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Zimbabwe: A Time of Turbulence

A series of violent incidents and human rights violation following the presidential elections in Zimbabwe have forced the election commission to postpone its run-off elections. This article examines the historical background of the present political chaos and the first round triumph of Morgan Tsvangirai over Robert Mugabe.

COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 17, 200825Zimbabwe: A Time of TurbulenceParvathi VasudevanA series of violent incidents and human rights violation following the presidential elections in Zimbabwe have forced the election commission to postpone its run-off elections. This article examines the historical background of the present political chaos and the first round triumph of Morgan Tsvangirai over Robert Mugabe.The Zimbabwe Electoral Commis-sion (ZEC) announced the results of the March 29 elections on May 2, 2008. Much to the surprise of Zimbabwe watchers, the state-appointed ZEC, after a recount of 23 constituencies gave Mugabe 43.2 per cent – the second position in the prestigious presidential poll. It has awarded Morgan Tsvangirai 47.9 per cent – the first position, though not a simple majority needed to avoid the run off. Simba Makoni, the third major candidate, an independent secured 8.3 per cent. The Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic Front) (ZANU-PF) secured 97 seats as opposed to the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) together winning 109 seats in the 210 seat parliament.Does this mean that the days of 84-year old Robert Gabriel Mugabe are finally numbered? Mugabe has been the president of Zimbabwe since it attained independ-ence in 1980. But his attempt to yet again retain the presidential office has not been a cakewalk. He has had to offer several freebies just to stay in the race.1 The polls in themselves passed off peacefully giving the state-run media an opportunity to crow that unlike the recent Nigerian and Kenyan elections Zimbabwe’s were free and fair!2Tsvangirai while rejecting the results3 was faced with a Hamletian dilemma. Not to contest the run off would make Mugabe the straight winner. To contest would, in all possibility lead to continuation of mindless violence on his supporters. Tsvangirai has on May 10 agreed to con-test on two conditions: (a) the run-off elections should be held by May 25; and (b) all international observers should be allowed to monitor the campaign and elections. The ZANU-PF, however, has rejected the conditions. The ZEC could yet again rescue Mugabe by simply extending the time period from the manda-tory 21-40 days to a year on the ground that there is already too much of violence in Zimbabwe!Backdrop to the Maelstrom Much of what Zimbabwe is currently experiencing can be traced to its history and Mugabe’s personality – at some points of time the two get intertwined making a bad situation worse. It is simply a complex interplay of the past, the present and a lethal mix of the politico-economic factors sharpened further by societal tensions. Known as Rhodesia during the colonial era, Britain’s departure from Zimbabwe was different from elsewhere on the continent. There were approximately 18 years of iron clad white settler rule under Ian Smith. This was in contrast to the “winds of change” that followed Britain’s transfer of powers to several of its other colonies in Africa – Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, the Gambia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanza-nia, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. Smith simply believed in the axiom “no majority rule in my life time” much to the chagrin of Britain. Smith’s total control facilitated the white minority to consolidate their hold and acquire wealth, especially very fertile “black” agricultural lands. To appease the black population, Smith promised that one-fifth of the parliamentary seats would be held by the National Democratic Party (NDP), but he never implementedit. These characteristics of Smith’s regime werewell-internalised by Mugabe once inpower to deal with the whites and the blacks. Between 1963 and 1980, the political space also began to feel the impact of Mugabe’s revolutionary tactics. On April 18, 1980 Rhodesia, the last outpost of the British empire in Africa, became Zimbabwe, Africa’s youngest and most promising democracy. In the first free election in 1980, marked by much white fear and black hope, Mugabe was elected as the prime minister. Through the 1980s, Mugabe, however, played his cards very adroitly: he went out of his way to assuage the white fears and sought their full participation in the country’s development programmes, especially in agriculture, where 6,000 white farmers “owned nearly 40 per cent of all agricultural land and two-thirds of the best land” (MartinMeredith,The State Parvathi Vasudevan (parvathivasudevan retired from the Centre for African Studies, University of Mumbai, and is now based in Abuja, Nigeria.
