only search

This week's editor

NSS, editor

Niki Seth-Smith is a freelance journalist and contributing editor to 50.50.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

In the run-up to the elections, a young Zimbabwean writes an open letter to the President to offer an alternative vision for the country. Meanwhile Vivian Pevsner has worked as a researcher in Zimbabwe, and Alice Gozo spent five formative years there in the 1990s. In a wide-ranging dialogue, they discuss the country’s past and future, starting with the tremendous optimism which prevailed 10 years after independence. Yasmina Zaidman also deals in past and future: she writes in memory of Zepheniah Phiri Maseko whose conservation techniques might offer a hopeful path out of the bitter and divisive battles over land.

Seeking asylum, ending destitution

If "destitutes" across the UK can stand up and act together we can make a difference: we are ready to meet the authorities at the negotiating table, says Nancy Bonongwe.

Chinese companies under scrutiny in Zimbabwe

Ten years into the Look East policy, Zimbabwe is showing itself to be a not-so-satisfied customer of Chinese investment.

Zimbabwe: wrong way, right way

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) decided on 30 January 2009 to join a unity government for Zimbabwe in which power will ostensibly be shared between Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC. The long-delayed implementation of a compromise agreement brokered on 15 September 2008 and now reinforced by Zimbabwe's neighbours in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) may seem a plausible answer to the country's economic collapse. But the reality is that is has always been fatally flawed.

John Makumbe is professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe

Among openDemocracy's articles on Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe:

Bev Clark, "Mass evictions in Zimbabwe" (13 June 2005)

Netsai Mushonga, "Two nights in Harare's police cells" (5 December 2005)

Andrew Meldrum, "Zimbabwe between past and future" (23 June 2006)

Conor O'Loughlin, "Zimbabwean travails" (13 September 2006)

Wilf Mbanga, "Happy birthday, Robert Mugabe" (21 February 2007)

Stephen Chan, "Farewell, Robert Mugabe" (20 March 2007)

Michael Holman, "Dizzy worms in Zimbabwe" (13 September 2007)

The Zimbabwean, "Zimbabwe votes - and waits" (31 March 2008)

Wilf Mbanga, "Zimbabwe's unfolding drama" (7 April 2008)

Roger Southall, "South Africa and Zimbabwe: the end of ‘quiet diplomacy'?" (29 April 2008)

openDemocracy, ""Zimbabwe's elections: an African appeal" (20 June 2008)

Roger Southall, "The politics of pressure: the world and Zimbabwe" (28 June 2008)

Roger Southall, "Thabo Mbeki's fall: the ANC and South Africa's democracy" (30 September 2008)

Sophie Roberts, "Zimbabwe's war of disappearance" (15 December 2008)

The majority of Zimbabweans view with suspicion any political arrangement that leaves Mugabe snugly in power as head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The fact that the deal has not been implemented since it was signed attests to its defective nature. Its limitations were further confirmed by the fiasco of the talks in Harare on 19 January 2009 between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, even if the SADC leaders - at their 26-27 January meeting in Pretoria -  recommended once again that it be enforced.

It is evident that the agreement is unfairly advantageous to the incumbent president, for it will enable Robert Mugabe  to retain virtually all the executive powers that he has wielded since coming to power in 1980 - even though he lost the presidential election on 29 March 2008. It thus denies Morgan Tsvangirai, the winner of that poll, the opportunity to lead Zimbabwe out of the social and economic quagmire that Mugabe has dragged it into through his iron-fist style of governance.

A journey from ruin

There is another and better way - one that is advocated by civil-society groups in Zimbabwe - including human-rights organisations, trade unions, student movements and others - and which offers a far better prospect than leaving Robert Mugabe in power.

This is to create a transitional authority that can manage national affairs for a set period of (for example) eighteen months. During this time, this authority would oversee the drafting and adoption of a democratic constitution, after which democratic and internationally monitored elections would be held. The transitional authority would then hand over power to the legitimate winner of that election.

The civil-society groups propose that the authority be as inclusive as possible; it would include representatives of civic groups, churches, businesses, selected professional bodies and political parties, and youth and women's groups. An important aspect is that it is to comprise individuals who had no intention of standing for the proposed elections after the adoption of the new constitution.

