No Election Results But a Recount Begins: Mugabe Uses Violence to Reverse the People’s Will as MDC Calls for a Work Boycott
by Constance Manika
- Zimbabwe -
"The moment the people stop supporting you, that's the moment you should quit politics."
These were the seemingly reasonable and even wise words President Robert Mugabe used in the Highfield suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, when he cast his vote on March 29th. He was responding to a journalist who asked whether he would step down in the event of defeat in the presidential election. Until Saturday it looked as if Mugabe might have spoken too soon.
One thing I know for a fact: if Mugabe's ZANU PF party had won the presidential race, we would definitely have known the results by now. So how have we come to a recount without having gotten the election results?
The Zimbabwe Election Commission’s (ZEC) National Command Centre was to process the results at the Harare International Conference Centre at the Rainbow Towers hotel. However they never expected that announcing the results would take more than two weeks. That location was expensive, so with the delay, the ZEC moved to a venue they could afford. But the move was executed rather secretly, so eyebrows were raised; the suspicion was that the secrecy hid ballot box tampering. Many assumed that the Election Commission would be on Mugabe’s side, if anything. However the ZEC announced parliamentary results, saying that by its count, ZANU-PF had lost 16 of 23 constituencies where Mugabe had expected support. A total of 210 constituencies voted.
Mugabe’s strategists started working overtime in an attempt to reverse his humiliating defeat and because of the parliamentary results, not even the ZEC was exempt. Alleging that some election commission officials were paid to rig the election in favor of Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s team demanded that results from 23 constituencies be recounted.
As a result of the ZANU-PF allegations, more than 40 Election Commission officials in different parts of the country were arrested. Many of the arrested are now being represented by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
A court battle began. On April 5th, twelve days after the election, the MDC made an urgent chamber application in the High Court of Zimbabwe to compel the ZEC to release the results of the election. ZEC's lawyers used every delaying tactic possible to manipulate the court system, arguing that the High Court did not have jurisdiction and that there was no urgency to resolve the situation. The MDC protested that a recount would be illegal, because the results of the presidential election were not even out. However, High Court Judge Antonio Guvava agreed to hear submissions from both parties. Meanwhile recounts were scheduled to take place. On April 11th, Judge Guvava issued a ruling granting an interim stay of the recount to the MDC, saying he would consider final arguments after further consideration.
The first huge blow was dealt to democracy on April 14th, when Justice Tendai Uchena refused to grant the MDC's application that the election results be released. He not only dismissed their petition but sentenced them to pay costs. How could a judge with a fully functional brain dismiss such an important issue in the courts and live with his conscience?
Then Judge Guvava deferred his final hearing on the matter, saying he wanted to read the judgment Justice Uchena had made. However on Friday the 18th Judge Guvava rejected MDC’s application to block the recount.
The recount began on Saturday, the 19th. It was conducted by ZEC officials, with the supervision of election agents from all the parties. The contesting candidates themselves were to be at the provincial command centers of the 23 constituencies marked for recounting.
Meanwhile there has been widespread fear that we are heading back to a period like 2000, when there was a breakdown in the rule of law. Back then there were violent land grabs, and although there were several High Court orders issued for war veterans to vacate the white-owned farms they had invaded, those orders were defied -- with impunity. At that time the highly partisan police made no arrests, neither for contempt of court nor for the murders and assaults of white farmers during the land invasions. The police were obviously taking orders from above.
I fear we have slipped into much the same scenario. Even in the few days when the High Court had ordered that the recounts be stopped on an interim basis, by scheduling a recount, the Election Commission appeared to be taking orders from someone who knew he was above the law.One only needs to look at the results of the House of Assembly election to understand the situation: for the first time in the history of independent Zimbabwe, ZANU PF lost its majority in the lower house of Parliament. The lower house result, though announced reluctantly by the government-controlled Electoral Commission, remains clear testimony that the people of Zimbabwe want tyranny out.
Zimbabweans went to the polls to say “No” to dictatorship, but we are paying for it. A close analysis of the results showed that even in some of the rural constituencies that have traditionally been ZANU PF strongholds it was a contest. Even there ZANU PF took some losses. As a result, far from the glare of media scrutiny, the rural population became an easy target for retribution. As I write this piece, many rural families have fled their homes. They are homeless because of post-election violence sponsored by ZANU PF.
The memories of 2000, when many white farmers were killed and others seriously injured by the ZANU PF thugs, supposedly in the name of war veterans and war hungry peasants, are still fresh.
In the weeks since March 29th, Mugabe's government once again watched idly as so-called war veterans invaded and took over privately owned farms. The government controlled police merely watched or only intervened half heartedly as white farmers were again displaced in barbaric ways. More than 60 farms have been invaded by now. According to the organization Justice for Agriculture, farmers from many different commercial farming areas have fled their properties in fear for their safety.
It is eight years since the 2000 violence, but while a different argument has been used this time, it is in the service of achieving the same result. Now the government sponsored thugs claim they are protecting the gains of the 2000 “land reform” program. But the current violence is really a reaction to rumors that some white farmers plan to reclaim their land once the MDC wins the election.
Here are just some of the unfortunate incidents triggered by the Election Commission’s failure to announce the presidential election results.
In Muzarabani, a very remote part of Zimbabwe near the Mozambican border, retribution on villagers has already begun. Politically motivated incidents have been reported in Mutoko and in the farming area of Centenary.
