The end for Mugabe?

2008-03-05 00:00

With the Zimbabwe elections due in three weeks’ time, observer teams might as well write their verdicts now. The elections will not be free and fair. They cannot be, for the conditions required for free electioneering have not existed throughout the campaigning period.

Despite five years of President Thabo Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy” and nearly a full year as official mediator on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), not a single one of its specified requirements for a free and fair election has been met by the Robert Mugabe regime.

Opposition candidates are not able to campaign freely; they and their supporters continue to be harassed, arrested, abducted, beaten and even killed; some have had their homes burnt; their meetings are banned, disrupted or broken up; the electoral rolls are in hopeless disorder, which will allow thousands of dead, departed and other “ghost” voters to cast ballots; food aid is being distributed though Zanu-PF offices to buy votes; the media are not free with the state-owned newspapers, television and radio services hopelessly biased in favour of Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party; independent newspapers such as the popular Daily News remain closed and most independent journalists have been hounded out of the country.

Mugabe has even decreed that only “friendly” observer teams will be allowed into the country to monitor the elections, and if they run true to form they will turn a blind eye to all these grotesque abuses and validate the outcome.

All this reflects shamefully on the South African government and SADC as a whole. They have failed miserably, politically and morally.

Most shameful of all has been the applause accorded Mbeki at last month’s SADC summit for his supposed success in negotiating a deal between Zanu-PF that would ensure a free and fair election — and Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad’s echoing of that false claim of success back here in South Africa.

This was the sheerest sophistry. It was true, as Pahad said, that the four negotiators — two representing Zanu-PF and one each from the Tsvangirai and Mutambara wings of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) — had reached agreement. But, as Pahad added: “All that remains is for the agreement to be processed”, well knowing that there was no time for the agreement to be processed into law before the election.

We now know why the two Zanu-PF negotiators were so often late for scheduled meetings or missed them altogether, and why Mugabe suddenly brought forward the election date. It was all part of a carefully calibrated plan to filibuster the negotiations to death, leaving no time for any agreement to be enacted before polling day.

So now the way is open for Mugabe to rig the elections as he has done before, and for the “friendly” South African and SADC observer teams to validate the results once again.

Nor will it help for local apologists to say, as they have said before, that there wasn’t much else Mbeki could have done; that he tried his best in difficult circumstances.

Nonsense. There was another way, nor was it difficult to determine. Eleven months ago, when Mbeki began his mediation effort on SADC’s behalf, I suggested in this column that he should intervene right away to forewarn Mugabe that unless he put an immediate stop to his vicious campaign of physical assaults and restrictive decrees aimed at crushing the political opposition in Zimbabwe, SADC would have no option but to pronounce the elections neither free nor fair.

I urged him further to spell out the implications of that to Mugabe — that SADC would not then be able to validate his re-election or recognise his new government.

It would then be an illegitimate regime.

Had he done that, and made clear that he meant it by appointing an observer team to monitor such activities over the whole period up to the election, I believe it would have stopped Mugabe in his tracks. Vain man that he is, one could think of few things Mugabe would have feared more than being disavowed by his SADC colleagues.

I also raised the idea at an informal meeting in Pretoria with members of the International Crisis Group headed by Gareth Evans, the former Australian foreign minister, only to have a senior member of our government who was present at the discussion shrug it off as preposterous. Evans himself liked the idea.

But all that is now water under the bridge. The Mbeki initiative has failed lamentably and Mugabe will rig things his way.

Or will he? No thanks to Mbeki, this time things could — just could — go awry for the Zimbabwean tyrant, because of the intervention of the Zanu-PF rebel, Simba Makoni.

I don’t think Makoni can win. He has little in the way of a power base in the dominant Shona clan structure and he has no electoral organisation, but the fact that he is the first senior member of Zanu-PF ever to break from the party at election time could sow confusion in the ranks. It could even make the election rigging process more difficult, because suddenly no one is quite sure who is who in the Zanu-PF zoo.

There are many members of Zanu-PF, including some senior members, who have long been disenchanted with Mugabe but have been afraid to confront him or break away. Now suddenly there is a breakaway candidate whom they could quietly support without turning to the opposition. Mugabe may even be uncertain of exactly who he can trust to do the rigging for him.

Among Makoni’s potential supporters is the wealthy and influential Solomon Majuru, the former chief of Mugabe’s guerrilla army and first Commander in Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Force, whose wife Joyce is deputy president.

Mugabe has publicly denounced Majuru as an enemy, but it remains uncertain how much influence he still has over the military which once revered him.

Complicating matters further for Mugabe is that there will be four elections in one — presidential, legislative, provincial and local. Sources in Zimbabwe tell me Mugabe is concentrating almost exclusively on the presidential election, which raises the possibility that a number of pro-Makoni “sleepers” may make their way into Parliament on Zanu-PF tickets only to declare their true allegiance afterwards.

Add to that the possibility that Makoni will split the Zanu-PF vote to the MDC’s advantage, particularly in the urban constituencies where Mugabe’s policies have caused the most pain, and the intriguing possibility arises of Mugabe rigging his way to victory in the presidential election only to find that the combined opposition has a majority in Parliament.

That would produce a Kenya situation and while no one wants to see massive bloodshed in our neighbouring country, the power split may be enough to ignite some fire in the belly of Zimbabwe’s passive populace and cause them to drive their tyrant from office.

At the very least, I believe Makoni’s defection may mark the first crack in the Zanu-PF edifice which could see it begin to crumble in the aftermath of the election. Such oligarchic movements have a way of collapsing with surprising swiftness once the myth of solidarity is exposed.

• Allister Sparks, a former editor of the Rand Daily Mail, is a veteran South African journalist and political commentator.

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