Since March of 2007 when this publication launched, courageous writers have published stories on The WIP that provide an important context for understanding the current election crisis. As of today, Robert Mugabe is vowing to move forward with Friday's run-off election while opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is urging a "negotiated political settlement."
Sunday’s news that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had withdrawn from the Zimbabwean runoff race spurred international media coverage and outrage on a crisis that has been raging for years. According to the opposition’s Movement for Democratic Change, "some 86 of its supporters have been killed and 200,000 forced from their homes by militias loyal to the ruling Zanu-PF party."
WIP Contributors Constance Manika and Lelety Mabasa, along with Sharon Njobo, Grace Kwinjeh and Sandra Nyaira, have published article after article over the past year, outlining the methodical behavior of a political despot who is both cunning and ruthless, and who will stop at nothing to preserve his power.
In our second week of publication, Sharon Njobo (living in exile in Canada) wrote about women in her country taking the lead to protest against Mugabe's economic policies. In this early article we first learned of Zimbabwe's skyrocketing inflation rates (currently at 355,000 percent), and the rising price of basic foodstuffs - putting cooking oil, cornmeal, bread, and milk beyond the reach of many families in a country that was once considered the 'food basket' of Africa. The deteriorating Zimbabwean economy has now earned the country the dubious distinction of having the lowest life expectancy in the world for women. At just 34 years, a woman's life span (37 years for a man) is now half of what it was only 18 years ago.
We then got a glimpse of what has happened in the 28 years since Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in our first story from inside Zimbabwe. This review of controversial playwright Cont Mhlanga’s production, The Good President, delivered in eerily prescient detail what would later be played out on the country's political stage. It begins with a scene all too familiar now - two police officers assault the leader of an opposition party, acted by a Morgan Tsvangirai look-alike. The play later shows one of the police officers who beat Tsvangirai receiving a large sum of money for taking part in the attack. “The play shows how the Mugabe led government is abusing its power by turning entities such as the police and army—that survive on taxpayers’ money—into the ruling ZANU PF party’s campaign material. Instead of protecting and serving civilians, the police and army in Zimbabwe are now being used to serve selfish political ends.”
Our writer later reported in August that the play had been banned by the Zimbabwean government.
Strategy #1: Abuse Your Power
Under the 2002 Public Order and Security Act (POSA), Mugabe made public demonstrations and protest marches illegal in Zimbabwe. "The army and the police now routinely disrupt opposition at political gatherings, meetings and rallies. They beat everyone in attendance," one journalist reported. "Effectively, the police and the military have become extensions of his arms."As desperation spread across the country last summer, citizens were reported "taking matters into their own hands" marching for adequate healthcare, sanitation, and clean water. "Virtually everything that the Robert Mugabe led government touches is collapsing, has collapsed or is in the process of collapsing!"
As Mugabe’s opposition grew, he even went so far as to order war veterans to march in support of his candidacy. "The war veterans who took part in the march were given a one-time payment of $15 million Zimbabwean dollars each, the equivalent of $10 USD, and were treated to a hearty meal. All this was paid for by the tax payer’s money."
As of January, 2008 there was very little hope for how the election season would unfold.
"They say we are having elections in March. We Zimbabweans all know that this is an election whose outcome is already determined by ZANU PF, which has already begun oiling its election-rigging machinery. Among the signs of tampering: the merging of some urban and rural constituencies to stamp out the opposition’s dominance in the urban centers, and a voter’s roll that is in shambles."
Strategy #2: Keep the People in the Dark
In 2000, Mugabe enacted the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) requiring all media and journalists to obtain licensing from a government-controlled commission. The act forced many of the country's independent newspapers out of business so Zimbabwean journalists turned to the Internet to publish their stories while struggling to make ends meet. As the coverage of the country's decline became more and more critical of Mugabe and his policies, the President responded with the Interception of Communications Act in 2007, which granted him the right to “intercept any communications he considers necessary to protect the interests of national security or the maintenance of law and order,” and sparked fears of Orwellian proportions.
"Just by emailing a story in which Mugabe is portrayed in a negative light to any one of these online news agencies could be seen as subversive. Journalists would then find the notorious CIO at their door in no time."
Courageous journalists in Zimbabwe have no illusions about the severity of this threat.
