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Mugabe Said to Delay Referendum as He Fears Losing Vote

Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

(Corrects spelling of analyst’s name in 13th paragraph in story that was originally published on Aug. 21.)

Aug. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s party wants to delay a referendum on a new constitution because it fears it will lose the subsequent election, said a cabinet minister and another member of the party’s top decision-making body.

A faltering economy, a series of violent elections and waning support from neighboring countries will probably result in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front losing to the Movement for Democratic Change party of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the two people said last week. They both sit on Zanu-PF’s politburo and declined to be identified because the party’s strategy hasn’t been made public.

Under the terms of a pact brokered in February 2009 by the 15-nation Southern African Development Community, Mugabe, 88, and Tsvangirai, 60, agreed to govern together following a disputed election. The agreement stipulates that a referendum must be held before a fresh election can take place. Zanu-PF has repeatedly stalled negotiations on the new constitution that were initially supposed to begin in July 2009 with the plebiscite expected a few months later. A draft constitution has now been written by an inter-party group.

Delays to the referendum may hinder the economic recovery of the country with companies hesitant to invest in mining the world’s second-biggest platinum and chrome reserves without knowing who will rule the country. Mugabe’s party, in power since independence in 1980, has threatened to nationalize foreign-owned assets and is pushing a law that requires companies to sell 51 percent of their local assets to black Zimbabweans.

Labor Migration

Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd., Aquarius Platinum Ltd. and Anglo American Platinum Ltd. own platinum mines in the country while Rio Tinto Plc owns a diamond mine. Barclays Plc, Old Mutual Plc and Standard Chartered Plc also operate there.

Zanu-PF will object to dual citizenship rights in the draft of the constitution that would allow an estimated 2 million people in Zimbabwe with ancestry from neighboring countries to vote, as well as a clause that would allow as many as 3 million Zimbabweans living outside the country to cast their ballots, the two people said. The country has a population of about 12 million people.

People from Zambia and Malawi were encouraged to move to Zimbabwe, then known as Southern Rhodesia, between 1953 and 1963 when the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was established. Southern Rhodesia was the industrial and agricultural hub of the group while Nyasaland, now Malawi, and Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, were expected to provide labor.

Strong President

Zanu-PF will also oppose attempts to weaken the power of the president in the constitution, to roll back the ownership law and to alter a program that has seen almost all the land owned by white commercial farmers seized and redistributed to black subsistence farmers since 2000, the people said.

“We have been thorough, not delaying,” Rugare Gumbo, a spokesman for Zanu-PF, said by phone from Harare yesterday. “We’ve taken the people’s wishes into account, ones that weren’t included in the draft due to reasons we in Zanu-PF do not understand.”

The party has rejected the dual citizenship clause proposed in the draft as well as a plan to replace the attorney-general’s office with a national prosecuting authority, Harare’s state-controlled Herald newspaper reported, citing Gumbo.

‘Done Deal’

“As far as we’re concerned, the constitution is a done deal,” said Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the MDC and the country’s’ finance minister. “We spent three years negotiating it with Zanu-PF and assumed, as anyone would, that their negotiators had the authority to negotiate. We don’t see much reason to accept further delays.”

Mugabe and Zanu-PF have lost support within Sadc with only Joseph Kabila, the leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo, considered a strong ally, the people said. Kabila has little influence in the group and Mugabe’s is now being pressured by South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma as well as Botswana and Tanzania while Angola and Mozambique are lending little support, they said.

“Zuma is going to become more actively involved in in resolving the dispute,” Simiso Velempini, southern Africa analyst at London’s Control Risks, said in an interview. “It is a delaying tactic. There is very little patience for the situation to go on any longer.”

Zuma traveled to Zimbabwe last week before a Sadc heads-of-state meeting in Mozambique.

Leaders within the country’s security forces, some senior Zanu-PF politicians and their associates are also keen to delay the election because of concern they may be prosecuted for human rights abuses or on corruption charges, the two people said.

Corruption charges could be linked to taking advantage of the difference between official and black market exchange rates for the Zimbabwe Dollar before the currency was abolished in 2009, the ownership law and its implementation and the smuggling of diamonds from the Marange field, the people said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Latham in Johannesburg at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at

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