COMMENTARYMay 17, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly26of Africa, p 618). He was aware that white farmers were the backbone of the country’s economy that employed about 33 per cent of the wage-earning labour force, used the best equipment and latest techniques. Accompanied by good rains, agriculture thrived in the 1980s and accounted for one-third of total exports. Maize, cotton, coffee, tea, sugar, wheat, tobacco and meat were the main revenue earners.Zimbabwe with about 40 different min-erals has been one of Africa’s most diversi-fied economies, attracting investments from South Africa, China, Australia and a few European nations. Manufacturing and tourism have also generated substantial revenues. With 80-90 per cent literacy rates, the country’s human resources have been of high standards. It also enjoyed good infrastructure and a well-trained workforce. Till almost the end of the 1990s, western governments, especially Britain, extended generous aid and with full sup-port from the local population, Zimbabwe achieved remarkable success in the two vital areas of education and health. Regard-less of all its wealth, Zimbabwe suffers from high income inequality and social tensions. Land IssuesMuch of the societal tensions can be attri-buted to the landownership and land redis-tribution issues which have always been at the centre of political conflicts traceable traditionally to racial restrictions on land-ownership. These restrictions were in place soon after the British South African Com-pany moved into the region in 1890. By 1931, 35 per cent of land was in the hands of corporations and of Zimbabweans of European ancestry – these were for large-scale commercial farming; 4 per cent was owned mostly by black farmers for small-scale commercial farming; and 42 per cent communally owned, mostly among the blacks for subsistence agriculture. This explains why land redistribution was a major political issue, especially at election times. But Mugabe did little about it until 1990. He pointed out to the consti-tutional agreement in place until then which stipulated that all land deals were to be on market principles – the willing seller-willing buyer clause. He, in fact, assured the whites that he would not annul the agreement before the due date. The honeymoon phase with the whites, how-ever, came to an end with the expiry of the constitutional restrictions. He vented his anger at their massive wealth and segre-gated living. He thereupon supported land seizure despite considerable resistance and criticism from both within Zimbabwe and elsewhere. He confiscated and redistrib-uted more than half of the white-owned land to black peasant farmers. This resulted in most of the white farmers whom he labelled as a greedy bunch of racist usurp-ers, moving en masse out of the country. Nonetheless, the land reform moves were neither fair nor equitable. They were, in fact, at the root of the setback in both the cash and food crop output in the 1990s, mainly because the new landowners were not farmers. They allowed the land to lie fallow or used it often for commercial and speculative purposes. And the 4 per cent of land, purchased by the government for dis-tribution to landless individuals and fami-lies also did not yield results because these farmers were constrained by lack of resources. The hiatus between the well-off, the well-connected and the ordinary Zimbabwean began to widen.The political factors underlying the cur-rent economic problems need to be seen in the context of the constitutional amend-ment introduced at the end of 1987 that enabled Mugabe to declare himself as the executive president. He was the head of state, head of government, and the com-mander-in-chief of Zimbabwe’s armed forces. He could dissolve parliament and declare an emergency and martial law. He could run for an unlimited number of times to the office of presidency and could in effect be president for life. He exercised his power through a vast network of his cronies in administration, the parastatal organisations, the armed forces, the police, the ZANU-PF politicians and his special guerrilla force members. He allowed his sycophants to enjoy palatial houses, some of the most prosperous white farms and profitable businesses. Big ticket contracts were generously given to his family. All appropriation was without any compensation. The 1990 elections placed Mugabe in total control of political power. He used Zimbabwe’s demographic profile to his electoral advantage by exacerbating the rivalry between the two main ethnic groups. Seventy-six per cent of Zimbabweans are the Shona-speaking ethnic group to which Mugabe belongs. The second largest ethnic group is the Ndebeles accounting for 18 per cent. He has been accused of subject-ing entire Ndebele villages to starvation and brutality. He brooked no opposition – Zimbabwe had to be a one-party state with ZANU-PFenjoying unquestioned power and privileges. Mugabe also set up a special armyunitstaffed by his own loyal guerrilla forcesand “war veterans”, distinct from the national army, under his command and answerable only to him. This special force enjoyed a blanket approval – to elim-inate all opponents, by fair or foul means. Slowly, but steadily Mugabe eliminated all contenders topower. According to some accounts nearly 20,000 civilians died in less than the first 10 years of Mugabe’s rule. He showed zero tolerance for his black political opponents.‘Economic HIV’The economy slowly began to falter by the mid-1990s. With agriculture suffering a setback, unemployment and under-employment registered new highs and inflation began to soar. Very quickly, the manufacturing, mining and financial sec-tors too experienced setbacks. Zimbabwe began to experience an acute shortage of foreign exchange giving rise to a vibrant parallel market. External arrears began to mount. In general, there was noticeable poverty and hunger. To make matters worse, in December 2001, George Bush signed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Recovery Act advising all international financial institutions (eg, the Interna-tional Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank) not to extend financial assistance or guarantee to the government of Zimbabwe as also not to vote for any reduction or cancellation of official debt. Zimbabwe looked eastward for new partners. China, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Iran, Pakistan and Russia filled the bill. It also invigor-ated its ties with Venezuela, Brazil and Cuba.Helpalsocame from the region’s 14 SouthernAfrican Development Com-munity (SADC) member countries. But all this was not sufficient. For almost 10 years now, Zimbabwe hashad sharp recessionary conditions.