The SADC has resisted this proposal. Instead, it again backed the agreement between the arch-rivals Mugabe and Tsvangirai that had been facilitated by South Africa's then-president, Thabo Mbeki. It is reported on 1 February 2009 that the parliament in Harare is already considering key constitutional amendments that will be rushed through in order to allow a coalition government to be established. This would allow Tsvangirai to be appointed prime minister by 11 February (according to the SADC timetable), and an appeal to lift international sanctions on Zimbabwe to become irresistible.

In these circumstances, the rest of the international community should apply pressure on the SADC to abandon the ill-fated mid-September agreement and  embrace the option of the national transitional authority as soon as possible.

The eighteen months of transitional governance of Zimbabwe would provide a desperately needed window of opportunity through which regional and international assistance could alleviate the multifaceted humanitarian catastrophe in Zimbabwe. More and more people - 60,000 according to World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates - are infected with cholera; at least 3,100 have died of the disease during the outbreak that began in August 2008. Over 80% of the population is poor and most cannot afford three meals per day.

Almost all schools and hospitals have closed - due both to lack of money to pay the teachers, nurses and doctors, and to a lack of clean water, electricity and medicine. Six of the seven state universities have remained closed since the winter vacation in May 2008. In other words, there is a whole generation of young people whose future now lies in real danger, if not in ruins; and all because of Robert Mugabe.

The party in power

Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF will resist any move towards a transitional authority. They are fully aware that handing over power to anyone, even a transitional authority, would be tantamount to committing political suicide; and that they can never win a free and fair election in Zimbabwe. There will have to be political pressure on him to secure his consent to an initiative that so many Zimbabweans support; and the leaders of Zimbabwe's neighbours are among those who will have to exert it if it is to succeed (see Roger Southall, "The politics of pressure: the world and Zimbabwe", 28 June 2008).

The recent abductions and illegal arrests of MDC activists by the notorious Central Intelligence Organisation agents, coupled with flimsy allegations that the MDC is operating militia training-bases in Botswana, are clear indications that Mugabe and Zanu-PF are not negotiating in good faith. But such repression is also effective in persuading the MDC leadership to come to the view  that a bad deal - such as the one they signed after being cajoled, if not coerced, by Thabo Mbeki - is worse than no deal.

The bottom line is that Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF have no intention of handing over power to the MDC, except under severe political pressure from both within and outside Zimbabwe. The activists gathering at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa on 26 January-3 February 2009 to highlight the "passive genocide" in their country are right; those who are prepared to consent to a political fix that will entrench its architects in power are wrong. The next few weeks will further demonstrate Zanu-PF's desperation to stay in office at all costs.

Zimbabwe’s war of disappearance

In recent days Zimbabwe's extended political and humanitarian agony has taken a sinister turn with the "disappearance" of a number of prominent figures within the Zimbabwean opposition and civil society. This phenomenon adds a new twist of fear to an already perilous situation in which the core elements of the Robert Mugabe regime seem both resistant to political compromise and indifferent even to a collapse in the health and livelihoods of Zimbabwe's people.Sophie Roberts is a doctoral candidate in the department of war studies at King's College London. Her research focuses on the phenomenon of enforced disappearance

It is estimated that around twenty opponents of the Zanu-PF regime have been made to disappear by (it is presumed) clandestine organs within the Zimbabwean state. They include the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, Jestina Mukoko, followed by two of her colleagues. Gandhi Mudzingwa, an official of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), is among the opposition figures who have also reportedly been abducted by unidentified agents (see Oskar Wermter, "Zimbabwe's disappeared", Eureka Street, 17 December 2008).

But the tactic of disappearance also belongs to a larger canvas: in that it has parallels with countries in other parts of the world (not least Latin America) where it has been used under authoritarian regimes to intimidate and quell political opposition, and with earlier periods in Zimbabwe's own history. In particular, there are strong resonances with the period of the Gukurahundi campaigns in Zimbabwe's Matabeleland region in the early 1980s, when ruthless violence - which included widespread abuse of human rights - was deployed by the state to suppress dissent.

