Zimbabwe possibilities

2008-03-07 00:00

Seasoned political commentator Allister Sparks was forthright in his opinion column this week: Zimbabwe’s elections next month cannot be free and fair. President Robert Mugabe is a canny survivor who uses every trick in the dictator’s handbook, including physical violence, his ruthless determination to cling to power probably fuelled by fear of prosecution for the Matabeleland massacres.

Without remittances from millions of exiles and international food donations there would be starvation in Zimbabwe. Staggering statistics sum up grim reality: hyperinflation at 8 000% per month, 80% unemployment, and chronic shortages of food and fuel. No one but the naïve believes these are the result of anything more than Mugabe’s deluded, vengeful and self-promoting policies. No functioning democracy would have allowed him to survive politically for so long.

Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change has been a disappointment, failing to develop from its support base in the unions and urban areas. Commentators have long argued that the only realistic hope of removing Mugabe, mortality aside, lies within Zanu-PF. For the first time a plausible challenger has emerged in the form of Simba Makoni whose platform promotes national renewal.

While Mugabe will almost certainly secure the presidential vote, he might face a parliament controlled by opposition parties. Makoni has powerful supporters who now include former cabinet minister Dumisa Dabengwa and Solomon Majuru, once head of the army. But Mugabe has aces up his sleeve, the most important of which is manipulation of food aid in desperate rural areas. And no impartial election observer mission will be allowed into Zimbabwe.

If Mugabe loses absolute power, the response of the army will be crucial. While intercommunal conflict on the Kenyan scale is unlikely, violence could erupt, sending more refugees over the border into South Africa to join the existing millions. Whatever the outcome, the role of the South African government has been deplorable. Its complicity in the collapse of human rights in Zimbabwe is undeniable, creating a threat to the economy and security of this country. Tragically, this has involved a betrayal of the very values around which the anti-apartheid struggle was fought.

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