The world is watching what may seem to be the last moments of the reign of President Robert Mugabe, the autocratic leader of the African nation of Zimbabwe.
The Hon. David Coltart, the Zimbabwean Shadow Minister for Justice and Member of Parliament for Bulawayo South said that the “Zimbabwe African National Unity Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has never been as divided as it is today.”
President Mugabe, 83, has been in power since 1980 and is known for using the state machinery, such as the police and military, to crack down on the opposition. “The Police are highly partisan and in the rural areas, food is still being used as a weapon,” said Mr. Coltart.
“The government has used state resources to purchase large numbers of tractors and ploughs which have been used in an exceptionally partisan way by ZANU-PF in what can only be described as an elaborate form of vote buying,” he added.
However, he noted that “there is growing disaffection within the Civil Service, the Military and the Police.” On top of that, President Mugabe is increasingly losing grip of his own party with a number of high ranking party officials defecting to the opposition, the latest being Mr. Simba Makoni, the former Finance Minister and senior member of Zimbabwe ZANU-PF. Mr. Makoni, plus other dissidents in ZANU-PF announced they will challenge President Robert Mugabe in 29 March polls.
Zimbabwe has the world’s highest inflation rate at 26,000% and it is estimated that just one in five people has a job. Because of the high inflation even those with jobs cannot afford to support their families.
Coltart noted that, given this, trend “Mugabe and the Governor of the Reserve Bank have relied on a combination of quasi–fiscal expenditures and the ridiculous exchange rates policy to maintain a system of patronage.” “It is the system of patronage that keeps ZANU-PF alive,” he added.
“The governor of the Reserve Bank has been printing money and spending that money on the purchase of tractors and implements which have been handed out mainly to the ZANU-PF leaders,” he said. Mr. Coltart also said that “in the current environment the government is using food as a political weapon.”
Since March 2007, President Thambo Mbeki of South Africa has been mediating talks between ZANU-PF and the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) with a goal of creating an environment for free and fair elections.
Mr. Coltart said that the opposition consented to an amendment to the Constitution which introduced fairly wide-ranging changes to the Constitution including: removal almost entirely of the executive power to appoint Members of Parliament, change in the Electoral Act to ensure that the opposition parties have access to the electoral version of the voters roll, and amending the Access to Information Act (which the government uses to effectively ban news organizations like CNN and the BBC from working in the country). “The law has been amended now, foreign journalists can work without fear of arrest and prosecution in Zimbabwe,” said Coltart.
Mr. Coltart also added that “in the course of the last three weeks President Robert Mugabe has signed into law certain amendments to the Electoral Act, Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.”
However, it is reported that these amendments have not been implemented and “President Robert Mugabe is absolutely determined that he is going ahead with his plan to have an election in March prior to the implementation of the amended Constitution,” noted Coltart.
“The situation on the ground remains as hostile to opposition as it could be,” he warned. He added that to a certain extent the election itself is irrelevant. “The most important factor playing out in Zimbabwe now is the collapse of the economy. Zimbabwe’s economic decline is now completely irreversible and indeed it is irreversible even if the opposition wins unless we get massive international assistance, that is, IMF and World Bank, the economy is likely to continue its free fall. Our manufacturing capacity has been severely undermined and even the mining sector is now under threat with the introduction to parliament of the new mining law which is designed to give 51% control of mining to Zimbabweans.”
Zimbabwe will hold elections on March 28th 2008 and it is expected that ZANU-PF will win the rural areas and MDC will win the urban areas. “As we face an election at the end of March, the prospect for a fair election is limited,” said Coltart.
Coltart also said that “there seems to be absolutely no indication that ZANU-PF intends to change its mind on the land policy.”
He also said that “the elections in many ways are irrelevant. Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF can defraud the election, manipulate the process, but the next morning after the election, they will have to wake up to the specter of hyper-inflation. They have no plan or ability to do anything about the crisis. But the economic reality is that this decline will continue and the very basis of his support will be undermined.”
With the crippling economy, Mugabe may not be able to sustain this patronage. Mr. Mugabe’s critics blame the economic crisis on his policies, especially the seizure of white-owned farms. However, President Mugabe on the other hand blames Western governments for plotting to bring him down.