need an electoral law amendment, which could only take place if Mugabe declared emergency rule. This would presumably give Mugabe ample time to strangle the opposition.

Mugabe is likely to continue to crack down on the opposition, civil groups and activists in the period preceding the presidential run-off, as he attempts to prevent Zimbabweans from voting for the opposition.

African regional leaders should force him to leave by stating that they will not back or support him in any way — politically, economically or as former comrades in arms — in spite of his struggle credentials. And Mbeki should publicly state that South Africa will not support another Mugabe term.

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