Zimbabwe election crisis: Where to from here?

A crisis in Zimbabwe? What crisis? This question was debated by three high-ranking Zimbabwean opposition politicians at the Mail & Guardian‘s Critical Thinking Forum in Johannesburg on Wednesday evening.

Two weeks ago, ahead of an emergency Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting on Zimbabwe’s post-election troubles, President Thabo Mbeki met Robert Mugabe and declared there was no crisis in that country. Later he qualified his statement by saying there was, specifically, no electoral crisis and that he had been misquoted.

Still, results of the presidential election have not been released weeks after the votes had been cast, and a controversial recount of parliamentary votes is under way. “Even those who are quite careful with words should be quite comfortable with this description [of Zimbabwe in crisis],” said Institute for Democracy in South Africa chief executive Paul Graham in his brief opening address.

But what else can South Africa do at present? Moderator Judge Dennis Davis posed this question to panellist Ibbo Mandaza, author, former Zimbabwean MP and, in this year’s elections, a backer of independent candidate Simba Makoni.

“We expect too much of South Africa,” said Mandaza. “There is a limit to what South Africa can do.” Zimbabweans need to take the initiative, he added, but they need South Africa’s support.

“It is important that the entire international community understand that Mugabe has lost the election,” he said. “He should step aside and allow the new [democratic] process to take place.”

On the same topic, Jonathan Moyo, political scientist and former Zanu-PF Cabinet minister of information, said that whatever South Africans do, “it will have to be through their government. The recent election would not have been as peaceful, free and fair as it was if not for the mediation led by South Africa and mandated by SADC.”

This mediation, between Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led to some legal reforms ahead of the elections, he said, but while there were positive improvements, it did not lead to a final agreement — meaning the opposition was not ready for an election. “We did not as a country need that election,” he said.

Still, South Africa has played a leadership role throughout Zimbabwe’s history, even when it was still Rhodesia under Ian Smith, said Heneri Dzinotyiweyi, a member of the national executive committee of the MDC under Morgan Tsvangirai. “We look to South Africa to play this role once more,” he said.

The situation remains tense in Zimbabwe, he said. Referring to the “genocide” that followed Kenya’s elections earlier this year, he said: “Anything of that magnitude can happen in Zimbabwe.”

He believes South Africa should take a firmer stance. “If South Africa says the [election] results must be out, that will happen.” But, asked Davis, wouldn’t Mugabe simply refuse to do so? “South Africa can’t be treated that way by Zimbabwe,” said Dzinotyiweyi.

Mandaza agreed. “Let them [South Africa and SADC] say publicly that there’s no doubt that Robert Mugabe lost. There must be insistence that the results be announced … There should be no run-off [presidential election] as violence in the country is already at a high level.”

Asked how the Mugabe-controlled military — currently involved in a violent crackdown on opposition supporters, according to the MDC — would react to an opposition victory, he said: “I do not believe the military will not accept change.”

Moyo also opposed a run-off election. “It is not possible for Mugabe to win any election, crooked or not,” he said. “What is possible is that if there is any rigging, it will be against him,” he said to laughter from the audience. “There is no rational person who wants to see Mugabe in office again in Zimbabwe.”

After the delays in announcing election results, these will now not be accepted by anyone, he said. Even if Tsvangirai is victorious, “that would be unbelievable”, he said. “The process has been compromised. They [Zanu-PF] have been using the time to figure out an exit strategy.”

He added: “There is no sense in resolving the election deadlock through another election … but there are some who are prepared to dig in, people around Mugabe who have the means to cause big-time trouble.”

Said Mandaza: “The MDC won. We must allow them to form the next government … Even Mugabe’s people know that. There is no doubt that Tsvangirai will extend his hand to all others [to form a government of national unity] … Everyone knows any free and fair run-off will yield disastrous results for Robert Mugabe.”

Looking ahead, Mandaza said he expects election results to be released next week. There is bargaining behind the scenes, he said, but complained that opposition groups have not been able to “sit down together”.

Moyo backed the idea of a transitional government, as, according to him, Tsvangirai did not quite get enough votes in the election to win the presidency, even though he beat Mugabe. A transitional government “would look like a government of national unity” and would facilitate Mugabe’s exit. It would operate between 24 and 36 months, with Tsvangirai as its leader, and formulate a new constitution. “Elections would come much later down the line,” said Moyo.

Dzinotyiweyi disputed Moyo’s figures, though, saying that Tsvangirai got 53% of votes. Davis asked him what the MDC would do if the electoral commission said Tsvangirai got less than that. “We would explain that it was defective,” said Dzinotyiweyi. “We would not accept it.”

He would not be drawn, however, on exactly what actions the MDC would take in that situation, also pointing out that the MDC’s main staff cannot even meet at present as some members are in jail and others fear retribution from the ruling party.

Replied Mandaza: “The MDC should have a provisional idea of how they will run the government … The MDC should take the initiative and there has been no initiative.”

Moyo also criticised the MDC, saying: “It is obvious that Morgan Tsvangirai won the parliamentary elections. All opposition [groups] are willing to work with them, but they are not willing.”

Dzinotyiweyi denied this charge, simply saying: “He [Moyo] is not telling the truth.”

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