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Democratic blues in Zimbabwe: in the wake of Mugabe's election neither local powers of resistance nor global balance of forces give much cause for optimism about the prospect of success for a democratic movement for land reform. (against the current).

March 10 2002 had been a long day. After visiting half a dozen polling stations in Harare's townships, Wilfred Mhanda climbed out of a borrowed ute. He had witnessed kilometre-long queues; seen voters angry at having to wait nearly two days to cast their ballot, and then take fifteen to twenty minutes to vote once they reached the deliberately obfuscating election officials; and noted calls to `extend, extend' the voting period. Head of the Zimbabwe Liberators Platform--a group of war veterans formed in early 2000 to remind their fellow Zimbabweans that genuine liberators like themselves had fought for democracy and the rule of law, not for land invasions to bolster incompetent and tyrannical rule--and one of the directors of the multi-NGO'd Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Mhanda was tired and very depressed. He looked down, scuffed his feet on the ground, and said:

We fought in the bush. Not just us: all Zimbabweans suffered to win democracy for this country. That was more than twenty years ago. I can't believe now that we have to fight again for the right to vote.

Mhanda had no doubts that the 2002 presidential election was in its last stages of being stolen from the people. Contrary to many members of political and civil society opposition to Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), he had been warning for months that the elections could be anything but free and fair. He had argued that without at least an independent electoral commission--the Southern African Development Community's minimum condition for a free and fair election--Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) should have refused to participate. Tsvangirai chose instead to listen to the advice of such seemingly contradictory sources as the United States Agency for International Development, a few reassuringly friendly members of the Central Intelligence Organisation, and many optimistic oppositionists. But as Mhanda had that afternoon told one of his passengers and polling observers who was the expelled president of the University of Zimbabwe's Student Representative Council (and you don't have to ask why he had been expelled), `you young guys are just learning how devious Mugabe is. We've known it for a long time'. Nonetheless, foreseeing the travesty did not lessen its grim impact.

Indeed, there is little doubt that the election was `mugged' (as many Zimbabweans put it). The difference between the vote for Mugabe and Tsvangirai could easily be accounted for by `theft'. Cutting the number of urban polling stations by half and combining the presidential ballot with ward and mayoral ballots stymied the urban base of the MDC. The long queues and delays meant that around 350,000 of Harare's 800,000 voters were denied voting rights. When the voting period was extended by one day, many of the booths were only opened for a few hours. On top of that were the disallowal of postal votes (nearly one million voters, and most of them would have gone to the MDC); the late registrations of many probable ZANU-PF voters in the rural areas (perhaps 400,000 rural people were added to a secret voters' roll); the printing of extra ballot papers; a host of restrictions on international and local observers (delegations such as the European Union's and South Africa's National NGO Coalition were disallowed, and only about 400 of over 10,000 trained local observers and monitors were registered--civil servants were given that job); the ZANU-PF militia-induced inability of opposition monitors to reach about half of the rural voting stations; the `early-voting' facility offered by the same ZANU-PF enthusiasts to elderly rural residents (many people were approached before the election by party youth and told to fill out their ballots then and there, to `save them the bother of joining the queue'); and a host of illegalities to be expected with an electoral commission heavily dominated by the military. Within hours of the announcement of the election results they were challenged: an exhausted opposition was planning stayaways, legal contestation on a number of fronts, and appeals for international action to force a re-run. Yet the MDC is attending talks with the ruling party--this may be South Africa's efforts to create a government of national unity--while its leaders face treason charges resulting from the poorly executed videos purportedly showing Tsvangirai chatting with an Israeli freelance spy about assassinating Mugabe.

