Zim is a disgrace

2008-06-19 00:00

What is going on in Zimbabwe is appalling — a total disgrace to the country, and a serious disgrace to its strong neighbour, South Africa, and to the rest of Africa. The gains made in Africa in recent years — the successful political transition in this country, the economic progress in a number of countries, the in-stances of improved governance —are all in danger of being nullified in the eyes of the world, and of investors, by the outrageous events taking place, and being allowed to take place, in Zimbabwe.

Yet, in spite of the fierce criticism that Robert Mugabe and his thuggish henchmen are deservedly receiving, I am not sure that the full enormity of what is happening is being fully spelt out or understood. Perhaps it is but is not being articulated thoroughly.

Quite apart from having ruined the country economically and socially, Mugabe has made many threats and wild statements. For example, he said some time ago, and military and police leaders backed him up, that any member of the security establishment who voted for the opposition would have to resign or would be fired.

Critics have responded to this by saying, quite rightly: “How then can the election be free and fair?” But in my view the point needs to be pushed further. If there is to be any interference in the electoral process of any kind, if any pressure of this kind is to be put on any of the voters, it is quite simply not an election. If the “election” is not going to be a proper and full test of what the voters really want (as opposed to what the current government is sure they ought to want) then abandon the idea of an election altogether.

There are other things that need to be said about Mugabe’s threat. How could he or anyone else know how members of the security forces cast their votes? Presumably by making sure that the ballot is not secret: another reason for calling off the election. Then too consider this: if the army and the police are ordered to support the current regime in what they do and how they vote, what we have is not an election but a coup d’état. Mugabe is, or used to be, an intelligent person; he has university degrees. He ought to understand the obvious points I have been making.

Probably he does, and hopes that the notion that Zimbabwe is having an “election” will somehow keep his regime re-spectable in the eyes of the citizens of his country and of the outside world. He has long since ceased to be believed by the world at large: it was some time ago that one of his sycophantic spokesmen, responding to universal condemnation, made the startling announcement that “the outside world is losing its credibility”. But many Zimbabwean citizens may have fallen for the propaganda, backed up as it has been by the weird allegation that anyone who criticises Mugabe is by definition an agent of the West. And one fears that there are a fair number of people in South Africa and the rest of Africa who haven’t fully understood what is going on — or have convinced themselves, disastrously, that Mugabe’s is somehow an “African way of doing things”.

What I have said applies to almost every aspect of the “electoral” process that has been going on in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has said at various times that Morgan Tsvangirai will never be president, that if the MDC wins he will let loose his deliberately misnamed “war veterans”, that he might be prepared to hand over power but only to some member of Zanu-PF. Meanwhile MDC supporters have been killed or maimed, Tsvangirai has been detained several times a day and has been prevented from campaigning properly, and Tendai Biti stands trial for treason for announcing some of the results of the previous election prematurely (i.e. before Mugabe and Co had had a chance to rig them). Each one of these items is sufficient to disqualify the election entirely. It is all a farce — a tragic and dangerous real-life version of some of the most absurd moments in Alice in Wonderland.

It isn’t easy to know exactly how others should have responded. But the response, especially in Africa, has been painfully inadequate. Thabo Mbeki and Aziz Pahad have spoken anxiously and feebly of their desire to negotiate in a situation where negotiation is clearly scorned by Mugabe, and the media have in my view often pulled their punches or lost the plot. For example, it is quite common to read now that in the first presidential election Mugabe got 43,8% whereas Tsvangirai got 48,2%, but even to accept those figures is to play Mugabe’s game. How do we know that those were the correct results? It seems highly improbable that they were. The statistics came out after a grotesque delay of a full month. Every kind of manipulation may have taken place. For all we know Tsvangirai may have won easily with 55% or 65% or 75%.

One thing that everyone can do — governments, media, individuals — is this: say right now that the “election” is no election and that the results will be rejected. Let us not go through the charade of pretending that it could all somehow turn out to be “free and fair”. Unless of course by some weird and improbable fluke, as a result of underhand honesty and treasonable incorruptibility (surely worthy of the death penalty), Tsvangirai is allowed to win.

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