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Any hope left for Zimbabwe?

by Beatrice Schlee


„No more Mugabe“: Wahlplakate der ZANU-PF mit Slogans von Oppositionsanhängern

„No more Mugabe“: Wahlplakate der ZANU-PF mit Slogans von Oppositionsanhängern

At first, Zimbabwe’s opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) exulted in its victory in parliamentary elections. Disappointment followed fast, as a wave of repressive violence submerged the country. [ By Beatrice Schlee ]

A war has broken out against opposition supporters in Zimbabwe: many have been arrested, hundreds wounded, and 15 murdered by agents of ZANU-PF, the ruling party. Such retaliation is called Operation “Makavhoterapapi”. This is Shona for: “Where did you put your cross?” While some people were specifically targeted, mainly in the former rural strongholds of Zanu-PF, everyone is at risk of becoming a victim of random repression.

People speak of “torture camps”, where ex-servicemen and youth militia hold public “pungwes”. Such nightly vigils are familiar from the liberation war. In those days, they were designed to indoctrinate local villagers, and the purpose remains the same. The local people are forced to watch relatives, friends and neighbours being tortured after having been denounced. Even children, too young to vote, are among the victims. Anyone who refuses to participate is threatened with violence. Such horror is making life increasingly unbearable for many. Added to the violence, there is relentless despair.

The local people – and the international community – have been waiting for the result of the presidential election since polling on 29 March. But there was no transparency. First we were told that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has passed the 50 % threshold; next, that neither he nor incumbent Robert Mugabe reached the absolute majority. However, such figures are pointless because the military hard-liners in Zimbabwe have gained the upper hand. They have, so to speak, staged a silent coup. For years already, important decisions were not made in the Cabinet, but by the Joint Operation Command, which is made up of senior officers of the army, police and intelligence service.

In late April, it still remained unclear whether or not there would be a need to hold a run-off election. The opposition had filed a petition in court, demanding the release of the result of the presidential election, but the government prevailed before the judges. It had votes in the parliamentary election recounted in 23 constituencies. The process, however, confirmed the opposition’s lead.

What we were seeing history repeating itself. The government was demonstrating once again that it had only one objective – to retain power. Once again, the international community was standing by passively, and so was the African community of nations – most conspicuously so South African President Thabo Mbeki. Many consider him the biggest obstacle to a peaceful solution in Zimbabwe. However the presidents of Congo, Mozambique and Namibia are also rumoured to have supported Mugabe at the most recent SADC meeting in Lusaka in mid-April. That sheds a sad light on their attitude to democracy.

Anyone to still hope that crisis in Zimbabwe will satisfyingly resolve itself is plainly ignoring obvious signs. The people of Zimbabwe have been suffering from an unprecedented economic downturn since 2000. They looked for a way out of the crisis, using legal and peaceful means; but no-one is thanking them today. The situation now is that, if the opposition does not find new methods of protest soon, the people will become even more apathetic, suffering from an unprecedented wave of violence. It seems as though the window of opportunity which was given to the people of Zimbabwe to escape from Mugabe’s regime was closing fast – probably for the foreseeable future.