Mhanda could have predicted it all. It was nearly twenty-five years ago that he and nearly seventy other young radical guerrilla leaders were thrown into Mozambican jails for criticising Mugabe once too often, as he scrambled his way to power on their backs. Then, they sounded like Marxists, condemning Mugabe and his petit-bourgeois `old guard' for being all too ready to be coopted by the imperialists. Now, having been forced to enter the public realm once again by the thuggish impropriety of the masquerading `veterans' in their unholy alliance with the staggering ZANU-PF, they appear more like the sincerest of liberals than class warriors. In reality though, they have always fought for a democratic revolution. They said then that they wanted a popular front to defeat Ian Smith's minority regime, and the right to establish their own party. I doubt they had any idea then how long it would take.

Zimbabwe's 2000-2002 election campaign began in February 2000 with a constitutional referendum that ZANU-PF lost. It continued into June of that year with a parliamentary election that in spite of the land invasions, calculated violence against the MDC, and more mundane forms of illegal electioneering, saw the MDC win 57 of the 120 contested seats; and ran into this even more violent and well-rigged presidential election. It has seen nearly 120 political assassinations (and, from January to September 2001, 2,928 assaults, 586 kidnappings, and 20,853 forced displacements) and a country littered with ZANU-PF militia boot-camps. If anything is clear from all this, it is that the most basic forms of bourgeois democracy--forms often and unfairly derided by socialists--are a long time coming in the increasingly war-torn and poverty-stricken hinterlands of global capitalism. And the big question for Zimbabwe is now: what should happen next?

For now: more land invasions and murders of opposition activists and farmers; more cabinet ministers and police officials taking over farms; `war veterans'--perhaps worried that the emerging party-bourgeoisie (stymied in its pursuit of more productive accumulative strategies by more than a decade of neo-liberal structural adjustment policies) is about to dump them--demanding cabinet positions and increases in their pensions (the ones which broke the fiscus when they were first granted in late 1997); pre-election price controls lifted to reveal 40 to 70 per cent increases on basic foodstuffs; ever increasing queues for maize meal, sugar and oil, while ZANU-PF militias raid commercial farms for the crop, ZANU-PF millers take grain meant for the Grain Marketing Board, Mugabe declares a `national disaster' in hope of getting humanitarian aid, and ZANU-PF youth militias in Bulawayo complain that the pay and uniformed jobs promised them before the last election have yet to appear ... the list goes on. A year's suspension from the Commonwealth is not high on its scale of importance--but Libya's threatened suspension of fuel supplies is.

And for the medium to long term? I submitted an article more or less in the following form to the independent Daily News just a few days before the election. It is an attempt to situate Zimbabwe's trajectory, using some of its northern neighbours' recent history as salutary examples of `worst case scenarios'.

Post-election Zimbabwe: peace or war?

Whatever commentators on, and participants in, this weekend's Zimbabwean presidential election say, they agree it is the most important in this country's post-1980 history. If they looked around them to see it in the context of much of the rest of the continent's recent past, they might agree it is even more important than that. When Zimbabwe's trajectory is compared with that of Africa's `war-torn' societies--the Sierra Leones, Liberias, Democratic Republic of the Congos and Angolas of the world--one wonders what can stop it from tumbling into the same crisis-ridden chasm. This election is about more than who will be president. It is about a future of war or peace. Can one election stop the trend towards the former, and restart the construction of the latter?

There is by now a large academic literature on how war-tom Africa got to its conflict-ridden condition. In the post-Cold War age of neo-liberal globalisation and diminished state resources, politicians and warlords often become indistinguishable. Borders wither away as waxing and waning wars are `civil', regional and international all at once. `Economies' become amalgams of `informal' and institutionalised networks of pillage and forced labour intricately integrated into wider global webs made up of the trade of `conflict commodities', arms and drugs. States become mere shadows of their former selves, and deal upon deal is worked out in their shadier comers. `Soldiers', `rebels', `militias' and marauders merge into one mass, all alike to the hungrier and hungrier citizens from whom they steal and whom they torture, rape and murder. Short and nasty Hobbesian cliches fail to capture the slow horror of these never-ending wars.