This, Zimbabwe's first "dirty war" in the years following the country's liberation and independence in 1980, suggests an important lesson for what appears to be the signals of a second: that disappearance can acts as a "gateway abuse" from which other human-rights violations can all too easily flow.Among openDemocracy's many articles on Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe:

Bev Clark, "Mass evictions in Zimbabwe" (13 June 2005)

Netsai Mushonga, " Two nights in Harare's police cells" (5 December 2005)

Andrew Meldrum, " Zimbabwe between past and future" (23 June 2006)

Conor O'Loughlin, " Zimbabwean travails" (13 September 2006)

Wilf Mbanga, " Happy birthday, Robert Mugabe" (21 February 2007)Stephen Chan, "Farewell, Robert Mugabe" (20 March 2007)

Michael Holman, " Dizzy worms in Zimbabwe" (13 September 2007)

The Zimbabwean, " Zimbabwe votes - and waits" (31 March 2008)

Wilf Mbanga, " Zimbabwe's unfolding drama" (7 April 2008)

openDemocracy, "" Zimbabwe's elections: an African appeal" (20 June 2008)

Jabu Shoko, " Zimbabwe: a tale of two leaders" (24 June 2008)

Ashraf Ghani & Clare Lockhart, " The right and wrong fix: Afghan lessons for Zimbabwe" (27 June 2008)

Roger Southall, " Zimbabwe: the death of ‘quiet diplomacy'" (20 October 2008)

The Gukurahundi operations of the early 1980s were targeted against the Matabele people on account of their extensive support for the main opposition party Zapu (led by Mugabe's rival as chief liberation figurehead, Joshua Nkomo). The regional concentration of political loyalties meant that the "dissidents" were located mostly in the city of Bulawayo and the Midlands region. The Gukurahundi campaigns were conducted outside of the main command structure of the Zimbabwean military, and involved special training by North Korea of the army's fifth brigade to a pitch of ruthlessness; the results involved systematic targeting of civilians with degrading strategies such as sexual and electrical torture, the "submarine" (now known as waterboarding), and other forms of violence - as well as disappearance

The current deployment of military and state-security forces against Zimbabwean civilians is far less extensive and "territorial", reflecting the different nature of the challenge as perceived by the regime; but it is nonetheless highly strategic and represents a similar degree of astute and pitiless political calculation by those in control of Zimbabwe.

The sinister vanishing of well-known critics of the Robert Mugabe regime appears to show that towards the end of his third decade in power, Zimbabwe's leader is again engaging in second dirty war. Some analysts argue that this may be a sign of his desperation; but it could equally be argued that deliberately to place people beyond the protection of the law in this manner - consigning them to utter invisibility even amid a wave of international media attention - makes political and military sense in regime terms.

There is an even more intimate logic at work in that the effects of hunger and disease on Zimbabwean civilians have already allowed this government to entrench its power. As people's bodies themselves become beaten down as a result of inequitable power-relations, the turn to enforced disappearance is a further stage of bodily violation.

The current difficult circumstances of Zimbabwe's people require constant attention and pressure from media and civil society outside the country, so that the latest dirty war is exposed to the light. Zimbabwe's own civil society requires more support to ensure its message is heard within the appropriate international forums, and to persuade the Zanu-PF regime to allow human-rights bodies to visit and assess conditions in the country. The African Union and Zimbabwe's immediate neighbours also have a particular responsibility to act to help resolve Zimbabwe's political and humanitarian crisis - and in order to prevent the "gateway abuse" of disappearance from escalating into war and even genocide.

For in such circumstances - in Zimbabwe as elsewhere - it is not just individuals but accountability itself that is made to disappear. The impunity already exercised in public life can be extended to places where the world's media can no longer reach. It is significant in this respect that this most egregious of crimes - most commonly associated with the Latin American juntas of the 1970s and early 1980s, though even more widely practiced - is now the subject of a wide-ranging convention at the United Nations, which opened for signature in February 2007.

Even among the panoply of human-rights abuses, enforced disappearance so often opens the way to escalating violations: torture, rape and ultimately extra-judicial killing. In this sense, what is happening in Zimbabwe is part of both the country's own recent history and that of the modern world as a whole.

Zimbabwe: the death of “quiet diplomacy”

Harold Wilson, Britain's prime minister when Ian Smith's Rhodesia proclaimed its independence in 1965, once famously said that "a week is a long time in politics". His descendant as Labour Party leader and prime minister, Gordon Brown, responded to the lightning-speed of events during the current financial crash by jocularly updating the phrase to "an hour....". For his part, South Africa's former president Thabo Mbeki might regard a month as the appropriate length of time for the wisdom to take hold - for it has taken just this period for the Zimbabwean power-sharing agreement he mediated to turn from new dawn to cold ashes. Roger Southall is honorary research professor in the sociology of work programme, University of the Witwatersrand

Also by Roger Southall in openDemocracy:

