FACED with an opposition claiming victory in the March 29 presidential election and rising public discontent, President Robert Mugabe has rallied his party, war veterans, ex-political detainees and restrictees as he digs in for the fight for his life.Â
While the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is yet to announce the outcome of the poll, the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai last week claimed victory. Mugabeâ€™s Zanu PF hit back saying no candidate had attained the legally required 50% plus of the valid votes to assume office.
Last Friday, Zanu PFâ€™s politburo met in the capital and hardliners in the party backed a decision by the countryâ€™s service chiefs to have Mugabe face a presidential run-off against Tsvangirai and also that war veterans, ex-detainees and restrictees be roped in to spearhead the 84-year-old leaderâ€™s campaign.
â€œBecause of the stalemate in the presidential election, we have resolved to go for a run-off,â€ Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa said after the politburo meeting.
â€œThe decision for the run-off was in the affirmative by all membersâ€¦Mugabe, our dear old man, remains our candidate. We shall take him and carry him along with us.â€
The politburo also said its defeat in the House of Assembly elections by the opposition was just a minor setback.Â â€œWe stumbled.We did not fall.â€Â
The MDC-Tsvangirai won a bare plurality of the 210 seats in the House of Assembly. The party bagged 99 seats, just two ahead of Zanu PF with Arthur Mutambaraâ€™s faction getting 10 and independent Jonathan Moyo retaining his seat in Tsholotsho North.
With the politburo meeting in session, a rag-tag band of about 400 war veterans led by their national chairperson Jabulani Sibanda marched in the capital before assembling at the Zanu PF headquarters where they vowed to back Mugabe and decreed that Tsvangirai would never rule Zimbabwe.
On Monday, ex-detainees and restrictees also met at the partyâ€™s headquarters and endorsed the decisions of the politburo and the war veterans.
â€œWe agreed that Zimbabwe cannot lose political sovereignty to Tsvangirai whose political party is a product of British imperialism,â€ one of the ex-political detainees said. â€œThey want to reverse the gains of the liberation struggle. You are not a Zimbabwean if you donâ€™t own a few acres of land in your country.â€
Political analysts this week said it was clear that Mugabe had rallied his party, war veterans, ex-political detainees and restrictees to secure a victory for him during the anticipated run-off. University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said Mugabe was a wounded buffalo and would resort to the 2000 campaign tactics.
â€œThere is fear in Zanu PF that Mugabe would lose the run-off if opposition parties unite behind Tsvangirai,â€ Masunungure said.
â€œAs such, Zanu PF will resort to intimidation of voters, especially in rural areas where the party used to enjoy the greatest support. I cannot rule out violence in the countdown to the run-off.â€
After the government lost a constitutional referendum in February 2000 Zanu PF unleashed war veterans and members of the national youth service to drum up support ahead of general elections in June the same year.
War veterans invaded and seized white-owned farms, while the youth militia went on an orgy of violence in rural areas.
The MDC claimed that scores of its members were killed, while thousands were injured.
The same campaign tactics were employed during the run-up to the 2002 disputed presidential election won by Mugabe by just over 400 000 votes.
Fears abound that Mugabe will this time around use tried and tested measures to win the run-off, and Sibanda in an interview with an international television network at the weekend seemed to confirm that there would be a bloody campaign.
Quoting former Cuban President Fidel Castro, Sibanda said while Zanu PF wanted democracy to prevail it would not allow political parties bent on reversing the gains of the liberation struggle to assume power on the pretext of democracy.
He said the war veterans would take decisive action.
â€œWe will use our weapons to defend our ideas,â€ Sibanda said.
And true to that, war veterans in Masvingo at the weekend invaded two farms after claiming that former white farmers were back in the country and threatening to repossess their properties once MDC assumed power.
Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society in South Africa, said there was no doubt that Mugabe would use force to remain in power.
â€œMugabe will resort to the machinery at his disposal to win,â€ Bond said in an article on Zimbabweâ€™s unfolding election drama. â€œThis entails even the use of violence to secure victory.â€
He said Tsvangirai could only win if he can hammer out a pre-run-off pact with Makoni, Mutambara and other opposition forces.
â€œIt is hard to imagine that if the pact holds, Tsvangirai would not beat Mugabe outright, one on one,â€ Bond added.
Unconfirmed reports this week were that Zanu PF had already unleashed violence on the electorate in Masvingo, Mutoko, Chiredzi and Mhangura. Suspected Tsvangirai supporters were reportedly being beaten.
By Tuesday, the MDC-Tsvangirai claimed that it had received 15 reports of political violence against its supporters throughout the country.
Tendai Biti, the MDC secretary-general, said Zanu PF was once again desperate to find an issue that it would bring to the centre-stage to reverse the â€œheavy and structural losses it has sufferedâ€ in the March 29 elections.
â€œThat issue, sadly, is the issue of land. Indeed, sadly for Zanu PF, it is a message that sounds like a broken record. In the past few days, Zanu PF has upped the tempo and unleashed war and terror on farmers perceived to be sympathetic to the MDC,â€ Biti claimed.
â€œOur people are being brutalised by a regime that is smarting from a heavy electoral defeat. The regime has also created the myth that white people are revisiting their erstwhile farms with a view to reoccupying them following the MDCâ€™s victory in last weekâ€™s election.â€
The party further claimed that Zanu PF had put in place the machinery to unleash violence and to engage in vote-buying ahead of an anticipated run-off.
â€œZanu PF has enlisted the services of the central bank chief Gideon Gono to work with selected individuals in sponsoring a wave of violence and vote-buying,â€ the party alleged. â€œThose at the apex of the plot team are said to be Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga, Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, Zanu PF politburo member Saviour Kasukuwere and Mugabeâ€™s spokesman, George Charamba.â€
Political scientist John Makumbe said Mugabe would unleash violence of â€œdisproportionate proportionâ€ to cling to power.
â€œMugabe has set the stage for a bloody campaign. Victims will cry,â€ Makumbe, a critic of Mugabe, said. â€œThe dictator will do everything in his power to remain in office.â€
It, however, remains to be seen whether the countdown to the run-off will be worse than that of the 2000 and 2002 presidential elections.
By Constantine Chimakure