Zimbabwe: where democracy works when it suits the incumbents

2013-04-17 10:48

Imagine if the ANC said "we fought for the right to rule, lost a lot of comrades while fighting for it, and won't lose it because of a simple X on a ballot paper"

This is what happened in Zimbabwe during the 2008 Presidential Elections. Masunungure (2009) quoted Major General Engelbert Rugeje who said "This country came through the bullet, not the pencil. Therefore, it will not go by your X of the pencil" (Masunungure, 2009, p.84). He further adds that General Rugeje promised Masvingo villagers that he'd return with a helicopter full of bullets and the Commander-in-Chief supported his views when addressing an election rally by stating that "We fought for this country, and a lot of blood was shed. We are not going to give up our country because of a mere X. How can a ballpoint fight with a gun?" (Masunungure, 2009, p.84).

Democracy worked in Zimbabwe when the opposition did not pose an electoral threat, as soon as the opposition gained support and became more relevant, the freedom fighters became the new oppressors. Because they have tasted just how sweet power is and will do anything under the sun to keep it, even if it means killing innocent people.

The laws of the land and courts could not stop the power abuse because President Mugabe "openly flouted court orders and challenged judges to resign", and judges from the highest court in the land wrote to the President urging him to uphold the rule of law (Shaoul, 1999, para.2 & 10). This indicates that almost a decade before the disputed 2008 Presidential Elections, Mugabe already knew that his time was up, that he would have to fight to stay in power as the freedom fighter credentials were not enough to earn him support amidst growing inequalities.

Shaoul (1999) also points out that Mugabe, whilst many Zimbabweans were getting poorer, went to war in Congo to protect another dictator using millions of US dollars that could have been used to improve the lives of the poor in Zimbabwe (para.7). So the regime had no interest in improving the quality of life for millions of Zimbabweans but was more interested in the enjoyment of power and maintaining that power.

Furthermore, the military and the police force were used by the incumbents to neutralise the opposition through intimidation and use of violence. It did not end there, they also controlled the constitutional bodies that are responsible for organising the elections (Linington, 2009, p.117).

Mkiwane (2002) shows us that it was nothing new in the 2008 Presidential Elections, as the 2002 poll aslo had incidents of intimidation, control of state institutions responsible for organising the elections (p.51-55); and Linington (2009) suggests that these commissioners are appointed by the president and are known supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF who facilitated the illegality of the 2008 presidential elections (p.98).

And both Moyse (2009: p.43-60) and Nkiwane (2002: p.52) suggest that the media was also controlled by the state, Moyse (2009) notes that even though the Supreme court had declared the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s monopoly of the airways unconstitutional 9 years before the elections, there had been no action from the government to correct such, instead they used the media to promote their views giving the opposition very little airtime; portraying Mugabe as the only leader that sincerely represents the interests of Zimbabweans, while Tsvangiai was portrayed as a puppet of the West that had oppressed Zimbabweans for many years.

Amidst all of that, Morgan Tsvangirai emerged as the candidate likely to take power from Mugabe after he secured 48% of the vote with Mugabe at 43%. Then of course, Mugabe had made it very clear that X on a ballot paper will not remove him from office so he used the bullets General Rugeje referred to earlier to intimidate opposition supporters 'forcing' Morgan Tsvangirai to withdraw from the run-off elections as he himself had been subjected to the violence, not just his supporters. This might be the only time the president kept his promise to the people of Zimbabwe.

Then there was the power sharing agreement between Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai but even then, Mugabe and his ZANU-PF still ‘bullied’ the opposition during the negotiations of the new constitution to allow him to hold office (if elected) for ten more years. But then again, it has been established that elections mean nothing to the man, and he and his supporters are predicting victory just as they did in the militarised 2008 elections. There were laws then, and they were undermined with institutions that are meant to enforce the laws under the control of Mugabe. So what on earth could stop him from abusing that power again?

If reports by Masekesa (2012) are true that Mugabe has already started buying votes for the next elections with Chinese companies firing their staff for ZANU-PF card-carrying members, then all hopes of ever restoring democratic rule in Zimbabwe are dashed.

Mugabe bought weapons whilst his country needed food aid and citizens were importing toilet paper from South Africa and other neighbouring countries. If the regime has no interest in improving the lives of Zimbabweans, why then does our country support the dictator, not only in Zimbabwe, but in the Central African Republic when they are both, by our constitutional definition of the word democracy, not democracies, and have no respect for human rights? Isn't the South African government as guilty of gross human rights violations as the dictator(s) it protects?

Should South Africa be giving Zimbabwe anything to help organise elections that will, in view of past elections, have Mugabe remaining President?. Just how much of this loan will be used for ZANU-PF campaigns and to intimidate the electorate? Perhaps we have not learnt anything from His Sovereign Majesty King Mswati who borrowed money to fund his lavish lifestyle not to improve the lives of many in Swaziland. Just how long will South Africa’s hard earned money be used to keep dictators in power? Many will tell you that the best way to predict a person’s future behaviour is looking at their past behaviour. So take your time and look at Robert Mugabe’s past, and tell me that you believe he will ever voluntarily leave that Presidential office through democratic processes.

Lesson to learn from Zimbabwe is that struggle credentials lose their meaning if the freedom fighters become the new oppressors and fail to keep their promises.

*Edited paragraph from a Comparative Politics Essay that looked at democracy in Zim and RSA.*

References

Linington, G. (2009). Illegality & Zimbabwe’s 2008 Presidential Elections. In Musunungure, E.V. (Ed). Defying the Winds of Change: Zimbabwe’s 2008 Elections (pp.98-118). Harare: Weaver Press & Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

Masekesa, C. (2012). Anjin replaces workers with Zanu PF youths. Retrieved 16th April, 2013, from http://nehandaradio.com/2012/08/15/anjin-replaces-workers-with-zanu-youths/

Moyse, A. (2009). The Media Environment Leading up to Zimbabwe’s 2008 Elections. In Mununungure, E.V. Defying the Winds of Change: Zimbabwe’s 2008 Elections (pp.43-60). Harare: Weaver Press & Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

Musunungure, E.V. (2009). Defying the Winds of Change: Zimbabwe’s 2008 Elections: A Militarized Election, The 27 June Run-off. Harare: Weaver Press & Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

Nkiwane, T. C. (2002). Observing the Observers. In Melber, H. (Ed). Zimbabwe’s Presidential Elections 2002: Evidence, Lessons and Implications. Uppasala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet.

Shaoul, J. (1999). Zimbabwe: Mugabe Government Abandons the Rule of Law. Retrieved 16th April, 2013, from http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/1999/02/zim-f26.html

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