PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe continues with his mission to crack down on the opposition, civil society and the media despite pretending to be committed to democratic reforms. It’s business as usual and the Zanu PF government i
s singing the same oppressive song ahead of next year’s general election.
But Mugabe seems to have further backed himself into a cul-de-sac as he fights for legitimacy both at home and on the international scene.
He has been giving all he can towards obtaining the sympathy and endorsement of his colleagues in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc). But while he is marketing himself as a reforming democrat in the region, he has maintained his iron-fisted grip on coercive instruments of state to cow dissenting voices at home.
Two Bills on electoral reforms and non-governmental organisations are currently before parliament. The Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) Bill is aimed at whipping into line Zimbabwe’s vibrant civil society which has given President Robert Mugabe a tough time in the areas of human rights, democracy and media advocacy. The government wants to introduce mandatory registration of all NGOs and to block foreign funding.
Mugabe has not been apologetic in his intentions to entrench his power through clipping the wings of the NGO sector. “Some of the NGOs are being used to further imperialists goals,” Mugabe said during the opening of the current session of parliament in June.
The Zanu PF leader has however been claiming to be complying with the Sadc guidelines on the conduct of democratic elections. It was for purposes of being seen to be doing so that his party came up with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) Bill. He has been consistent in claiming that the Bill will democratise the electoral framework.
Government this week gazetted yet another Bill, the Electoral Bill, which it says will complement the ZEC Bill in implementing the Sadc guidelines. The Electoral Bill proposes to decentralise vote counting to polling stations as opposed to the current system of having one counting centre in constituencies.
The NGOs and ZEC Bills were almost outpaced on the way to parliament by a series of demonstrations against Zanu PF’s latest attempts to entrench dictatorship, which could be a harbinger of the turbulent times that the nation can expect in the next five months.
“It’s clear that what Mugabe says becomes policy, never mind what they put before parliament,” said Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Wellington Chibebe.
“He has declared the election as anti-Blair and has indicated that it will be bloody. Claims that he wants to comply with the Sadc principles are mere window dressing. The elections, as far as we are concerned, have already been rigged. We will continue rejecting such treachery and Mugabe’s claim to legitimacy.”
The workers’ constituency was increasingly getting disgruntled especially by Mugabe’s failure to revive the economy over the past four years, Chibebe said. He warned the simmering discontent could deny Mugabe legitimacy and peace even if he “steals another election”.
Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa has since backtracked on his earlier pledge that government would order the opening up of the public media to opposition parties. A swift response by Information minister Jonathan Moyo denying Chinamasa’s claims reminded the whole nation about Zanu PF’s uncompromising stance towards the opposition.
Meanwhile, the Public Order and Security Act continues to be a handy tool in the hands of Zanu PF to hit the opposition and civil society.
Zapu leader Paul Siwela said opposition parties and civil society must continue lobbying for the rejection of Mugabe’s schemes.
“As far as we are concerned these Bills will only entrench Mugabe’s dictatorship. All opposition parties and civil society members should reject these attempts at hoodwinking the world,” he said. “We have to continue lobbying Sadc leaders to reject Mugabe’s tricks and claim to legitimacy,” he said.
“If he is going to push forward and declare his party as victorious we will have to reject him as our legitimate leader and make the statement clear to the international community.”
Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza) leader, Jenni Williams, who led a group of 55 women in a protest walk from Bulawayo to Harare last month, said arrests and police brutality would not deter them from fighting for democracy.
“We will not be deterred. We will continue pushing for the rejection of unjust laws,” she said. “As long as our families need food, clothing and accommodation we will continue to fight for our rights. We won’t accept an illegitimate leadership.”
National Constitutional Assembly chairman Lovemore Madhuku said Mugabe’s claims of reforming electoral laws were not consistent with reality and cited the chaos in the delimitation exercise and voter registration.
“Our plan is to delegitimise the regime and what it is doing,” said Madhuku. “We are making it clear that claims by Mugabe do not meet our demands and expectations.
“For example, the Delimitation Commission says that it is drawing up constituency boundaries when there is controversy over the voter registration exercise, which government says was done and completed. We will continue protesting against this mischief and if the worst comes to the worst and Zanu PF rigs the elections we will pick up the struggle.”
MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube said his party would not relent in denouncing Zanu PF’s cosmetic electoral reforms as well as the crackdown on civil society. He said the MDC would not participate in elections “until the ruling party implements the Sadc protocol to the spirit and letter”.
Zanu PF spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira said the ruling party would hold next year’s election even if the MDC boycotts. “The elections will be held whether they (MDC) participate or not. The people of Zimbabwe will have another opportunity to choose those they want to represent them in parliament,” he said.