Zimbabwe: Cutting the Losses

21 June 2008

Zimbabwe: Cutting the Losses

By Gwynne Dyer

There is no Plan B. Morgan Tsvangirai was right to withdraw from the run-off presidential “election” in Zimbabwe on Sunday, because there’s no point in getting people killed when there’s no hope of a fair vote, but he has no more cards to play. South Africa is not going to intervene, nor is the Southern African Development Community, or the African Union, or the United Nations.

Another million despairing Zimbabweans will probably flee to South Africa, but there is not going to be a revolution in Zimbabwe, either. The people have no weapons, half the working-age population lives abroad, and the “security forces” are vigilant, well-armed and brutal. Violence has triumphed; President Robert Mugabe has won.

Thousands of Tsvangirai’s supporters have been kidnapped and tortured by Mugabe’s thugs since the campaign started, and 86 have been murdered already. Many more would have suffered the same fate if the election had gone ahead, and it would all have been for nothing. Mugabe was determined not to let the opposition win, regardless of what the voters did.

“Only God can remove me,” Mugabe said recently, vowing never to give up the gains of the liberation war because of a mere ‘x’ on a ballot paper. He claims that the main opposition party is part of a plot by the British government, Zimbabwe’s former colonial ruler, to re-impose white rule on the country.

Whether this is genuine paranoia or merely low cunning, it lets the 84-year-old president justify the reign of terror he has unleashed against opposition supporters since he lost the first round of the election to Tsvangirai by claiming that it is “a second liberation war.” In wars, you can kill people who oppose you, and you are not obliged to count the enemy’s votes.

A lot of polling agents for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have already been killed, and thousands have been driven from their homes in order to break the MDC’s organisation in rural areas. Mugabe’s strategy was clearly going to succeed: either he would win a majority of the votes because enough MDC supporters had been terrorised into staying home, or else he would rig the count later on.

He didn’t win the count the first time, in late March, because he foolishly allowed local vote tallies to be posted up at the polling stations, not realising that opposition activists would photograph them. Whatever the real vote count was, Mugabe’s tame Zimbabwe Election Commission was unable to massage the outcome enough to give him a first-round victory. Most of the local voting totals were too well documented.

After a month’s delay, the ZEC released results showing Tsvangirai with about 48 percent of the vote to Mugabe’s 43 percent. That was enough to force a second round of voting, since a candidate had to get more than fifty percent of the vote in the first round to avoid a run-off, but it was a huge humiliation for the liberation war hero who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.

He richly deserved it. Mugabe has misgoverned Zimbabwe so badly that this once-prosperous country now has two million percent inflation, and one-quarter of the population have fled to South Africa to find work and send money home to their families. Zimbabweans now die, on average, at a younger age than any other nationality in the world.

The ruling Zanu-PF elite presumably knows these statistics, but they cannot afford to care. If they lose power, they lose everything, for almost all their wealth was stolen and they have killed too many people. They would kill many more to keep it.

So Morgan Tsvangirai had to decide how many more lives he wanted to sacrifice in order to force Mugabe to steal the election openly. But how would that discredit Mugabe any more than the crimes he is committing right now? And what good does it do to “discredit” him?

Mugabe is a tyrant and the people who run his government and army are brazen thieves, but there will be no effective intervention in Zimbabwe from outside. The only African leader who has enough clout to do that is South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, but his goal is to usher his old friend Robert Mugabe into an honourable retirement while keeping Zanu-PF in power. Until Zimbabweans can give him that, they will be left to rot.

Zimbabweans are on their own, as they always really were. Tsvangirai and the MDC have belatedly realised that there is no point in hoping that justice will prevail — but they have probably not yet thought beyond that. Basildon Peta, the head of the Zimbabwean Union of Journalists, certainly has. This is what he wrote after Tsvangirai announced his decision.

“I hope it won’t be another long round of Thabo Mbeki’s timid mediation while Zimbabwe continues burning. The MDC must now do what it should do to rid Zimbabwe of this shameless criminal. The opposition party knows what that is, though I can’t print it here.”

Well, I can. It is revolution in the streets. But that is almost certainly not going to happen.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 5. (“Only…votes”)