Five years ago Morgan Tsvangirai was leading Zimbabwe’s presidential vote and appeared set to end Robert Mugabe’s rule of the southern African nation before violence cut short the balloting. With new elections due July 31, he appears ever further from his goal.
While Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change has been in government for the past four years, helping turnaround an economy that was in free fall, Mugabe, 89, wields the power with the police and military. The voters’ roll is filled with as many as a million people who are dead or have disappeared, and 29 percent of those 18 to 30 years of age aren’t registered, according to the independent Research and Advocacy Unit.
Tsvangirai, 61, wanted the election delayed. His MDC says Zimbabwe’s election machinery isn’t prepared to hold a vote and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front controls the state media. He quit the 2008 runoff election because of violence against his supporters.
“The MDC has little chance of victory on two main grounds: the lack of preparedness and the voters’ roll, which really can, it seems, be used for manipulation,” Susan Booysen, an analyst with the University of Witwatersrand, said by phone July 9 from Johannesburg. “There is also the threat of violence at Zanu-PF’s disposal, whether violence is used or not.”
Zanu-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo said the MDC’s concerns are unwarranted.
“We are very, very happy with the way the registration was done,” he said in an interview. “The MDC always complains. That is their mantra.”
The MDC points to its role in salvaging the economy. Following Mugabe’s decision to seize mainly white-owned farms starting in 2000, food production and exports plummeted, and inflation soared to as high as 500 billion percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. Gross domestic product shrank 39 percent in dollar terms between 2000 and 2008, the Washington-based lender’s data shows.
During the same years, Tsvangirai and Mugabe fought four elections, all of them marred by violence and electoral irregularities, according to observers including the European Union.
Regional neighbors in the 15-nation Southern African Development Community brokered a 2009 power-sharing agreement between Zimbabwe’s main political parties after it ruled presidential and parliamentary elections the previous year were void. Violence before and after the vote led to the deaths of about 200 MDC supporters, according to Tsvangirai.
The coalition government, in which the MDC controlled most economic ministries, turned the economy around.
Tendai Biti, the finance minister from the MDC, abolished the Zimbabwe dollar and instituted a multi-currency economy, using mainly the dollar and South African rand. The measure reduced inflation to single digits, where it remains today, and saw empty supermarket shelves being restocked. The economy has grown every year since 2009, with the IMF predicting a 5 percent expansion this year.
“What people forget is that the shops were literally empty,” George Chofamba, a roadside shopkeeper in Harare’s Zengeza suburb, said July 8. “Now the shops have everything and it is because Mugabe doesn’t control the country’s money.”
Zimbabwe has the world’s second-largest reserves of platinum and chrome after neighboring South Africa and significant gold, coal, diamond, diamond and iron-ore deposits, which attracted investment from companies such as Anglo American Platinum Ltd., Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. and Rio Tinto Group. Agricultural exports included tobacco, corn, soy, coffee, tea, fruit and vegetables.
The obstacles facing the MDC in the election include Zanu-PF’s grip on the state broadcaster, ZBC. It demanded $165,000 to provide live coverage of the MDC’s election manifesto unveiling two days after broadcasting President Mugabe’s election campaign kick-off. The MDC declined to pay, according to spokesman Nelson Chamisa.
“It’s a matter of record that there are problems that militate against free and fair elections,” former Finance Minister Simba Makoni, who’s backing Tsvangirai, said in an interview with Johannesburg’s PowerFM radio station yesterday. “We fear the specter of violence and intimidation. There is an uneven playing field in the media sector.”
When Zanu-PF held its primaries on June 25, Zimbabwe’s police officiated and the party commandeered schools across the country. Education Minister David Coltart, a senator and founder member of a faction of the MDC, called the action illegal.
Zimbabwe must still raise $130 million to pay for the election, Biti said yesterday.
The MDC is “doomed by its failure to end police support for Zanu-PF,” said Valentia Kaseke, a security guard in Harare’s northern Emerald Hill suburb. “All they can do is wait for Mugabe to die and then Zanu-PF will be in disarray.”
Mugabe and his party still have their supporters who credit them with bringing independence to Zimbabwe in 1980 after a guerrilla war forced the white-minority government of Rhodesia to negotiate a settlement.
“Zanu-PF will win the election because it is the people’s revolutionary party, it made Zimbabwe from scratch. Zanu-PF is Zimbabwe,” Farai Hove, a small-scale farmer from Ruwa, 20 miles east of Harare, said by phone. “People can’t vote for the MDC. It’s foreign.”
In some cases, the MDC has proved its own worst enemy. Allegations of corruption against MDC officials in three constituencies, Harare, Chitungwiza and Bindura, may hamper the party’s election prospects, even though Tsvangirai, a former labor union leader, fired officials named in an internal party report, Booysen said.
“The MDC lost moral ground in urban areas and its other constituencies and they’re no longer able to say they will win an election provided it’s free and fair,” she said.
The MDC wants to inspect the country’s voters’ roll, which it says is being manipulated by the registrar general’s office. Zimbabwe’s registrar general, Tobaiwa Mudede, denied the accusation.
“The voters’ roll is open to inspection by the MDC, there are no secrets,” he said by phone from Harare July 8.
The run-up to Zimbabwe’s ballot has left people wary and scared, said Julius Nyikadzino, a pharmaceutical salesman.
“We’re dysfunctional, afflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder after the last 13 years of violence, poverty and uncertainty,” he said in an interview. “Everyone who doesn’t benefit from Zanu-PF’s looting knows how to vote, but everyone knows the likelihood of rigging is actually a certainty. It’s just the degree of rigging that counts.”