/ 11 May 2008

Tsvangirai set for Mugabe showdown

Zimbabwe’s opposition leader looked set on Sunday to return home from South Africa to face Robert Mugabe in a presidential run-off poll despite a risk of “more violence, more gloom, more betrayal”.

Morgan Tsvangirai had previously refused to say whether he would take part in the run-off — even though failure to do so would have handed victory to Mugabe — amid evidence of a campaign of terror against his supporters.

The former trade union leader, who beat veteran incumbent Mugabe in a first round of voting in March, set international peacekeepers, election monitors and an end to violence in the country as conditions for the ballot.

“A run-off election could finally knock out the dictator Mugabe for good,” he told reporters in South Africa on Saturday, adding that he would return home in the next two days despite the threat of a treason charge.

There appeared little chance of his conditions being satisfied, however, and they were quickly dismissed by the ruling party.

Zimbabwean doctors, trade unions and teachers have described beatings and intimidation by government-backed militias since the first round of voting and the authorities have rounded up a number of high-profile opponents.

Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has said more than 30 of its supporters have been killed since election day, with thousands more tortured or injured. The figures have been disputed by the Zimbabwean government.

“We know that another election may bring more violence, more gloom, more betrayal,” Tsvangirai conceded.

Tsvangirai appealed to the 14-member regional body, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to help the run-off to take place.

“We have given some conditions to SADC for the run-off,” he said, listing them as an end to violence, access for international election observers, changes to Zimbabwe’s electoral commission (ZEC), media freedom and peacekeepers from SADC.

Reacting to Tsvangirai, ruling party spokesperson and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa rejected any outside interference — or “any conditionalities outside our legislation” — but said he hoped a run-off could take place “as soon as possible.”

The White House in Washington on Saturday called for election and United Nations human rights monitors in Zimbabwe to ensure an end to violence against opposition leaders and their supporters in a presidential run-off.

“If this is going to be a successful run-off, obviously that’s the first thing that has to happen: opposition leaders and their supporters must be able to freely campaign free of violence,” said spokesperson Gordon Johndroe.

“We’d like to see election monitors come in, we’d like to see UN human rights monitors come in and ensure that we have a safe electoral process there,” Johndroe said.

Solve their own problems

South African President Thabo Mbeki, the region’s chief mediator in the crisis, insisted that Zimbabweans should solve their own problems, showing little appetite for outside intervention.

“It’s not South Africa that is going to solve the problems of Zimbabwe or indeed anybody else,” he told the al-Jazeera television channel on Saturday.

He said he had sought over many years to say to the people and leaders of Zimbabwe “please get together and identify the problems, and say what needs to be done to solve the problems”.

“I am quite convinced that indeed it remains the only correct way to go.”

Tsvangirai had strong criticism for the ZEC and said that failure to hold the second round of voting by May 23, as required under Zimbabwean law, risked rendering the election process illegitimate.

Results from the first round were delayed by the ZEC for five weeks and no date has been given for the second-round run-off despite the legal requirement for it to take place within 21 days of the first-round results being announced.

“The ZEC has a legal obligation to fulfil that next step,” he added. “If they don’t fulfil that, then they will have set off on a campaign of delegitimising it [the run-off].”

First-round results were published on May 2 — showing Tsvangirai beat Mugabe by 47,9% to 43,2% — but ZEC officials have hinted that a second round could take up to a year to organise.

Tsvangirai’s decision to return home brings dangers for the former trade union leader, who is threatened by a treason charge in his homeland and was badly beaten up in police custody in March 2007.

He has been abroad since shortly after the first round of elections on March 29 but had begun to face criticism for his absence at a time when his supporters were being attacked.

Adam Habib, political analyst and executive director of the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, said the decision to take part in elections was “the only possibility he has”.

“[But] I doubt if Mugabe will agree to the sending of SADC peacekeeping troops to Zimbabwe,” he added.

As for observers, no Western monitors were allowed to oversee the first ballot and a team from the SADC was widely criticised for giving it a largely clean bill of health.

Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader and a former liberation fighter, has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980.

Once seen as a post-colonial success story, Zimbabwe has been in economic meltdown since 2000 when Mugabe embarked on a programme of land reforms which saw thousands of white-owned farms expropriated. — AFP