"South African lessons for Kenya" (8 January 2008)

"South Africa and Zimbabwe: the end of ‘quiet diplomacy'?" (29 April 2008)

"The politics of pressure: the world and Zimbabwe" (28 June 2008)

"Thabo Mbeki's fall: the ANC and South Africa's democracy" (30 September 2008)

Mbeki's resignation as South Africa's president on 21 September 2008 followed a high-court ruling that favoured his great political rival Jacob Zuma (see "Thabo Mbeki's fall: the ANC and South Africa's democracy", 13 October 2008). A bleak moment, but amid the retreat from office there was the simultaneous comfort of widespread accolades for what many deemed to be the eventual triumph of his much-criticised "quiet-diplomacy" effort to bring a political settlement in Zimbabwe. The problem is that the two events were in reality connected: for Mbeki's ejection helped precipitate the collapse of the deal - between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai - in which he had invested so much of his political capital.

The road from Harare

The quiet-diplomacy strategy - designed to reconcile Robert Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Front-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) and Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) - had long been regarded as ineffective, even futile, in face of the intransigence of Mugabe and his regime. But in the end, after many tortuous problems and numerous stand-offs, it seemed to work. In Harare for the signing ceremony on 15 September 2008, the three central figures - Mbeki, Mugabe and Tsvangirai - all shook hands and beamed smiles for the cameras. The two Zimbabweans pledged themselves to an agreement which would move Zimbabwe forward - even though their hostile or indifferent body-language told its own story. It was a brief, and it as it has turned out illusory, moment of hope.

The road from Harare began in Pretoria, with a high-court ruling that South Africa's presidency had interfered in the national prosecuting authority (NPA's) attempted prosecution of African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma on corruption charges. The result - within a fortnight, equally a long time in politics - was a decision of the ANC's national executive committee that left Mbeki no option but to resign, soon to be replaced by Kgalema Motlanthe. In so doing, the ANC also collapsed the already shaky foundations of the proposed agreement in Zimbabwe - for although Mbeki retained his role as mediator, he had now lost whatever authority he had as president. Robert Mugabe was laughing. 

The threads of a deal turned to shards. It had all looked different when Zanu-PF's defeat in the parliamentary elections of 29 March 2008 provoked the regime to intensify violence throughout the country - in turn leading Morgan Tsvangirai ultimately to withdraw from the presidential election of 27 June. This left Mugabe unchallenged and able to claim the formal legality of a victorious re-election; but his international credibility was in shreds, with support for him visibly draining even within the Southern African Development Community (SADC).  There were reports too of Mugabe's erstwhile ally China becoming impatient with the recalcitrance of its latest client regime, and wanting a settlement which would promise an end to political unpredictability and greater security of its growing involvement in Zimbabwean mining.Among openDemocracy's many articles on Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe:

Bev Clark, "Mass evictions in Zimbabwe" (13 June 2005)

Netsai Mushonga, "Two nights in Harare's police cells" (5 December 2005)

Andrew Meldrum, "Zimbabwe between past and future" (23 June 2006)

Conor O'Loughlin, "Zimbabwean travails" (13 September 2006)

Wilf Mbanga, "Happy birthday, Robert Mugabe" (21 February 2007)

Stephen Chan, "Farewell, Robert Mugabe" (20 March 2007)

Michael Holman, "Dizzy worms in Zimbabwe" (13 September 2007)

The Zimbabwean, "Zimbabwe votes - and waits" (31 March 2008)

Wilf Mbanga, "Zimbabwe's unfolding drama" (7 April 2008)

openDemocracy, ""Zimbabwe's elections: an African appeal" (20 June 2008)

Mugabe's regime was increasingly isolated; the economy was in tatters, withmost of the country's population starving; the option of sending out signals of willingness to accommodate with the MDC seemed unavoidable. This allowed Thabo Mbeki to think that the moment of "quiet diplomacy's" triumph had come. But if crisis can be opportunity, opportunity can be danger: and so it proved for Morgan Tsvangirai, for Mugabe's determination to retain the presidency and his regime's refusal to stand down meant that the MDC leader faced the choice of either walking away from the situation or seeking some sort of second-best deal.

Tsvangirai's dilemma

If he walked away, he faced the possibility that Mugabe would cobble together an agreement with Arthur Mutambara (leader of the MDC's minority faction);  this would complicate the political situation while doing nothing to prevent the continuing collapse of the economy. If he made a deal, he could at least try to reverse the trend of events by attracting support from moderate elements within Zanu-PF away from Mugabe.

