Mugabe Still Calls the Shots

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace arrive for the opening of the Parliament

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace arrive for the opening of the Parliament in Harare June 9. (Photo: STR / AFP-Getty Images)

Squashing speculation of ill health and imminent demise, Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, recently opened the first session of the Sixth Parliament on the backcloth of a failed, if not foiled, mass job stay away to protest growing poverty and lawlessness following a massive crackdown on urban blight in the country.

Civil society groups, the Movement for Democratic Change (M.D.C.) and trade unions called for a two-day nation wide work boycott and demonstrations against the Mugabe regime for running the country into the ground. This follows three weeks of a nationwide clean up campaign code named “Operation Murambatsvina” aimed at arresting urban squalor and vending within cities using terror and brutality.

Comments by Zimbabwean newspapers suggest the stay away had no takers.

Opposition weekly Zimbabwe Independent (June 10, 2005) said the protest action faltered “largely due to poor organization and lack of leadership.” While the centrist Zimbabwe Mirror (June 12, 2005) quotes unidentified sources saying opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was against the work boycott whose failure was expected, according to the pro-government press. Zimbabwe, once a breadbasket of Southern Africa and a model democracy, is facing its worst economic performance since independence in 1980. Besides, three million Zimbabweans including children could starve to death unless the country speedily finds enough foreign currency to pay for grain imports.

However, in his opening speech to Parliament, Mugabe did not blame the political and economic lethargy on his regime. Instead, he said the drought has necessitated a shift from depending on rain fed agriculture to irrigation schemes.

Persistent fuel shortages have dogged the country for nearly three weeks owing to the scarcity of foreign currency to pay suppliers in the Middle East and South Africa. As a result of the fuel crisis, public transportation has ground to a halt forcing most people to walk to work and it has paralyzed industrial operations and commercial trade.

The black or unofficial market, which government is battling to stamp out is thriving better than before. A countrywide blitz meant to eliminate the parallel foreign currency market, illegal vending and the sale of cheap Chinese goods has left close to one million Zimbabweans homeless and countless hawkers and informal traders without a source of livelihood.

The pro-government, Herald (June 10, 2005) credited government for the clean up operation saying, “The cleanup exercise apart from improving the face of the towns and cities will also rid the towns of dangerous criminals … The government, working together with the respective municipalities, should shame the prophets of doom who want to whip the people’s emotions by claiming the cleanup exercise is meant to punish the people in towns for voting for opposition Movement for Democratic Change.”

Analysts expect the unemployment figure to jump beyond the currently estimated 70 percent and that the wave of crime will escalate as people seek to make life tolerable in Zimbabwe. According to the country’s consumer watchdog, the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, an average family now needs close to $4 million Zimbabwean dollars (ZW) a month just to keep soul and body together.

A liter of petrol is going for $30 000 ZW just over $1 (U.S.) on the black market, a far cry from the official $3400 ZW a liter. Basic commodities such as milk, sugar, bread, and mealie meal (cornmeal) are in short supply and at times available at inflated prices.

Amidst the current challenges, the Sunday Mail (June 12, 2005) another pro-government weekly praised the clean up campaign it linked to President Mugabe’s order and development message when he opened Parliament:

“The ongoing Operation Restore Order is meant to achieve this [order] … Of course, the outcry against this drive to restore order orchestrated by Britain and America and their puppet M.D.C. was to be expected. The prospect of seeing a Mugabe-led Government achieving the expected order and neatness in a Zimbabwe they love to see in ruins is anathema to these detractors.”

Zimbabwe — shunned by international investors and donors — is a pariah state propped up by scorched-earth policies, political patronage and state-sponsored repression.

“For far too long our policy making and administration has been rather piece meal, hand-to-mouth and poorly thought out. We have been our own worst enemies … We sincerely hope that cronyism and patronage will not lead to the suffocation of our institutions any further. We demand that the right people, key people, should be placed in key positions for the benefit of the country,” commented the Daily Mirror (June 12, 2005).

On the economic front, the country has not fared better either. The central bank governor, Dr. Gideon Gono, hailed as the country’s economic messiah, has admitted that the economy is performing below 80 percent. Finance minister, Dr. Herbert Murerwa, has revised the previously projected 5 percent economic growth to 3 percent. Surprisingly, the much avowed land reform, which economic analysts blame for destroying Zimbabwe’s agriculture, is only expected to grow by a mere 28 percent, raising questions about its effectiveness.

Dr. Gono has also unexpectedly revised his inflation targets upwards to 50 percent against earlier projections of single digit inflation by year-end. The economic meltdown has been precipitated by massive government expenditure and over borrowing, corruption, and lack of viable exports.

The government, despite swearing by the voluntary Southern Africa Development Community Electoral protocol agreed in Mauritius last year, is still facing accusations of electoral fraud in the March 2005 parliamentary polls. The ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) won 78 seats in the 150-member House of Parliament; the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (M.D.C.) grabbed 41 seats. The only independent seat in Parliament went to maverick Jonathan Moyo. Talks aimed at revising inter-part dialogue to deliberate the future of Zimbabwe have been on the back-burner confirming fears that Zanu-PF will never revisit them again. With the two-thirds majority, the ruling party has announced plans to amend the constitution and create a Senate among other changes.

President Mugabe, at the helm for the last 25 years has hinted at retiring after 2008 when his current term of office expires. But, many Zimbabweans are skeptical that he will bow out of the political stage at the drop of a hat.

A regular contributor to the opposition Zimbabwe Independent newspaper recently said the problem with Mugabe’s leadership is that he thinks he is made of the same stuff as God. Maybe this line of thinking has frequently crossed Mugabe’s mind as he contemplates the future after 2008.

The elevation of former guerrilla fighter, Joyce Mujuru, to the third powerful post of second vice president could not have left Zanu-PF more divided. At the urging of the important Zanu-PF Women’s League, political watchers say, Mugabe pushed for the endorsement of Mujuru’s candidate by all provinces. Those who did not toe the line paid the price, including Jonathan Moyo — a former government critic turned apologist.

The December 2004, the Fourth People’s National Congress of the ruling party confirmed that Mugabe still calls the shots and democracy is only in the vocabulary of the M.D.C. Questions are also being asked as to when Mugabe decided that his ‘man would be a woman”. Political scientist John Makumbe says Mugabe has challenged Mujuru to aspire for his position but only when he (Mugabe) says so. The elevation of Mujuru, who is far junior in party ranks to Mugabe’s former blue-eyed boy Emmerson Mnangagwa, party chairman John Nkomo and former speaker Didymus Mutasa, whose names were floated as potential successors, makes Mujuru an obvious target. Makumbe predicts that the losing suitors to Mugabe’s political throne will use every trick in the book to bring down Mujuru if this will stop her succeeding Mugabe. Mugabe himself is a former liberation war hero now turned dictator.

By his own confession, Mugabe seems healthy and fit in body, even though his political diagnosis may be different.

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