It is hard to pinpoint the precise intersection of the `political' and the `economic' sides of the political economy of war-tom Africa, let alone the causal balance between the two. However, one can probably say that presidents who refused to leave when their time is up have exacerbated free-falling economies: think of how Mobutu had to go ... likewise with the Does, Stevens, and even Savimbis of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Angola in days gone by. One could probably identify a moment when a giant act of political will--of self-abnegating humility--could have reversed those societies' history in the making.

Does present day Zimbabwe look anything like wartorn Africa in its embryonic stages? If so can one election make a difference?

Zimbabwe has the `war veterans' who have already used force to pull their country's fiscus into a black hole. They and their allies in the party--state apparatus have invaded the commercial farms, thus exposing the long-latent wound of the unresolved land question. There are youth brigadiers militarising many other parts of the country: are they the seedbed of something like Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front? Top politicians and military chiefs are tied up in the DR Congo's resource-fuelled and regionalised war, with its global networks of diamond-dealing and media-massaging intrigue. Underlying it all is a history combining contradictory strains of violent coercion and democratic consensus building--signified by a war of liberation in which a national chairman was murdered, militantly democratic Marxists were ruthlessly sidelined by the most Marxist-sounding rhetorician/militarist of them all, and a `Patriotic Front' barely hid a simmering civil war culminating in the nearly genocidal Gukurahundi. The 1980s `storm that swept out the chaff' in Matabeleland is still haunting thousands of Ndebele people.

So what way will Zimbabwe now turn? Will this blood-soaked two-year-long election change the course of a millennium that has not started too well?

If the election is a close call with the MDC on top, it will take a lot of internal and external pressure to keep the lid on coup-like propensities. If the domestic steam gets too hot South Africa will have to play the key diplomatic--and maybe military--role. It does not seem eager to assume such a task.

If ZANU-PF creeps in, very few--inside and outside Zimbabwe--will believe claims of `free and fair'.

In either case, ZANU-PF may well implode as in 1974-1977, when Mugabe climbed over a party reeling from national chairman Herbert Chitepo's assassination and sidelined the best and brightest of his critical soldiers. The `war vets' and youth militias will maraud on their own in the vacuum. Governments of national unity, with or without the aid of external forces, may or may not stem the tide. Obviously, the Zimbabwean military will hold an extraordinary amount of leverage over its country's future. And no one really likes it when the military has that much power. Scenarios in which the results are close, risk a war-like future.

It is ironic that, as often in the past, ZANU-PF campaigners rely on their constituents to `vote for peace' by voting for them. The alternative, they are warned, will be renewed war led by the warring party once again. This time, however, there will be no 1980-like victory for ZANU-PF. The only chance for solid peace would seem to be a complete `no' to such poorly veiled threats: a free vote so clearly in favour of Tsvangirai that ZANU-PF and its ring-side regional peers would be in no doubt at all about the `will of the people'. There still might be one way out of a war-torn fate. Perhaps a real African renaissance could start this weekend.

For whatever reason, those words were not published: perhaps they were too academic' for a newspaper, perhaps too pessimistic. It is not totally unreasonable to think, however, that truly free and fair elections might have produced a mandate that would have broken Zimbabwe out of its present impasse (although the political economy side of this analysis cries out: `altogether too much emphasis on the superstructure here!'). And it still might. Of course, the first step to such renewal begs the question: who has the force needed to implement such elections? The second step asks: on the economic front, who can restart `the economy', including the retiring of crippling structural adjustment induced debts and the resolution of the land question? Both issues force one to examine both the current global conjuncture--and that is not a happy place to look--and the ways in which the `war veterans' are entrenching their power at the `micro' level (in addition to the land invasions, they have taken over many local government structures, for example). In Zimbabwe, neither the `local' nor the `global' give cause for much optimism.

David Moore teaches economic history and development studies at the University of Natal-Durban.
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Author:Moore, David
Publication:Arena Magazine
Geographic Code:6UGAN
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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