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 17, 200827According to the IMF report of 2006, the economy was shrinking at an average of 4.7 per cent. By the start of 2008, the econ-omy was experiencing an “economic HIV” (The Guardian, UK, March 10, 2008), with insufficient foreign reserves, shortages of power, water, food, fuel and cash. It is not able to take advantage of the increases in the prices of minerals in the global com-modity market due to smuggling. The large money creation led to hyper-inflation. The flip side is that every Zimbabwean is a mil-lionaire, but has to pay more than a million dollars to buy a loaf of bread!Neither Mugabe nor his supporters appeared to be concerned about the high inflation placed at over 100,000 per cent. Nor are they concerned over the current economic situation – 80 per cent unemploy-ment, the sharp drop of maize and wheat output, the shortfall of beef supplies – and the continued dependence on food aid from the UN World Food Programme and friendly neighbours. They also do not seem to be worried about the fact that nearly a quarter of the country’s 13 million people are believed to have fled the country due to the politics of hate, mindless violence, retribu-tion and economic deprivation. The frightening collapse of the economy in particular and the near impossibility of everyday living was the ideal political landscape for Tsvangirai to challenge Mugabe in the recent election. He was aware that contesting Mugabe was a tough proposition, but counted on the substan-tial urban support base that he carefully nurtured and which had become disen-chanted with Mugabe’s snatch and redis-tribution tactics. Both he and Simba Makoni, a former finance minister who contested as an independent backed by Zimbabwean diaspora have, in fact, man-aged to reduce the space that Mugabe has enjoyed almost exclusively amongst the rural Zimbabweans – the traditional sup-port base of theZANU-PF. Election Results: What Next?Now that the run-off elections are certain, the ZANU-PF has already started its campaign. There are already reports of flagrant violation of human rights– vic-timising those suspected of sympathising with theMDC. Even if Mugabe were to rig the election and win the presidency, he may not be able to rule with the ease with which he has done for the past 28 years. This is because theMDC plus the break-away MDC faction has for the first time ended the ZANU-PF’s unbridled power in parliament. It means that the opposition will have the privilege of choosing the speaker – it can also block legislations – even those that deal with the national budget. For that matter even if Mugabe chooses to rule by decree, he cannot do so because parliament has to ratify all legis-lation. A more interesting fact is that according to Zimbabwe’s constitution, a two-thirds majority is needed to impeach Mugabe which means the MDC needs the support of Simba Makoni and only 30 ruling party MPs to reach the 140 seats needed. All this could, however, be wishful thinking. Things are not that easy for the MDC as it does not enjoy the two-thirds majority required to change the constitu-tion. Mugabe holds the crucial key – he can, despite all the opposition’s attempts, rule by decree. More simply, he can appoint a third (ie, 20 members) from the ZANU-PF to the senate. This would ensure that theMDC is outnumbered in the com-bined senate and assembly. Mugabe could continue to be the president for life or appoint a yes-man should he want to retire from active political life since the military has indicated that it would recognise only Mugabe as the president. Zimbabwe’s neighbours are now unwill-ing to bear the brunt any more. While Thabo Mbeki has gone along with Mugabe until now, much of the rest of southern Africa is unwilling to help Mugabe. Botswana has already shut off the supply of fuel to the informal traders in Zimbabwe that have kept the Zimbabwean economy afloat. Tanzania, Zambia, Angola and Mozambique have also indicated the urgent need for ending the crisis in Zimbabwe. And, with Britain replacing South Africa as chair in the UN Security Council, there is some hope that the inter-national community will exert pressure to ensure free and fair run-off elections. Although the Zimbabwean economy hurtles down an abyss with each passing day, there are expectations that the econ-omy would revive once political calm returns and a legitimate government is in place. It is expected that several western development agencies, especially the church-based organisations would help provide massive food and other aid. Large foreign direct investment would also fol-low. Russia and China have already shown intentions to increase their investments. The prices of metals are on the rise in the international market and Zimbabwe could benefit from the rising prices of platinum, palladium, gold and ferrochrome. The London-listed Lonhro Plc has indicated its plans to invest $ 140 million to expand Zimbabwe’s mining capacities. Konrad Reuss, the managing director (MD) of the rating agency Standard and Poor’s (S&P) for South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa is more upbeat about Zimbabwe’s economic potential. The optimism is based on the positives – the best human capital on the continent, vast commodities and an infra-structure that can be restored in a short time with some investments. Nevertheless, the country may not be able to partake in the enhanced growth rate forecasts for the continent as a whole in the current year. But it can within the medium term, if it addresses some of the serious macro-economic challenges – hyperinflation, fiscal and monetary management and external sector policies – and supplements them with suitable institutional policies. Will Zimbabweans, weary as they are, send a message to the government that they too want political freedom, respect for human and fundamental rights and growth enhancing reforms? For, at stake is the credibility of the election process and democracy itself.Notes1 Mugabe announced a few days before March 29, massive salary hikes for all government and semi-government staff and the passing of the Indigeni-sation and Economic Empowerment Act giving the indigenous Zimbabweans the right to hold 51 per cent of shares in foreign-owned companies. 2 The media is state-run. Other than election observ-ers from the African Union, the SADC, China, Russia, Libya, Venezuela and Iran, Zimbabwe did not have any impartial observers as in the case of recent elections in Kenya or Nigeria. Officials to the ZEC are all appointees of the president and hold office at his pleasure. Reporters and other media personnel from the BBC, the CNN, Reuters, and other well known civil society organisations were disallowed. Reporting has been done from across the border in South Africa.3 Based on the collated results of the votes by the MDC officials and as posted outside each of the 9,000 polling stations by the ZEC Tsvangirai said he has secured 50.3 per cent and should be sworn in as the president. To be declared a winner, the candidate should secure 50 per cent +1 of the votes cast.

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