The announcement that Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe will not attend an emergency meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in nearby Lusaka is bad news for all involved.
After years of destroying the economy and winning elections by a combination of bribes and threats (rural voters knew voting against Mugabe would mean they would be left off the list for receiving food aid), Mugabe held a sudden election for both the legislature and president, and lost.
Of course, officially Mugabe hasn’t lost: but the votes haven’t been counted and the numbers released officially, so there is a lot of suspicion that a lot of magical ballots are changing their votes between the precincts and Harare.
Mugabe was expected to win with the help of his rural voters.
His revolution was originally about land reform, ( a naive Jimmy Carter helped get Mugabe into power for this reason), and distribution of land has led to Mugabe’s rural support, even though the “land reform” resulted in many rural farm workers being thrown out of work when the large white farms were given to Mugabe’s cronies rather than local farmers.
But the IWPR website included this observation:
Turnout was disappointing; of the 5.9 million registered voters, only 2.4 million actually took part in the election.
Hmm. Where are all the voters?
Now, about one quarter of the population has fled to nearby countries to find work, but on the other hand, lots of “ghosts” were on the voter rolls. So what happened?
Either the voters stayed home in droves, or the ballots against Mugabe were “lost”.
Knowing that traditional Mashona culture is obedient to authority figures, and that a passive aggressive approach to life is the norm, I suspect that thousands merely “voted with their feet” and didn’t vote.
Mugabe’s ploy now is to insist the election was “close”, and that a reelection would have to take place.
Opponents in the MDC, who managed to collect vote count from individual precincts, claim to have won 51% of the votes, and are refusing calls for a reelection. Post election violence against the opposition and reports of intimidation from rural areas suggest Mugabe is planning to intimidate voters so they will vote correctly the next time.
All of this is not good news for Morgan Tsvangirai, who probably won the election.
Tsavngirai has been trying to get South Africa to get Mugabe to step down, and was behind Zambia’s call for the SADC meeting mentioned above.
So far, despite repeated attacks by police/army/greenbomber militia members, Zimbabwe has remained peaceful. So will a nationwide strike called for by the MDC lead to violence, or will it fail due to low turnout like many previous attempts to strike?
The key to all of this remains South Africa, whose president Mbeki has been an enabler of Mugabe’s policies, despite several million Zimbabwean refugees who have fled to his country. Mugabe as revolutionary icon still outweighs the destruction of a country.
If Jacob Zuma takes over as head of the government in South Africa, many Zimbabweans view him as one who will support pressuring Mugabe to allow peaceful change.
But what happens in the meanwhile is uncertain.
One minor point. A lot of publicity has been given to China’s human rights record with the start of the Olympics.
Well, South Africa is planning to hold the World cup in 2010, and the plan is to outsource some of the preliminary games to nearby countries.
A Zimbabwe in chaos next door is not the best way to attract visitors.
If you are into petitions, sign this one that asks the games be moved if South Africa continues to support Mugabe.
Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She has a websites on civil rights and Zimbabwe at Makaipablog.