Report & Essay
Zimbabwe Votes An Interview With Zenzele Ndebele

Report & Essay

Zimbabwe Votes An Interview With Zenzele Ndebele

 (Zenzele Ndebele is a Zimbabwean journalist, managing editor of zimpatriot.com, and the creator of Gukurahundi: A Moment of Madness, a documentary about Robert Mugabe’s military campaign against the Ndebele people of southern Zimbabwe. Zenzele snuck across the border to debut his film in Johannesburg last November; on returning home, police threats of violence and incarceration forced him into hiding for several weeks. Kwani? caught up with him for an online interview about Saturday’s presidential election.)


With the Kenyan experience fresh in everyone’s mind, African observers are wondering what the likelihood is of a repeat performance in Zimbabwe. What is your take on this?

I think we are likely to see the Kenyan situation repeating itself in Zimbabwe if ZANU-PF [Mugabe’s party] steals the election. Already the opposition has complained that the election won’t be free and fair because the ruling party is changing goal posts; it’s a sign that we might see violence after the election. The president has also said he won’t go if the opposition wins, and this is another recipe for disaster. He knows he won’t win a free and fair election, so he is hinting that he will rig to stay in power.

Since not only Mugabe, but also his chiefs of army, police and prisons, have all said they won’t allow anyone else to take office, one has to wonder why they are bothering to hold an election in the first place. What’s the point, especially for a leadership that seems to disdain international opinion?
For Mugabe, it’s desperation. He is afraid to face the future out of office, where he would be immune to prosecution. He knows he is likely to face charges of crimes against humanity and he wants to stay in power forever. I would say the service chiefs are taking Mugabe for a ride; they don’t mean what they said, they were singing for their supper. Most of them have been linked to the independent candidate, Simba Makoni, and recently there were reports that the head of Central Intelligence Office had resigned because of his links with Makoni. This shows that the security forces are not with Robert, they are pretending because they want to be appointed again in case he wins. If Mugabe loses these guys will not do anything because most of the soldiers earn less that US$50 a month and they want change.

Let’s assume for a moment that a free and fair election were to take place on Saturday. With the opposition divided between Morgan Tsvangirai and Simba Makoni, is there any clear frontrunner?

Simba Makoni is likely to divide the ZANU-PF vote because a lot of people in ZANU-PF agree that there is a need to change leadership. He is also likely to get most of the votes in Matebeleland because one of the leaders in ZANU-PF from Matebeleland, Dumiso Dabengwa, joined Simba Makoni. In a free and fair election the battle will be between Morgan and Simba Makoni , but I will give Morgan a slight edge over Simba.

In Kenya, people were being killed well before election day, and there were ample warning signs of the potential for widespread violence to erupt for anyone who cared to look. Are there any such signs in Zimbabwe?

For the first time in the history of elections in Zimbabwe, things are going peacefully so far. Parties have been able to campaign without any problems, except for one or two small incidences. The fact that it’s peaceful this time is a sign that people are fed up with the situation and they want change. Even the police who have always supported the ruling party! They are doing their work and arresting anyone who causes violence. In fact, one of the war vets who caused a lot of chaos in the previous elections, Jabulani Phutshu from the Filabusi area (about 40km east of Bulawayo) was this time around arrested and he is doing community work as I speak.

Unlike Kenya’s 42 tribes, Zimbabwe is dominated by only two, the Shona and the Ndebele. How much tension, if any, exists between them, and to what extent are voting patterns likely to reflect them?

There has always been tension between the Shona and the Ndebele, dating back as early as the 1900s when the Ndebele, led by King Mzilikazi, migrated from South Africa. When they got to Zimbabwe they conquered the Shona people and settled there. When Mugabe took over power in 1980 he deployed the 5th brigade, known as Gukurahundi, which killed over 20,000 Ndebele people. From there on there has been a lot of tension between the two tribes. The people of Matebeleland have never voted for ZANU-PF. In the 1980 and 1985 elections the people of Matebeleland voted for ZAPU. In 1987 there was the unity accord [which brought an end to Mugabe’s Gukurahundi campaign]. Between 1988 and 1999 there was no serious opposition in Zimbabwe. The MDC was formed in 1999, and the tension was much better because the MDC was made up of people from all walks of life – Ndebele, Shona, Kalanga, Tonga, Venda, colored, white, etc, and the tribal element was not the issue. From this time the people of Matebeleland again started to vote for the opposition; ever since 2000 they have never voted for the ruling party. I am certain that the people of Matebeleland will vote for the opposition. If there is violence, I don’t think it will be along tribal lines because all the candidates are Shona and the Ndebeles are represented in each of these parties. Violence will be between political party supporters, especially ZANU-PF and MDC.

On a more personal note, you’ve had some interesting experiences as a journalist who speaks openly against the regime. How dangerous is it to be a dissenting voice in the media in Zimbabwe in 2008?

2008 has been much safer for most journalists because of the mediated talks by Thabo Mbeki between MDC and ZANUPF . Mugabe is desperate to have this election declared as free and fair so that he can be seen as a legitimate leader by the SADC. The Simba Makoni issue was also an advantage because most of the war vets who used to beat up people were neutralized – many of them joined Simba Makoni. But you always have elements in the state security who are overzealous, and these are a problem because they will monitor each and every move you make. You don’t feel safe.

If Mugabe wins, what’s next?

If Mugabe wins it’s disaster for Zimbabwe. I can tell you people will starve to death, inflation will be over a million by the end of April. Most schools will close because most of the teachers will go to other countries. Hospitals will be death places because no doctor will remain in the country and there will be no drugs. Things will be very difficult. As I speak now the rand is 1: 600,000, and the US$ 1 :5million and if he wind it will be ten times this number in a matter of days. So another win for Mugabe means Zimbabwe will be in a serious crisis.

If Tsvangirai wins, how likely is he to bring about real change rather than just become the next dictator of Zimbabwe?

I don’t trust Tsvangirai as a leader. He might behave like Mugabe, and he showed that in 2005 when he went against his party’s constitution which led to the split of the opposition. But he would be much better than having Robert. It looks like the international community has faith in him and this can bring in a lot of investors. But it won’t be easy to turn over the situation in Zimbabwe – Mugabe has destroyed this country. At the moment the people of Zimbabwe want change and I think it will be easy to remove Morgan if he goes against the will of the people.

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