Socialism Today           Socialist Party magazine

Mugabe’s electoral coup d’état

AFTER A massive campaign of electoral fraud, intimidation and violence, Robert Mugabe secured another six-year term as president of Zimbabwe. He claims 1.69 million votes against 1.28 million for Morgan Tsivangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in a 55% poll.

Zimbabwe Indymedia website commented: "It seems as if the government have engineered the election result they wanted. The rest is just paperwork. They’ve managed to prevent people in the urban pro-MDC areas from voting. They’ve managed to coerce people in rural areas through lies, threats of violence, kidnapping of MDC election observers, killing of activists, and propaganda, to get the rural population to vote for them". (12 March)

Had everyone eligible to vote been permitted to do so, Mugabe would undoubtedly have been defeated. His strategy was to use a combination of political propaganda, consisting of the manipulation of the genuine hunger for land, and changes to the electoral laws. Before the elections, the Zanu-PF government encouraged the violent occupation of over 1,000 of the country’s 4,000-plus white-owned farms, which the government had previously seen fit to leave in their hands. Through its so-called ‘fast track’ land reform programme, approximately 130,000 families were resettled, far more than in its entire 22 years in power.

Zanu-PF attempted a systematic disenfranchisement of all potential MDC supporters. The human rights body, Zimbabwe Election Support Network, reports that postal votes were denied to more than a million Zimbabweans living abroad, the majority of whom were likely to vote MDC. The 20,000 MDC supporters displaced by state violence and intimidation were prevented from voting. Residents who came from Southern African countries or Britain or who had dual citizenship were denied the vote. The voter registration deadline was actually extended by a month, but without the knowledge of the opposition. Armed Zanu-PF militia confiscated identity documents at MDC rallies, which were frequently attacked. The state-owned media denied airtime to the MDC. Non-government press was systematically harassed through repressive legislation, deportations, and the arrest and torture of journalists. Newspaper offices were bombed and the sale of their publications banned in areas such as Mashonaland, Masvingo, Manicaland and the Midlands. According to MDC spokesperson, Learnmore Jongwe, 47% of the rural polling stations had no MDC polling officers after a series of arrests, abductions and assaults. Between 90-100 MDC supporters have been kidnapped or murdered since 2000.

In rural areas, Zanu-PF militia force-marched people to polling stations, warning them that their vote was not secret before threatening them with violence if they voted for the opposition. The most effective method was reducing the number of polling stations in the urban areas and increasing them in rural areas. As a result, polling stations in sparsely-populated Mashonaland Central, a Mugabe stronghold, increased by 82%, whereas the capital, Harare, saw a 40% reduction! "Harare and Chitungwiza account for one in six registered electors. According to the state electoral commission’s figures, the turnout in the capital and its main township on the first day of voting was 18%, half that of almost every other province. In the traditional Mugabe stronghold of Mashonaland East, the turnout on Saturday alone was 44%!" (The Guardian, 11 March).

Despite the differences between the African and Western election observers, neither side has the interests of the Zimbabwean people at heart. For Zimbabwe’s workers and rural masses, the election result represents a setback. The MDC is not a progressive force. From being a vehicle and focal point for opposition to Mugabe’s regime, it has adopted a pro-imperialist position, reflecting the big-business connections of its leadership. Had it been elected, the MDC would have been incapable of solving any of the fundamental problems facing the country. But the defeat of Mugabe and the Zanu-PF government would have had repercussions throughout Southern Africa. It would have boosted the confidence of the working class in its own power. It would have legitimised the idea that parties of liberation are not entitled to rule for ever and that the masses have the right and power to remove them from office.

The birth of the MDC was an attempt by the Zimbabwean working class to develop its own political voice and to assert its own class independence. But it has grown into a reactionary by-product of the rebellion of the masses. Tsivangirai’s plans for economic recovery were vague at best, consisting of reciting verses from the IMF and Word Bank’s economic catechism in the belief that he would have been rewarded with an inflow of foreign direct investment and other forms of economic assistance.

The MDC’s economic thinking is done by Eddie Cross, a leading member of the Confederation of Zimbabwean Industries. He declared that under the MDC "all fifty parastatals will be privatised within a two-year timeframe". It would "privatise virtually the entire school delivery system" and "get government employment down from about 300,000 to about 75,000". (P Bond, Radical Rhetoric and the Working Class during Zimbabwean Nationalism’s Dying Days.)

If the MDC had been allowed to win, joy and relief at the end of the Mugabe regime might have allowed the new administration a breathing space. In the context of the catastrophic social crisis that now grips Zimbabwe, however, the MDC programme would in time have met the same resistance that Mugabe faces.

One of the most glaring features of the elections has been the cynicism of the Western leaders, condemning Mugabe in the name of democracy. On the other side, a gallery of African leaders support Mugabe in the name of the struggle against colonialism and imperialism. African blessings were showered on Mugabe by the old boys’ club of dubious democrats in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU – formerly the Organisation of African Unity), and by delegations from Kenya, Nigeria, Namibia and Tanzania. To complete the picture, China – erstwhile arms supplier to the late and unloved Jonas Savimbi of Unita – also congratulated Mugabe. The West’s chorus of condemnation has been led by US president, George W Bush, who came to power via a judicial coup d’état, and who has no problems with dictators provided they dance to the tune of the West.

A three-member Commonwealth team, consisting of South African president, Thabo Mbeki, Australian prime minister, John Howard, and Nigerian president, Olesegun Obasanjo, met in London on 19 March. They suspended Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth for one year. For this team too, ‘freeness and fairness’, ‘legitimacy’ and ‘the will of the people’ were the least of their concerns. What matters are juggling the interests of the ruling African elites and imperialism.

Mbeki in particular is caught on the horns of a painful dilemma. He has carefully cultivated for himself the position of continental leader, as president of its most developed economy and strongest military power. He has promoted an economic recovery programme known as NEPAD - New Partnership for African Development. In essence, the plan consists of promises of good democratic behaviour in exchange for foreign direct investment from the West.

Given the unanimity of the West’s condemnation of the election, Mbeki could not endorse the outcome outright. On the other hand, he could not appear to openly contradict the ANC, the South African observer mission or his allies in Africa. This explains his somersaults and long official silence.

Mbeki’s escape route may be to persuade Mugabe and Tsivangirai to form a government of national unity. Mugabe made a conciliatory inauguration speech and Tsivangirai stated that he is in favour of talks and against sanctions. Only a few days after the election result was announced, however, Tsivangirai has been charged with treason.

Both leaders would have to travel a long way to reach agreement. It remains to be seen if that will come about. In terms of economic policy there are no fundamental difference between the MDC and Zanu-PF. For all Mugabe’s militant rhetoric (including using the dreaded s-word – socialism) and the imposition of price controls, the economic plan presented to parliament last November is essentially the same as that of the MDC.

Tsivangirai has no alternative to offer. He has long given up relying on mass action. The three-day general strike called by the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions seems to have been called independently, in protest at continued repression and not specifically against the outcome of the elections. What is clear is that the interests of Zimbabwe’s urban and rural workers will not be served by either Zanu-PF or the MDC.

Weizmann Hamilton, Democratic Socialist Movement (South Africa)


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