TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Zimbabwe after the March 29 Elections: A Faultless Coup?

Zimbabwe’s March 29 elections were held in an atmosphere that everybody saw as impossible for the opposition. There was virtually no media freedom, no campaign time for the opposition, and so much violence that being merely associated with the opposition MDC could very well mean death, and the Zimbabwe electoral commission, run by the fanatical Mugabe loyalist, Tobaiwa Mudede, was handpicked by the ZANU PF administration and is heavily in favor of ZANU and Mugabe. In addition, it can easily be argued that much of the election was rigged long before the election itself took place. Election observers found that the numbers on the voter’s roll were far greater than the numbers of the voters on the ground. Many of the names were simply created to inflate the numbers in the constituencies that supported Mugabe, while another big number was comprised of the deceased. Plucky Zimbabwean humor suggested in the run up to the election that Mugabe had recruited the dead since the living had no more time for him.

To make matters even worse, in the period before the election, the military generals got together and announced that they would never serve under, or submit to being led by, a person without anti-colonial war credentials. In other words, they were saying that if Mugabe did lose to Tsvangirai they would just hold on to power through the use of force and ensure that Mugabe, the man they have served unquestioningly through several decades, stayed on. In real terms, this was a threatened coup: if Tsvangirai won, there would be a coup, Mugabe would stay on, and life would go on as usual.

In spite of all of these factors, the seemingly impossible happened. Mugabe and his party lost control of the parliament and lost the presidential elections to Morgan Tsvangirai. At this point, the question became whether the generals would carry out their threatened coup. Events, and reports from the inside, suggest that they have done it, and in such a smooth fashion that, of all the screams that have been heard from Zimbabwe recently, none of them has been “Coup!”

Reports in the independent newspapers suggested that Robert Mugabe had directed the ZEC to delay the announcement of the presidential election results in order to manage a political crisis triggered by his defeat and that of his ZANU PF party. It was reported that the service chiefs had approached Mugabe with results that showed his defeat and they advised him to buy time. The Zimbabwe Independent (April 4–10) reported that ZEC’s delay was part of the government’s crisis management plan following clear indications that Mugabe had lost the presidential election to Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Mugabe is reported to have ordered the withholding of results by ZEC to buy time to manage his defeat and allow the three weeks for the run-off to elapse, thereby creating circumstances for him to try to survive politically. It was reported in the same issue of the Zimbabwe Independent that part of the government’s strategy was to force ZEC to delay announcing the result until Mugabe had found a way to deal with the problem.

Zimbabwe’s electoral law provides for a run-off in the event that none of the presidential candidates wins 50% plus one vote in the election. The run-off was therefore supposed to be held on or before April 19. The Zimbabwe Independent revealed that Mugabe and his close advisors from the country’s state security agencies wanted Mugabe to use his temporary presidential powers to amend the Electoral Act to have the run-off after ninety days, ruling by decree in the meantime. They advised Mugabe that this would give them time to regroup and strategize.

Soon after the election, it was reported that Mugabe had offered a transitional government that would run the country for six months. Mugabe proposed to head the transitional government. According to the proposal, tabled to the MDC, was one of the many options that Mugabe was considering to manage his departure from office. Weeks later, Tsvangirai confirmed that his party had held secret talks with Mugabe’s ZANU PF about forming a government of national unity. Tsvangirai revealed in a BBC interview that ZANU PF had approached the MDC to talk of a transition. The situation reportedly changed after ZANU PF hardliners asserted themselves. Word in the streets was that the service chiefs, Constantine Chiwenga of the Zimbabwe National Army, Perence Shiri of the Air Force, Augustine Chihuri of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, Happyton Bonyongwe of the Central Intelligence Organization, and Paul Zimondi of Zimbabwe Prison Service were demanding assurances that they would not face prosecution for crimes they had committed during their service. It was then that reports suggested that the military had taken over.

The South African Sunday Independent of April 20 reported that the military was waging a systematic war of terror on rural people while the vote was being “faultlessly” rigged, ahead a contrived presidential run-off. The paper reported that central to the plot were hundreds of “command centers” led by war veterans and youths in police uniform, which were established across Zimbabwe to wage a national terror campaign. According to the paper, Zimbabwe’s top military authority, the Joint Command, made up of service chiefs, has established a chain of command to ensure that Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF remain in office even though they both lost in elections on March 29. The network will be concentrated in the rural areas where 70 percent of the Zimbabwean population lives.