Edward Chikomba, a former cameraman with the government-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (the country’s only television station) was abducted by state security agents and beaten to death. Hostile media laws such as AIPPA and The Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), along with POSA, are viewed by activists in Zimbabwe "as one of Mugabe's many evil ploys to fight opposition activists and their leaders pending the 2008 elections." These laws allowed Mugabe to effectively ban all foreign media outlets, such as the BBC and CNN, from Zimbabwe.
In June 2007, our writers reported on the National Indigenization and Empowerment Bill, legislation that economists predicted would be "the final nail in the country's economic coffin." By forcing foreign owned companies to "cede at least 51 percent of their shareholding to indigenous black Zimbabweans," Mugabe showed where his loyalties lie - with the "business tycoons" who grease his palm. But seemingly without forethought, this law is all too reminiscent of the violent 2000 land reforms that saw Mugabe eject white farmers (ostensibly to "nationalize" the country's farming industry), giving the land to agriculturally unqualified war veterans and assorted cronies who let the land go fallow, setting the stage for the country's economic decline. One economist was quoted as saying, “The [Indigenization bill] is just another of government's cheap ways of vote buying... this will [produce] very retrogressive economic effects, and citizens will continue to suffer while ‘someone’ fantasizes about a potential five-year extension of his 27-year-old rule.”
Strategy #3: Keep Your Supporters Happy & The People Hungry
In another instance of knee-jerk economic policy, the president, in reaction to the predictably soaring inflation rate and a bruised ego, inflicted a taskforce that "went into full effect, operating on a massive scale; they visited retail clothing shops, department stores and supermarkets, ordering that prices be cut." Business managers were arrested, convicted and sentenced for failing to cut prices or restock their goods. "In a matter of weeks most shops were empty and businesses who had sold their stock suffered such great losses they could not afford to restock their shelves."
"Since all this began," one of our writers reported, "I have gradually become completely convinced that Zimbabweans are dealing with a deranged leader who no longer cares about anything but his own interests. He intends to cling to power at all costs, regardless of the effects his policies may have on the future of the country."
It's not surprising then that the economic meltdown has lead to "a critical exodus of professionals" from the country. Sadly, those in the diaspora have been met with everything from indifference to abuse. Recent xenophobic attacks on Zimbabwean refugees have reached a boiling point in neighboring South Africa, while Zimbabweans in the UK lament that they are inadvertently “propping up Mugabe's regime” by sending the much-needed basic commodities that can no longer be found inside the country to their desperate families.
In recent months we’ve experienced the roller coaster of hope, disappointment, and tragedy that the people of Zimbabwe have suffered. Zimbabwe’s opposition party and its supporters have been abused, displaced, tortured, and even killed for daring to participate in a democratic electoral process.
On the eve of the March 29th election our writers shared with us the “election fever” sweeping the country as hope for change drew near. Zimbabwean politician Simba Makoni, a member of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, had recently split from the party and entered the presidential race, mitigating any fear that a split in the MDC would move the urban vote in favor of Mugabe. “I can feel in my bones that Mugabe is going to suffer a humiliating defeat,” a WIP contributor wrote.Two days before the election a Zimbabwean WIP blogger recalled with palpable enthusiasm the excited words of a man who declared on a bus to countless strangers: "I will vote.......I will vote, vote, vote and vote until everything falls in place…I just can not wait to hear the Registrar General shout: on-your-marks ..... ready .......vote!"
After the election, it was predicted throughout the country that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had won but the country was forced to wait. In fact, no official results were announced for more than a month after the election. "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," one writer decried.
The “official” recount conveniently delivered Tsvangirai a lead of only five percentage points (48% to 43%) and the country was forced to endure what has been a painful, and in some instances deadly, run-off election. “People have died, lost their livelihoods, their possessions, their homes and everything they have worked hard for almost all their lives because Mugabe cannot accept defeat.”
From his home in Harare on Wednesday, Morgan Tsvangirai said, "I am asking the AU [African Union] and SADC [Southern African Development Community] to lead an expanded initiative supported by the UN to manage what I will call a transitional process…What is important is that both parties must realize the country is burning and the only way is to sit down and find a way out of it."
We are all bracing to see what will become of Zimbabwe now. We hope that the “genuine and honest” dialog Tsvangirai proposes is granted, and that freedom, dignity, and prosperity are restored to the people of Zimbabwe.