Candid comment: Will Mugabe let the ballot speak?

I MUST say I was most perturbed to read of President Robert Mugabe’s ominous remarks at a rally he addressed in Bulawayo on Sunday. He reportedly told a rally at Stanley Square in Makokoba that voting for the opposition MDC was a waste of votes.

No doubt his audience must have thought it was a horrible nightmare. The people of Bulawayo have voted for the MDC ever since it was launched in 2000. The people of Matabeleland and Midlands in general have voted for the party, for well-known historical grievances which President Mugabe’s government has not had the conscience to address with the necessary sensitivity.
“You can vote for them (MDC) but that will be a wasted vote,” Mugabe is quoted as saying in the Herald. “You will be cheating yourself (voting for MDC) as there is no way we can allow them to rule this country.”
He went on to declare, the same way Ian Smith did just before he lost power in the late 1970s: “The MDC will not rule this country. It will never ever happen.” I hope the munificent Genie will grant Mugabe his wish to rule forever.
On any other day, said by a lesser personage in the party, I would have dismissed the remarks as electoral grandstanding and brinksmanship. Politicians are allowed to put on the mask of a Goliath even in the face of defeat. But these remarks are ascribed to a state president on the eve of definitive national elections; words which must have a chilling effect on all peace-loving Zimbabweans regardless of what region they come from.
There is a serious problem here. Firstly, that the people of Bulawayo who have voted for the MDC in the past have no right to choose who should lead them. Secondly, that they must see the folly of voting for the MDC because there will never be development in the region. It should therefore not be amazing that while trillions of dollars have been printed over the years for many so-called black empowerment projects, there has been nothing for the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project.
It’s all part of the retributive Zanu PF politics which have ruined this country, from Gukurahundi to Murambatsvina. People should not “cheat themselves” by voting for the opposition, especially the MDC, is the blatant message. But it is also a sure way to forfeit their vote.
Mugabe said the reason the MDC should not be allowed to rule this country was because he had “a job to do and that is to protect our heritage”. And part of that “heritage” is that people’s votes can be invalidated by the caprices and whims of a sitting president.
But there is a more sinister national dimension to Mugabe’s un-statesmanlike pronouncements.
President Mugabe declared at the same venue as he has done at countless others that the MDC cannot be “allowed to rule this country” because it is led by “puppets of western countries” seeking to effect “illegal” regime change in Zimbabwe.
In essence this is to validate and give concrete expression to assertions by uniformed service chiefs who have declared they “will not support, let alone salute” any victor in tomorrow’s elections other than President Mugabe “who has sacrificed so much for this country”.
In the light of this, Mugabe’s comments are all the more dangerous given that his personal and political views at party rallies have in the past had the force of law: beating of opposition leaders and price controls. He is in effect saying he will reject a people’s verdict.
It is a frightening prospect.
The other effect of Mugabe’s comments is to renege on all the commitments made at the Sadc-mandated inter-party talks between Zanu PF and the MDC which sought to level the electoral playing field ahead of the elections to allow the free will of the people to prevail. This is an arrangement which could be reached by parties which are both indigenous and legitimate. Now we are being told the MDC couldn’t be such a legitimate negotiator. It is now a crime to vote for it because those doing so will be “cheating” themselves.
The tricky part is that there are evidently thousands of people ready to call Mugabe’s bluff tomorrow. They see no hope for Zimbabwe in his government and its policies. They are itching for a new dispensation. The good thing is that they have waited for so long, waiting to use the ballot box to make that choice. They have shunned violence despite blatant acts of state provocation through degrading treatment, including the indignity of spending many hours in cash and food queues.
Will Mugabe give peaceful change a chance? Or will he leave office the same way he consolidated his grip on power at Independence: through a bloodbath? Is that the final signature President Mugabe wants to append on to the canvass of his controversial legacy? I hope the generals get the message too.
Let’s give the poor a voice by letting the ballot speak loudest.