IF President-elect Robert Mugabe’s Heroes Day speech is indicative of anything, it is that from now on Zimbabwe is on its way back to the era of authoritarian governance and repression.
Mugabe, following his disputed victory during the recent general elections, this week launched a stinging attack on his main rival, MDC-T, outgoing Prime Minister leader Morgan Tsvangirai, in his first public speech after the now disputed poll.
Rejecting the opposition’s claims that the vote was stolen, Mugabe charged that those against him could “go hang”.
Analysts say his angry remarks suggest allegations of rigging the elections are irritating him, while pointing to renewed unilateralism and arbitrariness, a rejection of the politics of consensus and unity fostered under the just-ended coalition government.
In his belligerent speech which sent out some conflict-ridden signals, Mugabe said:
“Those who lost elections may commit suicide if they so wish. Even if they die, dogs will not eat their flesh,” he declared, adding that Zimbabwe’s Western detractors had been “put to shame”.
Analysts say Mugabe’s sabre-rattling betrayed his sensitivity to accusations of rigging which he vehemently denied even before the polls amid growing complaints the elections would be manipulated.
His remarks were widely seen as partisan and polarising, poisoning the environment instead of creating the much-needed peace and unity internally.
Internationally, Mugabe also sent the wrong signals by railing at major Western powers such as the European Union countries and the United States which have refused to endorse his controversial victory.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute Director Pedzisai Ruhanya said the speech by Mugabe shows old habits die hard as he seems to be too keen to embrace his authoritarian leadership again instead of reform.
“The speech is consistent with Mugabe’s kind of rule. It shows his leadership style which is not inclusive or conciliatory but vindictive,” Ruhanya said.
“It tells the direction where the country is going. We are headed for that period of further international isolation and unilateralism.
This will have a huge effect on the economy because as long as he pursues his hardline policies, investors and donors will stay away. It is a tragedy for Zimbabwe for the next five years.”
Analysts say given that Mugabe’s victory was controversial, he was expected to bring together all stakeholders and leave a legacy of national unity and peace because this is almost certainly his last election. But, as Ruhanya puts it, “like all dictators he (Mugabe) will go down unrepentant”.
Mugabe’s remarks reminded many of his threat to pull out of Sadc while he was on the campaign trail despite the fact he is now basking in the glory of endorsement by the same organisation he was haranguing for merely reminding him of his obligations to ensure free and fair elections.
Sadc initially took a tough stance on Mugabe’s unilateral and controversial proclamation of July 31 as the elections date in which he claimed to be merely complying with a deadline ordered by the Constitutional Court even if his party was behind the court application by proxy.
The regional bloc had all the while been insisting Zimbabwe holds elections only after reforms necessary for free and fair polls were implemented.
After Mugabe’s attacks on Tsvangirai, analysts say Zimbabwe will slide back to repression. Instead of celebrating Mugabe’s victory, Zimbabweans on the street are visibly despondent.
The victors have a lot to prove to the world that the win was clean and to also re-assure Zimbabweans there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Eldred Masunungure, a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said Mugabe’s speech reflected a man who was angry at the MDC-T’s court challenges on his landslide victory.
“The speech reflects a high degree of aggression and grandstanding because Mugabe has to demonstrate that he is not subdued by the court challenges and the international community’s refusal to acknowledge his election victory,” Masunungure said.
“The vitriolic attacks on Morgan Tsvangirai and the West are a sign of disappointment by Mugabe who has once again failed to gain the much-desired legitimacy after his landslide victory.”
Masunungure also said signs were clear that there would be tendencies to apply winner-take-all approach mentality in the next government as Mugabe’s hardline speech was devoid of reconciliation and unity built in the last five years of the coalition government.
“Mugabe is disappointed because his victory has been rejected by key constituencies,” he said.
The formation of the inclusive government in 2009 had helped Zimbabwe to partly reintegrate into the international community. EU countries, Australia and the United States had started processes to remove sanctions against Mugabe and his inner circle.
However, with the manner the just-ended elections were conducted Australia has even gone as far as calling for a fresh poll, saying the plebiscite lacked credibility.
Dewa Mavhinga, a senior researcher on Zimbabwe at Human Rights Watch, said Mugabe’s victory has energised him and there was going to be a shift in terms of his rule.
“A major concern, based on their past patterns of repression, is that Mugabe and Zanu PF will use their parliamentary majority to amend the new constitution to shut down democratic space and make it difficult, if not impossible, for local human rights and good governance groups to function,” Mavhinga said.
His greatest fear was that the Zanu PF victory would return Zimbabwe to a de facto one-party state under which key state institutions, including the army, police and sections of the judiciary, continue to be openly partisan and aligned to Zanu PF. So far the signs, analysts say, point towards a gloomy future.