A senior army officer and a police chief described the president’s re-election plan to the Sunday Independent. They said each command center would consist of three policemen, a soldier, and a war veteran who would be in charge. They would dispatch militias, comprised of war veterans and members of the ZANU PF Youth militia, to assault and torture known opposition supporters. They would also control the local police to ensure that the militia was immune from arrest. The generals have called on the four security services—army, police, intelligence, and prisons—to ensure that people are terrorized into voting for Mugabe in the expected presidential run-off. Generals who report directly to the Joint Command have explained in a series of closed meetings how people will be terrorized and beaten into voting for Mugabe in the run-off. Human rights groups verified reports of the terror campaign, saying that ZANU PF was using a network of informal detention centers to beat, torture, and intimidate opposition activists and ordinary Zimbabweans. A statement by Human Rights Watch provided a chilling account of systematic intimidation and violence, including the abduction and savage beating of opposition supporters in several areas. Detention centers are said to have been set up in Mutoko North, Mutoko South, Mudzi in Mashonaland East province, and in Bikita West in Masvingo province. Opposition supporters are being tortured at these camps in what ZANU PF terms “Operation Makavhoterapapi?” (“Where did you put your vote?”) The aim in all this is threefold: to assert his power over the cowed population, to punish the people for having voted for the MDC, and to intimidate them to vote for ZANU PF in the event of a presidential run-off.

Playing a pivotal role in the current drama is the country’s intelligence unit, the CIO (Central Intelligence Organization). Headed by one the most brutal figures in Zimbabwe’s recent history, Happyton Bonyongwe, the CIO is responsible for collecting data and information about opposition party activists and leading the attacks on the targeted activists. Hundreds of villagers have reportedly fled their homes in the countryside after ZANU PF militia, war veterans, the notorious “Green Bombers” and the army attacked them.

War veterans went on fresh farm invasions similar to the ones in February of 2000, threatening the few remaining white commercial farmers and their farm workers. In Masvingo, they invaded Crest Farm owned by Graham Goddard and they gave him a 10-hour notice to pack his belongings and vacate. The Masvingo Mirror, a provincial weekly, reported that soldiers were wreaking havoc in rural areas in the province. The Mirror said that members of the Zimbabwe National Army and ZANU PF militia were deployed in some rural areas in the province, where they were beating up civilians suspected to be members of the MDC. The Zimbabwean on Sunday (April 20, 2008) reported that the CIO has a file on “each MDC activist detailed to the level of the football club he or she supports together with family members’ details etc.” The paper reported of a complex web of deception, coercion, and violent intimidation to ensure that another electoral defeat for Robert Mugabe in the presidential run-off is not remotely possible. The same issue of the Zimbabwean on Sunday carried a photograph of a battered and stoned body of MDC Hurungwe East Organizing Secretary, Tapiwa Mbawanda. The Standard of April 13, 2008, told stories of war veterans and ZANU PF militia on the rampage in Mashonaland Central. War veterans and ZANU PF militia reportedly burnt down more than 30 farm workers’ huts, accusing them of voting against Robert Mugabe. The defenseless farm workers fled and watched from a distance as the war veterans and militia helped themselves to property before setting the huts on fire. The workers lost all of their belongings. Eighteen families now shelter temporarily in tobacco barns, exposed to the cold and diseases.

In Bulawayo, some businesspeople reported that from April 16, 2008, their environment was growing more and more scary by the day as they had began receiving threats from some war veterans and supporters of ZANU PF in the city. The war veterans were said to be visiting business premises regularly, threatening to close them down as Mugabe’s retribution campaign against opposition activists and supporters spreads to all sectors of society. One business owner complained that they had visited him three times the same day accusing him of sponsoring the MDC. They threatened to loot everything in his shop and close it down after Mugabe wins the run-off.

The Zimbabwe Independent (April 11–17, 2008) carried a story that said ZANU PF members were moving around Mutoko East constituency waving guns of different sizes and types, and telling people that the run-off was the last chance for them to vote for ZANU PF.

At the moment, no one knows what will happen. The opposition and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai, live in fear for their lives. Ordinary voters have been brutalized for simply having voted their choice. Simple election officers have been arrested, tortured, and imprisoned just because the constituents voted for the opposition. Hundreds of them are still in jail. And the world has watched. Independent observers and journalists have been arrested, beaten, and tortured, and no one has acted. The electoral commission, run by the fanatical and totally unscrupulous Tobaiwa Mudede, steadfastly refused to release the results of the presidential elections for five whole weeks, and when they were finally released, they differed from those of the independent and opposition observers, whose offices had, incidentally, been raided to remove all the materials pertaining to the presidential election.

The Mugabe government then announced the need for a run-off election, which under Zimbabwe law is necessary in the event that none of the winners got fifty percent of the vote. In the meantime the violence is escalating, and there are all indications that, in the event of the run-off taking place, more violence is going to occur. There is no chance of a free and fair run-off election taking place in the present circumstances, and to attempt it without first of all tackling Mugabe would be a sheer waste of time and of Zimbabwe lives. Mugabe would win, out of the sheer terror he has managed to instill in the minds and lives of the Zimbabwean people while the whole world watched.

Now it does seem that while everybody watched, Mugabe’s generals have gone ahead and staged a very bloody coup. All the time that everybody has been begging, negotiating, and lobbying for the release of the March 29 election, Mugabe has moved a step ahead—he has gone ahead and asserted his power. The violence being witnessed is simply his way of telling the Zimbabwean people that nothing has changed and that he is the one in charge, no matter what everybody else wants. His coup is complete, and he is staying on because his supporters, the commanders of the Armed Forces, the ones with the guns, have said so. The coup is complete, and almost perfect, unless somebody from the outside decides to do something about it.

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