Simply this: the urban poor and working-class were cheated. The rural poor were intimidated into supporting a government whose costs to them now far outweigh the limited benefits (for 130,000 households) of the ineffectual land redistribution strategy that began in 2000. And the regional super-power collaborated to the full.
Consider the past quarter century of political repression meted out to opponents of Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF. During the 1980s, an initial round of strikes and land invasions was suppressed by the new government; approximately 20,000 people of Ndebele ethnicity were killed in horrendous massacres; single women were rounded up in urban raids; students were regularly beat up when they objected to declining living standards and corruption; workers were targeted from the late 1980s when Mugabe lost control of the trade unions; and the urban poor suffered police shootings during mid/late-1990s IMF Riots.
Who was fighting back? Grassroots efforts for change peaked in February 1999 with the Working People’s Convention, birthing the MDC and producing a progressive manifesto. However, funding from and alliances with white farmers and imperialists, including US state agencies, led to moderation. Mugabe quickly labeled the MDC’s leader Morgan Tsvangirai, former head of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, as “Tsvangison” the “boy” serving tea to the Blair/Bush global regime.
How did Mugabe do it this time? A few days after the count, the MDC’s Eddie Cross reported, “A message passed on to Tsvangirai from a state security agent said the MDC had in fact ‘won’ in 94 of the 120 seats.” Whatever the genuine will of the people added up to, Mugabe ensured it was suppressed. From Pretoria, his ally South African president Thabo Mbeki sent carefully censored ‘observer teams’ to declare the result ‘the will of the people.’
Add to that the years of intimidation of opposition voters, practically no access for the opposition to the state-controlled media, the closure of the country’s only independent daily newspaper, the shutting out of foreign observers and correspondents, the redrawing of constituency boundaries to eliminate several safe MDC seats and make others marginal, a hopelessly outdated voters roll which opened the way for nearly two million ‘ghost’ votes to be cast, and you begin to get the picture.
Simply, Zanu PF captured the vote processing procedure. Local analysts say the theft worked in 2000 and 2002 when Zanu PF counted trucked-in ballots centrally. Results were faxed to Mugabe’s home, where they were altered and sent back. This time, things were more difficult because counting was done at voting stations, from where the numbers were sent to the constituency centres.
Polling agents were forced to sign affidavits swearing secrecy to station procedures. This indicates the importance of the ghost voters – the MDC claims 2.7 million – appearing on a terribly inaccurate voter’s roll of 5.7 million. Says Cross, “These were manipulated and used to pad out areas where Zanu PF felt they could dominate the election campaign and control the electoral process.”
There were dozens of similar incidents, amounting to at least 200,000 extra votes beyond the Commission’s original tallies. Even the African Union’s chief election observer, who first endorsed the poll, has since called for an investigation.
Last August the MDC announced a ‘suspension’ of participation on grounds that the minimum conditions set by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), including freedom of association, access to mass media, and a truly independent electoral commission, were not implemented. Matters improved noticeably after the MDC’s January announcement that it would indeed participate. SADC guidelines were flouted systematically, but not nearly as badly as in 2000 or 2002, or subsequent parliamentary by-elections.
Once Tsvangirai was cleared of a frame-up treason charge last September, he toured Africa and Europe, and pressure was undoubtedly applied there. Long-time Mugabe supporter Mbeki – who announced on March 1 that this election would be free and fair – put heavy pressure on Tsvangirai to participate.
Was it? Time will tell whether the post-election despondency across much of Zimbabwe will lift. MDC youth begged the leadership to foment protest, but more conservative voices in the national executive prevailed over the weekend. By mid-week, reports were emerging of Zanu PF’s revenge campaigns against known MDC voters especially in rural areas.
Nevertheless, Zanu PF leaders hope that the election will convince the region to forget about Zimbabwe, that their two-thirds control of parliament will allow constitutional changes and reinforce Mugabe’s rule perhaps until 2010, and that Mbeki will bring the World Bank and IMF back to the party (Mugabe has been defaulting on loans since 1999 simply because Zimbabwe ran out of foreign currency for repayment).
Even if winning was impossible, perhaps this election fray allowed the MDC to at least unveil the most manipulative political regime in a region full of venal state elites. Their challenge is to prove this decisively to the rest of society.
The Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU) attempted several times to enter Zimbabwe to strategise with the ZCTU. Several other activist groups worked hard to raise consciousness, albeit under carefully controlled conditions. The union movement, however, disappointed activists – especially in the impressive community-labour Zimbabwe Social Forum – by pulling back from pre-election threats to blockade the SA-Zimbabwe border, after severe pressure from Mbeki and his officials.
More militant South Africans reject such a role, based upon Mbeki’s appalling performance to date. Leftist activists in the Anti-Privatisation Forum and Jubilee movement engaged in a joint fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe in February, although colleagues from the Landless People’s Movement disputed criticisms of Mugabe’s messy land redistribution.