Mugabe's weapons

2008-04-18 00:00

The silence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission about the result of the presidential election is easily explained. President Robert Mugabe has clearly lost and is stalling for time while he considers his options. The only reliable figures are now those posted outside polling stations nearly three weeks ago.

Whether he participates in a run-off or chooses simply to ignore the election result, Mugabe needs the muscle of the security forces and Zanu-PF’s militias.

Military and police personnel loyal to him are well embedded in all aspects of Zimbabwe’s economy and society. For example, Operation Maguta effectively put the army in charge of agriculture in 2005. This was part of a silent coup: Mugabe has been preparing for the day when the electorate turned against him.

So is the arms consignment on the Chinese ship moored outside Durban harbour intended for use against Mugabe’s political opponents? Lethal repression has already begun in rural areas that voted in significant numbers against Mugabe for the first time. The heavy presence of security forces in urban areas and the suggestion that each constituency has been assigned a high-ranking military officer suggest that a real coup is now taking place.

Polling day was peaceful, but Zimbabwe is not a democratic state. Draconian media restrictions and the persistent use of violence against the opposition mean that it qualifies as a dictatorship. This puts the issue of the arms shipment into stark, moral relief.

Why has it been routed through Durban rather than Beira, where previious shipments weere unloaded? Perhaps the Zimbabwean authorities and their Chinese suppliers feel South Africa is more likely to approve the consignment than Mozambique. If transport and clearance certificates are issued, 77 tons of ammunition will pass through Pietermaritzburg, home to many refugee victims of Mugabe’s repression.

The Institute of Strategic Studies is correct: this is not just a legal issue. Mugabe has demonstrated his methods against opposition often enough in the past and his current behaviour is a clear signal of intent. Three million rounds of ammunition, plus rockets and mortar bombs are enough to inflict serious damage on those who stand in his way.

If these arms are allowed passage through South Africa, or any other SADC country, it will further confirm the region’s disdain for the democratic process. To South Africa’s shame this was signalled again by President Thabo Mbeki’s silence at the recent United Nations Security Council meeting.

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