Mugabe’s dilemma

The political and economic future of Zimbabwe is resting on a razor’s edge as hard-line military commanders and a more moderate faction of Zanu-PF leaders vie to win over a defeated Robert Mugabe.

The former camp, led by Zimbabwe Defence Force chief Constantine Chiwenga and police commissioner Augustine Chihuri, is understood to be urging Mugabe to move to a second round of voting, extend the constitutionally determined interim period by decree from 21 days to 90 days and use the time to bludgeon opposition voters into submission,

The other Cabinet-based camp — said to include Minister of Defence Sidney Sekeramayi, Intelligence Minister Didymus Mutasa and Mugabe’s wife, Grace — is apparently pressing Mugabe to acknowledge defeat and negotiate a set of transitional and security arrangements.

The ministers met Mugabe on Monday, when the first signs of his defeat in the presidential election became clear. He is said to have resisted initially and blown his top, exclaiming: ”We are sovereign and should not negotiate!” However, he is said to have become more amenable to stepping down as the extent of his defeat has emerged.

The results of the presidential poll had still not been officially released on Thursday. However, the MDC claimed its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, had won 50,3% of the presidential vote, with Mugabe winning 43,8% and Simba Makoni 5,9%. Zanu-PF has been quoted as conceding that Mugabe did not win an overall majority, meaning that unless he withdraws, a second round of voting for the two front-runners would be required in terms of Zimbabwe’s Constitution.

In another stunning setback this week, Zanu-PF lost control of the Zimbabwe Parliament for the first time since independence, with the MDC (Tsvangirai) winning 99 seats, Zanu-PF 97 and the MDC hive-off under Arthur Mutambara winning nine.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is legally bound to release the results of the presidential election by Friday, as they have to be made public within six days of polling.

The Mail & Guardian understands that the military hardliners intend using a 90-day window period before the run-off to deploy war veterans and their associated youth militias.

Veterans’ threat

The Zimbabwe National War Veterans’ Association (ZNWVA), whose members potentially face the loss of their land or even prosecution if Tsvangirai carries out his threat to restore land to white farmers, reportedly met on Wednesday and resolved to use any means to prevent a Mugabe defeat.

It is reliably understood that the association would also spearhead a propaganda war claiming that whites were excited by Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s win and intended returning to Zimbabwe in droves to run the government with the MDC leader as a proxy.

The propaganda offensive already appeared to be under way on Thursday, with government mouthpiece the Herald reporting that certain commercial farmers had threatened new owners and workers that they would soon be reclaiming their properties because they anticipated an MDC election victory.

The Herald quoted ZNWVA official Edmore Matanhike as saying war veterans would not sit by and watch the reversal of the gains of the Mugabe-led liberation struggle.

In another ploy, the Herald reported that the government had announced in an extraordinary gazette on Tuesday that the tax-free income threshold had been increased from Z$30-million to Z$300-million ”to increase workers’ disposable income”.

The Constitution requires that a new president must garnered more than 50% of the vote in the first round, meaning that if Mugabe does not stand in the run-off, another Zanu-PF candidate will have to stand in his place. However, officials insist that he will not do this.

The more moderate Cabinet-based faction is understood to favour a strong Zanu-PF presence in a government of national unity from which Mugabe would be excluded.

Although rumours of talks between Zanu-PF and the MDC are rife, several sources said the two parties were not in direct contact.

The M&G was, however, told of at least one meeting between the MDC director for international affairs, Elfas Mukunoweshuro, and a senior member of the security establishment.

Reports of a possible national unity government were given a fillip on Thursday when Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, head of the African Union election observer team, met Mugabe and told reporters the Zimbabwean leader believes ”Zimbabwe’s problems can be solved amicably”.

Kabbah said he had also met Tsvangirai, who had told him ”he regards Mugabe as the father of the nation, for whom he has the greatest respect”.

Mugabe’s politburo is said to be meeting on Friday to discuss the way forward. It is understood that his aides are likely to advise him to accept a unity government under Tsvangirai. Driving Zanu-PF are fears that a second round of voting would mean a humiliating defeat for Mugabe as opposition voters, scenting victory, combine against him.

On standby

It is understood that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has asked President Thabo Mbeki, together with former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda and former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano, to remain on standby to intervene if Mugabe refuses to accept defeat.

”Mbeki still has a SADC mandate to see the mediation process through. He would come with Chissano and Kaunda, statesmen of Mugabe’s generation, to talk to him and convince him to accept defeat,” a SADC source said.

Mbeki had personally telephoned Mugabe’s aides and other SADC representatives early this week to ascertain why the poll results had not been released. He was apparently told that because both Zanu-PF and Mugabe had lost the election, the situation is volatile.

The generals in the security cluster also want guarantees that their farms, given to them by Mugabe, will remain in their possession and that they will be indemnified from prosecution.

The MDC has said that Mugabe need not fear prosecution once the party comes into power.

”He is an old man. What is the point of marching him to jail? We will offer him a deal — he can go to his rural home and spend his last days there. We will not send him to The Hague [the seat of the International Criminal Court],” an MDC source said.

Mbeki will remain in Pretoria for the time being because he cannot be seen to be intervening before the official results are made public.

Earlier in the week, it was reported that the military top brass had advised Mugabe to seize power. However, the army and police are not united in their loyalty to Mugabe, and the ”Algerian” option no longer appears to be on the cards.

A war veteran said that in the current climate it would be difficult to convince troops to take up arms against citizens. Although the generals were fanatical supporters of Mugabe and believed they were protecting the legacy of the liberation movement against ”imperialist agent” Tsvangirai, middle-level officers did not necessarily share their view.

‘I’d go to Zim to finish him off’

The M&G quizzed a number of Zimbabwean exiles living in South Africa on whether they would return to their country for any run-off and how they would cast their ballot. Up to three million Zimbabweans are thought to be living in South Africa and many are still registered to vote.

Here are some responses, many of them by people who asked to remain anonymous:

  • ”I would go back to Zimbabwe to finish the old man off. A run-off would actually present the opportunity to some of us who have been disenfranchised. A run off is going to be embarrassing for Mugabe. It’s the beginning of a new era of freedom.” — Happy Madamombe, Johannesburg

  • ”I won’t go back to vote; I don’t think my vote will make much of a difference.” — Amos, Johannesburg

  • ”I will certainly go back, and I think every other person who didn’t vote will see that a Mugabe defeat is possible. There was a lot of disenchantment and people had lost faith in the system.” — Percy, Cape Town

  • ”l’m going to vote for Morgan Richard Tsvangirai.” — Silas, Johannesburg

  • ”Unfortunately I didn’t go to vote, and it’s highly unlikely that I will do so should there be a run-off.” — Dumisani, Johannesburg

  • ”If I had the money, I would go back to vote,” — Peter, Johannesburg

  • ”I voted last Saturday, and in the event of a run-off I may go back. By not registering and not voting we are indirectly voting. I voted for change. People are starving there.” — Aaron, Johannesburg
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    Mandy Rossouw
    Guest Author
    Percy Zvomuya
    Percy Zvomuya is a writer and critic who has written for numerous publications, including Chimurenga, the Mail & Guardian, Moto in Zimbabwe, the Sunday Times and the London Review of Books blog. He is a co-founder of Johannesburg-based writing collective The Con and, in 2014, was one of the judges for the Caine Prize for African Writing.
    Jason Moyo
    Guest Author

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