Zimbabwe Braces for Strike Action

Riot police patrol a street in Harare on Monday outside Zimbabwe's High Court. (Photo: Alexander Joe / AFP-Getty Images)

While a wait of more than two weeks for results of the Zimbabwean presidential poll does not constitute a crisis, at least according to South African President Thabo Mbeki, the latest political skullduggery by President Robert Mugabe does.

Mugabe, 84, has done what many Zimbabweans feared he would do—tinker with the election results and refuse to accept the reality that his political time was up.

Zimbabwe remains on the edge following the March 29 landmark elections. Tension is mounting as patience wears thin over the delayed announcement of the presidential poll results, which the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (M.D.C.) faction under Morgan Tsvangirai claims to have won outright.

The opposition, which has taken the majority of parliamentary seats for the first time in close to three decades, recently petitioned the High Court to force the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to release the presidential poll results.

Fears of bloodshed have not been eased by the mass deployment of heavily armed troops, particularly in the capital, Harare, and last week's ban on political campaigns.

The extraordinary summit on the crisis in Zimbabwe convened by the Southern Africa Development Community (S.A.D.C.) in Lusaka, Zambia, over the weekend seemed a waste of time and resources. The summit proffered no solutions, but instead urged the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to release the results with speed in terms of the law.

In a crusty comment, the privately owned Zimbabwe Independent noted on Thursday that the ZANU-PF government had started to dispute results that have not been made public and claimed voters who supported the opposition did not have ideological depth and therefore made the wrong decision:

The party [ZANU-PF] cannot stomach defeat. It is in denial that Zimbabweans have rejected its corrupt and incompetent administration.…

What we have here is a coup by stealth. The role of the commission should be to give the election a semblance of transparency and fairness in line with the S.A.D.C. Mauritius protocol. It should represent the interests of the voters, not the parochial and self-serving ends of a dictatorial regime. The commission has failed to display its impartial credentials. Today its behavior gives the impression that it has become another layer of the ZANU-PF government bureaucracy which has been roped in to protect a bad loser.

M.D.C. economic adviser Eddie Cross, in his widely publicized regular e-mail post on Friday, said it was time for Mugabe to face the truth and fast:

"We have been very patient and tolerant of ZANU-PF behavior—as have the whole region and Africa as a whole. But now it is time to stand up and say no more! If the election results are not announced soon or the crisis resolved by S.A.D.C. leaders, we have said we will call on the country to basically shut down until they do, from next Tuesday."

The ineffectiveness of South Africa's policy of quiet diplomacy on Zimbabwe has become legendary. It would have come as a surprise if the S.A.D.C. had resolved to take a tough stand against Mugabe even though the S.A.D.C. chairman, President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia, described Zimbabwe as a house on fire.

Mugabe was a no show at the summit but denied that he was snubbing the gathering when he met Mbeki, who had made a brief stopover in Harare en route to Zambia.

Mbeki's possible successor, African National Congress president Jacob Zuma, was forthright about the situation in Zimbabwe:

Zimbabwe is something we need to take very serious note of.… We have never heard of elections being conducted and counted and the commission not allowing the result. I have never heard of this. It is only in Zimbabwe. It is unprecedented. I think we should urge and plead with our brothers and sisters to resolve the problem so that Zimbabwe will not be plunged into a more serious crisis."

Even before the results of the presidential elections were known, ZANU-PF had confirmed that it wanted a re-run election. The M.D.C. fears this would be undemocratic because of the mass intimidation campaign and the high possibility of vote rigging. Reports were rife that ZANU-PF supporters and security agents were on a terror campaign to intimidate villagers to vote for Mugabe in the looming run-off with Tsvangirai.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission was expected to recount votes in 23 constituencies, a lengthy exercise that analysts say will give ZANU-PF plenty of opportunities to rig the vote.

Maybe Zimbabweans should not be scratching their heads about where the presidential poll results are. Re-appointed Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told state television that a run-off was definite:

"We have the results in our drawers and so a run-off is definite. We (ZANU-PF) remain the most popular political party and we will win the run-off overwhelmingly."

As Zimbabwe awaited the High Court ruling on the M.D.C. application, the government-owned Chronicle warned in an editorial on Saturday:

The Western media has been deliberately peddling falsehoods on the situation in the country and some of the reports are meant to incite the electorate into engaging in violence. Political leaders should avoid whipping up the people's emotions unnecessarily and, in our view, it is premature at this stage to ask regional bodies to intervene in the situation in Zimbabwe. Contrary to Western media reports, there is no crisis in Zimbabwe and the people and the leadership have the capacity to overcome whatever challenges the country is facing.

On Monday, the High Court rejected the M.D.C.'s petition to order the immediate release of results from the presidential election, while the opposition confirmed its call for a general strike from Tuesday.

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