The Standard, a local independent weekly newspaper in Zimbabwe, reported that in Mashonaland Central on April 8th and 9th, war veterans and ZANU PF militia burnt down an entire farm compound that housed 30 families on the pretext that the farm workers had voted against Mugabe in the elections. The farm workers were also being punished because they had refused to assist in the takeover of white-owned farms in the area. Many of the workers were severely assaulted and have been admitted to the hospital for injuries.
Selina Njara, 26 years old and the mother of two, says she spent three days sleeping in a nearby mountain region, fearing attackers would "return to kill me and my children."
Njara was quoted in The Standard saying, "We woke up when our neighbor's house was on fire. They were coming to ours when we fled into the mountains. Watching from afar, we saw them taking our property, before setting the huts on fire. I don't know where to start."
In another incident on April 6th, Wellington Gweru, the MDC council candidate in Chiweshe had his home torched by ZANU PF thugs. He and his family are now homeless like so many other families in his home in rural Muzarabani.
According to the Electoral Act, a candidate needs at least 50 percent of the vote to be declared an outright winner of the presidential race. As a party that came second in the race, it is very surprising that ZANU PF is so eager to stand in this election.
The MDC says that according to figures collected through its election agents, the MDC won 50.3 percent of the vote, while Mugabe received 43 percent. Late entry presidential candidate Simba Makoni who defected from the ruling ZANU PF to stand against Mugabe took 7 percent of the vote.
I have already said I believe the projections released by the MDC, just based on the results of the lower house of assembly. If ZANU PF lost the majority in the parliament, how in the world could it produce a miracle and win the presidential race? However, enter the veterans and thugs and their terror campaign, and a complicit judiciary, and the whole complexion of any future election runoff changes. Then everything starts to make sense.
Mugabe believes that by unleashing violence across the country, especially in the rural areas where the majority of registered voters are, he can instill fear in rural residents, and force people to vote for him in a runoff.
Violence worked in the 2002 presidential election: Mugabe's army, police and ZANU PF thugs beat enough people into submission then to hold onto power. The many who wanted to support the MDC and resisted paid dearly. Many homes were burnt down; many more were chased away from their rural homes by local chiefs who supported ZANU PF.
But this time the violence has not been limited to terrorizing rural areas and taking over white farms.
According to a statement released by MDC on Saturday, four MDC members have been killed in the last week following attacks by ZANU PF supporters. The deceased are:
Tapiwa Mubwanda who was stabbed by ZANU PF supporters on Saturday April 12th in Hurungwe East.The MDC has said it will not accept the recount.
Murunde Tembo was attacked on Tuesday April 15th by ZANU PF supporters at his home in Vombofi village in Mudzi North. He sustained broken legs and other injuries and died on his way to hospital.
Tendai Chibika died on Thursday 17 after being shot by ZANU PF supporter Richard Makoni at the Chibeta business center.
Moses Bashitiyawo also died, but the circumstances leading to his death are not yet known.
MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said: "We reject the process. We reject the outcome of this flawed process. As far as the MDC is concerned, the first results stand. Anything else will be an illegitimate process."
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who says he won the presidential ballot, was accused of treason by the government and left the country for Johannesburg. He says he feared being attacked or imprisoned if he remained in the country, but he does plan to return to Zimbabwe after he gathers international support.
The MDC opposition won this election against all odds, despite limited access to state media; unlike ZANU PF they had no opportunity to abuse state resources during the campaign to grease anyone's palm.
The MDC won the election without having to use the police and army to scare people. It won the election without even having to distribute maize and mealie meal on the eve of an election to buy votes in the rural areas.
Despite a clearly flawed electoral process, MDC won the election because Tsvangirai has the support of the people. When people see Tsvangirai they see hope, job creation, an end to inflation, a thriving and prosperous economy, an end to shortages of basic commodities, an end to water and power cuts and a happy and proud nation. As MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti once said, Tsvangirai is the face of the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe.
When I see Tsvangirai I still feel hope that he can bring home my sister, who left to escape our oppressive economic situation where although a university graduate, she had no prospects for a job. Farai left for neighboring South Africa ready to do the menial work that is all a refugee can get there in order to support her 4 year old daughter back home.
As the rest of us wait and struggle with all these uncertainties, the rural population is being butchered by ZANU PF thugs. As we wait for the recount results, the dollar continues to plunge; most people can barely make ends meet.
With all these issues in flux, how could any judge have decided to throw away the MDC's application for the election results to be urgently released? Clearly the independence of the judiciary has been seriously undermined.
The MDC has been leading Zimbabweans to solve the crisis with a non-violent protest. It called for an indefinite work boycott meant to last until the results of the presidential election were released.
Previous “stay aways” have not been that successful; many people, say a vegetable vendor, are self employed and can’t afford to lose income by staying at home. However I know for a fact that business is very slow; many industries were not open last week.
Events are just spinning all over the place. I will give you an update of the results of the recount probably late this week. However I am certain that no matter how much Mugabe tries to bully the people of Zimbabwe and cow them into submission, he is not going to succeed.
The stakes are high now; there is no telling how ZANU PF will react to whatever follows this recount. But this time the people of Zimbabwe are determined: as I said before, we want tyranny out.
About the Author
Constance Manika is a journalist who works for the independent press in Zimbabwe. She writes under this pseudonym to escape prosecution from a government whose onslaught and level of intolerance to journalists in the independent press is well documented.
In Meltdown in Zimbabwe, an exclusive and ongoing series at The WIP, Constance provides continued on-the-ground reporting from her embattled country where Zimbabweans struggle daily for democracy, economic sustainability and human rights.