HomeCommentEditor's Memo; Mugabe Staging A Hollow Election

Editor’s Memo; Mugabe Staging A Hollow Election

TODAY should mark the denouement of the run-off political drama which has been playing out since President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF lost elections in March. Hopefully, it will bring to an end the climate of repression and fear gripping the country.


However, the run-off on its own will certainly not buy Mugabe any form of legitimacy but actually compound his problems unless he uses the opportunity to sort out his succession crisis and start a process of leadership and policy renewal.

Everybody is clear on this one.

The run-off is a display of stone-age politics. There is intimidation, violence and brutal killings. It has left a trail of destruction.

The media was also targeted. Journalists were arrested, detained and harassed. We continue to hear about hit squads and lists of targeted journalists.

Only last week we received reports of Mugabe’s political hacks pounding tables and vowing in private meetings to punish journalists who criticise their boss. Instead of seeking to put their case across to the media, some of Mugabe’s spin-doctors are now agitating for physical attacks and liquidation of certain media houses and journalists. One of them reportedly told a meeting last week the state should target certain journalists personally for criticising Mugabe.

We are currently investigating a story of a reporter here who says he was abducted two weeks ago by state agents who wanted to know where the Independent was getting its stories.

The crackdown on dissent, including in the media, has now reduced Zimbabwe to an Orwellian society. Mugabe’s thought police are running amok and want journalists dealt with for alleged thought crimes. But then we should ask since when has telling the truth become a crime in Zimbabwe? If this is now the situation, why doesn’t the government let us know so that we can stop writing news? I would be one of the first to quit journalism if there is a new crime for writing true stories.

It is disturbing when people who should know better encourage state agents to attack journalists. Why should criticising Mugabe be a hanging offence?

The resurging wave of media repression is part of a broad strategy to retain Mugabe in power.

The authors of the Mugabe fight-back strategy must be feeling pleased with themselves. It was done with military precision and brutality, but Mugabe pulled off an extraordinary come back. Tsvangirai was outmanoeuvred. Of course, it was via a wave of repression and terror, but new circumstances and conditions have been created. Tsvangirai has lost his historic advantage which he had after March and will now engage Mugabe or his envoys from a position of weakness.

This is sad for Tsvangirai given that this was an election for him to win or lose.

Few who know Tsvangirai would deny his courage and tenacity. However, he has now squandered a glorious opportunity due to a lack of organisation and strategy. After needlessly spending over a month out of the country on a largely pointless diplomatic offensive, Tsvangirai returned home to mount an incoherent and disjointed campaign. He was definitely disoriented by the violence and killings he found on the ground and political blockades, but had he campaigned on a massive scale on a united-front platform and grassroots-based strategy — not fleeting visits — he could have defied the odds. He lost the plot somewhere in between. The problem with the MDC and Tsvangirai is over-reliance on dodgy and self-serving advice from money-grubbers and political upstarts behind the party instead of utilitarian counsel from those in the established structures.

If Tsvangirai had gone into the March election on a united-front ticket, he would be president by now. Many analysts and ordinary people who use common sense said this before the elections. However, his advisors — who clearly have a huge deficit of common sense — told him to go on a solo run and robbed him of victory.

After narrowly surviving defeat in March, a campaign of repression and terror was Mugabe’s answer to Tsvangirai’s ascendancy.

The MDC leader had no counter-strategy to Mugabe’s military-style strategy. This allowed Mugabe a free rein and to bounce back.

Tsvangirai’s best insurance against repression would have been organising a broad-based front to confront Mugabe’s warlike approach. Now he has been forced to retreat in fear because of a failure to join forces with others. When will Tsvangirai and his advisors see what even the most cursory observer of local politics is able to understand?

Tsvangirai’s argument for pulling out is partly convincing. He cited violence, displacements, disenfranchisement, political blockades and killings as some of the reasons why he withdrew. These are compelling.

However, the problem is that his decision carries too many political risks for him. I agree with those who say it was the “wrong move at the wrong time”.

How could he withdraw only five days before the election and yet people had been beaten and killed all along? It might compound Mugabe’s legitimacy crisis, but may wreck Tsvangirai’s career. This is where the problem is for him.

In the end, it’s not just Tsvangirai and Mugabe in a fix. We are all in a tight spot.

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