Zanu-PF rose to the top after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 by being more centralised, conspiratorial and ruthless than all its rivals. After the shock of defeat in March, the party simply went back to doing what it knows best.
By all accounts, the leadership of the Zimbabwean African National Union-Patriotic Front, which still calls itself a politburo, was taken by surprise by the loss of the parliamentary election and the first round of the presidential vote.
It ordered a switch to a ”war-like/military-style strategy”, and control was handed to a small clique of hardliners and generals known as the Joint Operations Command (JOC).
The switch has been described as a coup, though President Robert Mugabe appears to have been a willing participant. More likely Mugabe and the JOC now depend on each other for survival.
The British government has named the six top men in the JOC, accusing them of responsibility for the ”campaign of terror” that led to the collapse of the presidential run-off vote. The list is topped by the JOC’s chairman, Emerson Mnangagwa, who has been Mugabe’s enforcer since their days as guerrilla leaders.
After Zanu-PF won the independence elections, Mnangagwa oversaw the demolition of its main opponents, Zapu, through mass killings in Matabeleland.
The operation was known as the Gukurahundi, Shona for ”the early rain that washes away the chaff”, and at least 10 000 Ndebele were killed. The massacres were spearheaded by a notoriously brutal North Korean-trained unit called the Fifth Brigade, headed by another ex-guerrilla, Perence Shiri, who is now commander of the Zimbabwean air force and another driving force in the JOC.
The other key JOC members named by the British also have long Zanu histories. They include General Constantine Chiwenga, the head of the security forces; the police chief, Augustine Chihuri; the head of the prison service Paradzayi Zimondi; and the governor of Zimbabwe’s reserve bank, Gideon Gono, who has bankrolled the campaign and in so doing fuelled the country’s hyper-inflation, which is running at more than 300 000%.
All of them could all human rights prosecutions when Mugabe eventually falls, while Mugabe could negotiate an immunity deal for himself. This has bolstered speculation that they are more determined than the president to hang on.
The strategy used against Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was not surprisingly, reminiscent of the Gukurahundi.
Soldiers, police, agents of the Central Intelligence Organisation, and Zanu militias targeted areas that voted heavily for MDC with the aim of instilling terror. Effective MDC organisers were singled out and assassinated.
Camps were set up where suspected MDC supporters were interned, beaten and sometimes killed, or whole villages were summoned to all-night meetings, known as pungwes, where MDC members were beaten or murdered in front of their neighbours. In some cases, villagers were handed a bullet each to show them the that security forces had enough ammunition to kill them all should the vote go against Mugabe.
For the first few weeks, the campaign focused on the rural areas in Mashonaland, Manicaland and Midlands, but more recently the Zanu militias have appeared in the poor townships surrounding the capital Harare.
The militias called themselves ”green bombers” or ”war veterans”, although most are far too young to have fought in the independence war. They were provided with clubs and machetes, but only rarely with guns, and let loose.
When it looked as if the campaign of violence might fail to deter MDC supporters from voting, the regime took precautionary measures, to give itself options on election day. Local independent observers found they were not having the necessary accreditations processed and the MDC was blocked from any access to the state-run media.
Tsvangirai was repeatedly detained and released, and the MDC’s secretary general, Tendai Biti, was charged with treason and police say he could face the death penalty.
Even until Sunday, Tsvangirai appears to have believed that his supporters could defy the odds.
The show of Zanu-PF force used to shut down the Harare rally appears to have persuaded the opposition leader the effort was futile. – guardian.co.uk