Report & Essay

Chronicle of an Election Foretold
Zenzele Ndebele

 In the March election, many Zimbabweans thought they were going to deal with the Mugabe-led Government once and for all. The majority of us voted for change. ZANU PF lost the election, but unfortunately, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change didn’t quite manage to win:With Robert Mugabe pulling 43.7% of the vote and Morgan Tsvangirai (leader of the MDC) at 47.9%, neither party achieved the 50%+ required to gain the presidency. And so, on June 27th, we’ll have a runoff.

Mugabe has always maintained that the current problems faced by Zimbabwe are caused by the sanctions America and Britain have imposed on ‘his’ country. Personally I don’t buy this explanation; the only sanctions that I know of are targeted – that is, they target certain individuals in government, rather than whole economic sectors.

There is no question that Zimbabwe is experiencing a drastic economic crisis. Inflation is now estimated to be over 2,000,000%. To say life is difficult for the ordinary Zimbabwean living on less than $1 a day is an understatement of tragic proportions. But the economic problems that we face today were caused by mismanagement, corruption , and nepotism – all problems that originated from inside Mugabe’s government.

Nevertheless, Robert Mugabe’s stated aim is to defeat ‘the western imperialists.’ He lost in March for the first time in Zimbabwe’s history of independence – a bitter surprise he won’t allow to be repeated. Mugabe is like a wounded lion; he will do anything to survive, even if it means killing the same people he is fighting to lead. He believes a win for the opposition will be a win for the western powers, and so is prepared to use every trick in the book to keep power.

Another reason Mugabe won’t accept defeat is his fear of being prosecuted for Crimes Against Humanity. This is a reasonable concern. Mugabe knows that he’s committed uncountable atrocities during his 28-year rule; chief among these is the Gukurahundi genocide of the mid-eighties, in which he oversaw the massacre of 20,000 Ndebele tribesmen by the army’s Fifth Brigade. There is every reason for him to suspect that, for this and other crimes, he will be extradited to the Hague the moment his party loses power.

Most of the Ministers surrounding Mugabe are similarly implicated; they too are afraid to face the world for the crimes they have committed over the years. For instance, an untold fortune was looted from the Congo by the ‘peacekeeping’ forces Zimbabwe contributed to that strife-torn region in the ‘90’s. Generals took advantage of the chaos to seize diamonds and other valuable gemstones, of course sharing the wealth with the government leaders who sent them. The evidence can be seen in the vast mansions these generals and ministers have built in Harare’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood.

Mugabe wants to die in office, not in jail. Yet on the 29th of March, 2008, the people of Zimbabwe put it beyond doubt that they wanted change. For the first time since 1980, ZANU PF failed to win an election, and if they hadn’t quite lost the presidential vote they certainly lost the control of parliament. They panicked, demanded recounts, and claimed that the opposition had bribed the polling officers.

These were acts of desperation. Unfortunately, they were just the beginning. Political violence is on the increase, because Mugabe knows that the only way to win the people’s vote is to beat it out of them. More that 65 opposition supporters have died since the first round of voting, and there is every likelihood that the number will increase.

ZANU PF now has a new strategy. Instead of politicians going out to speak at rallies, the army commanders have taken over the campaign. Like their Commander in Chief, most of the top military’s top brass have a vested interest in avoiding change. To them, change means losing the many farms they own; it means exchanging their luxury cars for prison cells at the International Court of Justice. The military has deployed its commanders country-wide to ‘mobilize support’ for the president – that is, beating up civilians. On top of this, the War Veterans and the youth militia have set up bases across the country, where they are beating up people and threatening war if the opposition wins.

It is painfully clear that the June 27th election will not be free or fair. With two weeks to go, there are no regional or international observers on the ground, nor are any expected. ZANU PF is free to beat up whomever it pleases, all the way to the ballot box.

ZANUPF will make sure that in all areas where the opposition won the first-round vote, as many people as possible are displaced to keep them away from their wards come time to vote. This is already happening in some parts of Mashonaland, where people have been fleeing their homes because of the violence – most of these people are unlikely to go back before the election. Many of those who remain in their homes will be too afraid to go out and vote on the election date.

The armed forces will be forced to cast their vote in front of their commanders, to ensure that they vote for President Mugabe. It is estimated that about 150,000 to 200,000 soldiers will cast their vote, a substantial proportion in such a tight contest.

Unlike the March election, this time around there will be no transparency. ZANU PF will make sure that the polling officers are trusted civil servants, members of the party or members of the secret service. It is very unlikely that polling agents of the opposition will be allowed to be in polling stations. Especially in remote areas, agents of the opposition are going to be chased away, beaten up or threatened with death if they report any irregularities.

Given these conditions, the sad truth is that there’s no reason to believe Mugabe will lose the election. This in turn means that Zimbabwe’s economic situation can only get worse. At 84 Mugabe, has run out of ideas and he is not capable of reviving the economy. Unfortunately, the one thing he most definitely is capable of is winning on June 27th.

Zenzele Ndebele is a Zimbabwean journalist, managing editor of, and the creator ofGukurahundi: A Moment of Madness, a documentary about Robert Mugabe’s military campaign against the Ndebele people of southern Zimbabwe.

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