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Be very afraid; June 27 might be catastrophic for Zimbabwe

The signs are very clear: June 27 and its aftermath spell doom for Zimbabwe. Already weeks leading up to the run-off have been characterised by abductions, torture and murder. The violence is just unimaginable. As a matter of fact, what people saw in South Africa in the past couple of weeks is reminiscent of the situation in Zimbabwe. One would be forgiven for thinking the tactics were from the same author.

It is a few weeks before Zimbabwe conducts its run-off election. On June 27, Zimbabweans will once again brave the streets and cast their votes in a presidential election pitting Robert Mugabe against Morgan Tsvangirai. It is expected that the opposition leader will snatch this one just as he did in March. However the question that stood after March 29 still stands today: Will Mugabe and his Zanu-PF accept defeat if indeed Tsvangirai was voted in?

Many will recall that the answer to this question was postponed soon after the March 29 elections. It is supposed to be answered on June 27. Be assured that the run-off is nothing but a delay of the decision that was supposed to be taken in March. Will it be taken? Let’s wait and see.

I think African leaders, including the SADC, have failed the people of Zimbabwe. Allowing this run-off was a mistake, one that will come to haunt many of them. The unfortunate thing is that it is the poor who will be affected most. We have witnessed this in Zimbabwe where violence has rocked communities right across the political spectrum. Similar violence has occurred in South Africa in recent weeks. Again the most affected were the poor, especially women and children of Zimbabwean origin.

The factors pushing Zimbabweans to neighbouring countries, South Africa being the most affected, are clear. It is the political crisis in Zimbabwe that has had a negative effect on the economy. In 2006, together with two colleagues, we wrote a special chapter for the State of the Nation book on Zimbabweans in South Africa published annually by the Human Sciences Research Council. We outlined in that chapter how immigrants — especially those from Zimbabwe — were being harassed, discriminated against and attacked on xenophobic grounds. Two years down the line, the bubble has exploded. It is interesting how some of these things are predicted, yet no one takes action.

If one looked at the character of violence taking place inside Zimbabwe and the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, one might think they were masterminded and perpetrated by people of the same disposition. How does one explain setting alight a human being on the grounds that the person is a foreigner? And how does one explain burning with plastics and torching another human being’s buttocks on the basis that the person voted wrongly?

The violence that has marred Zimbabwe over the past months is symptomatic of the very character of the forces in play. Zanu-PF apparently argues that it came to power through guns and bullets and cannot be removed through a ballot box. The message is clear: no election result will be respected, not even the one of June 27. Of course in preparing for the run-off, people have been beaten up so that they will vote correctly, whatever that means. A number of opposition activists have been killed and others arrested on a variety of charges. The latest arrest is that of Arthur Mutambara, who apparently was picked up on Sunday for an opinion article he published in April.

Surely, this can only be a recipe for disaster. I see at least three scenarios emerging out of the current crisis. The first and perhaps ideal scenario is where a transitional government is established to avoid the run-off. This can only be initiated by the two political heads with the help of the SADC leadership. If this is done, a lot of unnecessary violence and loss of life will be saved. Believe me, the run-off is a big price for Zimbabwe. It could have been avoided had there been strong and visionary leadership both from Zimbabwe and from the region. Zimbabwe can still be rescued.

The second scenario is that Tsvangirai will once again win the presidential vote but fail to take power from Zanu-PF and Robert Mugabe. This has been the case since 2000. Tsvangirai has been winning but failing to take over the state. It is likely that he will win the vote but lose the count on June 27. This will be dangerous for Zimbabwe. As Tendai Biti put it at a lecture at Wits, if this happens, the MDC will be rendered irrelevant. Someone, somewhere, will call the shots and the MDC will not be able to contain the situation.

I don’t know what this means or what Tendai meant, but the signs are clear. The June 27 outcome spells doom for the country. The opposition leader might win but be prevented from exercising his duties as the duly elected president of the country. We have already heard from Grace Mugabe that Tsvangirai will not be allowed to lead the country. What better source than the wife of the president?

The unlikely scenario is that Mugabe wins the elections. This is unlikely given the statistics and voting patterns of the March harmonised elections. But even if Mugabe wins, chaos will reign in Parliament. Zanu-PF does not control Parliament; we will have a president presiding over a Parliament dominated by the opposition. This is catastrophic. No progress will be made. But this scenario is possible given the violence and the harassment that the electorate has been exposed to in the weeks leading up to June 27.

Where do these scenarios leave us? Although it is still possible to implement the first scenario, it is unlikely given the intransigence of the Zimbabwean leadership and the naivety characterising SADC. We have heard no word, for example, from SADC in response to the xenophobic attacks on foreigners in South Africa. One would have expected SADC to come out strongly condemning the killing of foreigners. But no, SADC has — as usual — chosen not to see what is happening in the region. We therefore do not expect SADC to call for a transitional government in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is therefore left with the last two scenarios. Be very afraid. The country is on the verge of a civil conflict. The outcome of the election might just be the tipping point. When this happens, both the MDC and Zanu-PF will be rendered unnecessary. One would expect the two parties to be aware that people will soon not see them as useful forces in the struggle for a new Zimbabwe.

I am tempted to imagine an MDC government. If this happens after June 27, which is possible but unlikely given the very character of Zanu-PF, Zimbabweans are advised to be afraid still. However, to overcome this fear, Zimbabweans must demand a new constitution that will guarantee freedoms, protect human dignity, promote good governance and facilitate equitable distribution of resources.

And, as some have argued, this new constitution should be drafted and written based on mistrust. Never again should we write a constitution based on trust for our leaders. We must assume from the beginning that leaders are mischievous, untrustworthy and capable of frustrating the will of the people. The new constitution must therefore be crafted on the basis that we want to prevent abuse of power for the incumbent. We start from the premise that politicians are bad people.


  • Bhekinkosi Moyo is trained in political science and currently shuttles between Southern Africa and West Africa. He works for TrustAfrica-a Pan African oriented foundation that works to secure the conditions for democratic governance and equitable development. In 2007, he edited a collection of chapters: Africa in Global Power Play. He has just completed editing an 18 country book on DisEnabling the Public Sphere: Civil Society Regulation in Africa.