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Medieval monarchy vs democratic elections

By Michael Hartnack

WHEN the US State Department’s Walter Kansteiner visits the region this week he needs to press President Thabo Mbeki on what the South African leader means by democra

cy. Does it mean a representative government accountable to voters?

Or is having millions of enrolled voters put crosses on ballot papers just the modern equivalent of a medieval coronation?

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, of course, is firmly in the medieval coronation camp. He began justifying plans for a one-party state right after winning power in 1980. “We can say ‘let’s have multi-party’ and people will resort to their ethnic groups for support … opposition parties resort to illegal or subversive activities,” he told a business gathering at Lake Geneva, Switzerland. “… We are thinking that our family must be one.” That was just the start.

But what about Mbeki, who has expended so much of his country’s money and his own political credibility on keeping Mugabe, or at least Zanu PF, in power? Mbeki said last week that Zimbabwe’s problems “did not originate from the desperate actions of a reckless political leadership or corruption”.

Where was Mbeki in 1997 when the Zimbabwe dollar began its nosedive toward the present crisis when the country has run out of bank notes, and also of money to print more?

Where was Mbeki when Mugabe defied public opinion to send troops to the Congo, or to make vast payouts for bogus “war disabilities”? Can Mbeki honestly not know how the productive sector has been systematically destroyed by Mugabe in an attempt to cow civil society?

There were confident predictions before Mbeki, Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo and Malawi’s Bakili Muluzi came to Harare last week that the trio would pressure Mugabe into agreeing an exit plan. This would be followed by the appointment of an interim government, and free and fair elections, in contrast to the rigged parliamentary and presidential polls of 2000 and 2002. Instead, the presidents applied pressure on Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change to recognise the rigged polls as an irreversible process which had somehow given Mugabe legitimacy, however many ballot boxes were stuffed or election agents murdered.

Obasanjo, in flowing robes and fresh from his own questionable election victory, took a line straight from Shakespeare’s Richard II: “Not all the water in the rough rude sea can wash the balm from an anointed king.”

Once a ruler had gone through the process of an election, and been sworn in, there should be no further challenge to his authority, he said.

MDC sources say Obasanjo, Muluzi and Mbeki tried to manoeuvre Tsvangirai into conceding that the officials who conducted the 2002 bogus poll in Zimbabwe were appointed constitutionally, acted in terms of the constitution, and Mugabe was then sworn in constitutionally. The MDC would have none of it.

Mugabe, looking exceptionally grumpy, said afterwards: “Does the MDC now recognise me? That’s the issue.” Mugabe realises that the MDC’s refusal to be converted to the African leaders’ coronation theology strikes at the root of his rights of patronage, his power to delegate to subordinates the task of unleashing, with impunity, state-sponsored violence. The one concession the MDC did offer – and it was a massive one considering the strength of feeling among its supporters – is that Mugabe might be granted amnesty from criminal prosecution (but not civil law suits) if he agreed to go peacefully.

Tsvangirai said the MDC was “ready to consider an amnesty” in the context of a package deal if it was “the price of Mugabe going”. Since the departure of the visitors, the Supreme Court has, amid great fanfare, ruled unconstitutional a clause of the odious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act that made it an offence punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment (and a ban from practice as a journalist) to publish any kind of incorrect statement.

In reality, the court could make no other ruling as state lawyers had conceded the clause was unconstitutional and announced a substitute clause was being framed. There are scant grounds for thinking the ruling indicates a relaxation of Mugabe’s assault on the press and on civil society. The Act remains with its provisions for “licensing” journalists, subjecting them to a government-appointed commission, and applying a government-drafted code of conduct.

Tsvangirai, meanwhile, warns of the urgency in breaking the political deadlock which lies behind the economic crisis, the threat of famine and, worse, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome virus which, if it hits Zimbabwe’s malnourished and HIV-infected population, could claim literally millions of lives. Zimbabwe’s bungling and inadequate mechanisms of government, failed despite months of advance warnings in 2001 to secure adequate supplies of maize meal and wheat. In defiance of public opinion, these mechanisms have been perverted to profit a self-seeking elite rather than meet the needs of a desperate nation.

Mbeki must not wait for another year of famine or the advent of the Sars virus before facing the fact that Zimbabwe does not need an anointed monarch in the form of Mugabe or anyone else. It needs a government capable of proving to the people that it can govern. For this, transparency and accountability are essential, and that means parliaments and elections – real ones. – ZWNews.

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