Tsvangirai's strength in these circumstances was that only a deal which genuinely shared significant power between the MDC and Zanu-PF could unlock the door to international legitimacy and life-giving international aid and credit; his weakness was that Mugabe still had the brute power of state forces behind army him - whereas the MDC's supporters were so battered, bruised and hungry they were unwilling to risk further physical confrontation with the president's thugs, police and army. 

Tsvangirai had long been highly distrustful of Mbeki, accusing him - with justification - of having cosseted Mugabe. But over several weeks he allowed himself to be lured into a deal, which on paper looked workable. Robert Mugabe would remain as executive president, with Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister; Zanu-PF would hold fifteen ministries,the MDC thirteen and Mutambura's MDC faction three (providing a united MDC with a notional majority); Zanu-PF would retain the ministry of defence (thereby avoiding or postponing the MDC's day of reckoning with the army), but the MDC would fill the home-affairs ministry (responsible for the police) as well as finance; and while Mugabe refused to concede the ultimate right to appoint ministers to the cabinet, Mbeki achieved a compromise whereby a council of ministers would supervise the cabinet.

Even on paper there were dangerous ambiguities - especially over who would wield effective power. It was known that key players within the military hierarchy and Zanu-PF politburo remained opposed to any accommodation with Tsvangirai, so it was far from certain that they would honour the letter (let alone the spirit) of any deal. Furthermore, many argued that the MDC's control of the finance ministry would be useless unless it could also take control of Zimbabwe's reserve bank, which controls foreign-exchange allowances and the printing of money. Nonetheless, Tsvangirai - who in any case leans instinctively towards compromise rather than confrontation - acceded under Mbeki's lobbying to signing a deal in mid-September which seemed to bring the MDC to the edge of power. At the same time he signed before Mugabe's concession of key ministries was confirmed - so the haggling continued even after Mbeki had returned to Pretoria.

Mbeki's enforced resignation now changed the game-plan. South Africa's attention was diverted from Harare to Pretoria, the nation absorbed by the sudden appointment of Jacob Zuma's deputy Kgalema Motlanthe to the presidency. Mugabe's luck was reinforced when global capitalism went into a tailspin, rendering Zimbabwe even more of a sideshow. Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma insisted that Mbeki would continue to serve as a mediator in Zimbabwe to bring the deal to a close, but his leverage was now undermined.

The hawks in Harare - always concerned that Mugabe might give away too much - chose to take full advantage. They insisted that the process be thrown into reverse, and demanded unilateral actions that would negate both the spirit and the letter of the negotiations. Thus Mugabe announced the appointment of Zanu-PF stalwarts Joyce Mujiru and Joseph Msika as vice-presidents, and threatened to renege on promises previously given that key ministries would be granted to the MDC. Tsvangirai blustered, and threatened to pull out; the unthroned Mbeki returned to Harare to hold things together. But he was now, visibly, yesterday's man. Mugabe's continuing prevarication and Tsvangirai's lack of muscle mean only that negotiations drag on with no immediate end in sight.

A lesson in power

Zimbabwe is bankrupt: inflation (officially 231,000,000% but estimated by many economists as over four time this figure) has tipped the economy towards both pre-monetary bartering and dollarisation; some 3 million of the most able Zimbabweans have left the country, most to South Africa, to find work; around 6 million people of those who remain are living in desperate food-insecurity (often on the verge of starvation), and heavily dependent upon remittances of food and finance from their relatives outside the country.

It has been said often that the disastrous collapse of Zimbabwe's economy will translate into the collapse of Robert Mugabe's regime. Such predictions have until now always been proved wrong. The military men who stand behind Mugabe remain bitterly resistant to conceding power: worried about being prosecuted for human-rights offences by a successor government; concerned about losing the farms they seized from white farmers; and fearful of losing their access to the foreign currency handed out at favourable rates to Zanu-PF cronies by the central bank. For the moment they are digging in, reckoning that Thabo Mbeki is unlikely to have the unambiguous support of an ANC government now distracted by internal rebellion (as pro-Mbeki rivals threaten to break away to form a new party) and its own mounting financial problems. The more political tensions grow within the ANC, the less will the Motlanthe government want to risk Mbeki staging a belated diplomatic triumph. Quiet diplomacy is dead.

True, common sense and the work of time would seem to dictate that the Mugabe regime's days are numbered. History, at some point, will indeed sweep him and his cronies away. But Mugabe and his generals are still playing for time, and as long as they can continue to gain access to arms and foreign currency they are likely to continue to lead all other players in what is to them a charade of cynical political manipulation. 

If the dollars threaten to dry up - a prospect brought closer by the relapse in global-minerals markets - then in theory the attraction of power-sharing with the MDC should increase. It is possible, then, that the coming weeks might see the installation of Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister as formal head of an MDC-led coalition government. That in turn might open the door to financial stabilisation, aid and relief - although even that is now brought into question by global financial turbulence and donors' tightening budgets.

Even if events take this new twist, however, there can be no change in Zimbabwe's regime until the state's military backing is vanquished. This is the nettle that South African mediation has continuously failed to grasp. The lesson of the power-sharing agreement that failed is that only a power-struggle will unseat Robert Mugabe and his regime.

The right and wrong fix: Afghan lessons for Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe might be entering into an "open moment". After what has turned out to be a presidential election with just one candidate, the situation could swiftly move from the coronation of the incumbent, Robert Mugabe, to a transition beyond him. The accumulating criticism of the unaccountable power and brutality of the regime he leads, particularly (as Roger Southall outlines in openDemocracy) from Zimbabwe's neighbours and Mugabe's erstwhile allies, is creating momentum for a post-Mugabe order: one where Zimbabweans are offered the opportunity of genuine citizenship, where they will become bearers of rights and obligations specified in a stable regime of laws.

Zimbabwe: a tale of two leaders

The announcement by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai that he will not contest the second round of the presidential election scheduled for 27 June 2008 comes amid increasing violence in urban areas of Zimbabwe - and signals of concern among Robert Mugabe's erstwhile African allies at events in the country.

Zimbabwe’s election: an African appeal

It is crucial for the interests of both Zimbabwe and Africa that the elections on 27 June 2008 are free and fair.

Zimbabweans fought for liberation in order to be able to determine their own future. Great sacrifices were made during the liberation struggle. To live up to the aspirations of those who sacrificed, it is vital that nothing is done to deny the legitimate expression of the will of the people of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe: the day democracy died

This morning I woke up to the sound of my cellphone beeping messages about what was happening in Harare. The day started to roller-coaster forwards from there, fuelled by adrenaline and anxiety.

While I was scrambling to get the pages of the blog to open up to add news received via sms and emails, the question going through my mind the whole time was: “Will the MDC call the rally off or not?” At that stage my mind hadn’t reached far enough forwards to contemplate whether they might consider pulling out of the 27 June run-off.

Zimbabwe's unfolding drama

Wilf Mbanga is founder, editor and publisher of The Zimbabwean, an independent newspaper based in England and circulated widely in southern Africa

Also by Wilf Mbanga in openDemocracy:

"The African Union: what's in a name?" (27 January 2006)

"Happy Birthday, Robert Mugabe" (21 February 2007) openDemocracy has published many articles in collaboration with The Zimbabwean; for a list click here

Zimbabwe votes - and waits

Francis Mushangwe tied his chicken to the fence around the polling station on the outskirts of Makonde before casting his vote in Zimbabwe's sixth general election on Saturday 29 March 2008.

Happy birthday, Robert Mugabe

To the man I once loved:

Do you remember when we first met, in 1974? I was 27, you were nearing 50. The elder brother. Mukoma. We clicked immediately. Something about my youth and eagerness touched you. I hero-worshipped you. As you articulated your vision for freedom from colonial oppression I honestly believed you were the right person to lead our country out of bondage.

The Commonwealth: punching below weight

We punch above our weight, claimed Commonwealth leaders who held their biennial heads-of-government summit (CHOGM) in the Ugandan capital Kampala on 23-25 November 2007.

Who did they think they were fooling?

Far from having a disproportionate influence on world affairs, the Commonwealth comes across as a punch-drunk fighter living on past memories and false hopes: not trading blows on center-stage, but shadow-boxing outside the main ring, where the real action is taking place.

Farewell, Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe's retort to western condemnation of his brutal suppression of opposition protesters in mid-March 2007 was typical, defiant, fighting talk. "Go hang", was his message to the west - although it was as much a message to African presidents. The Tanzanian president, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, had just paid him an unscheduled visit and had (in private) expressed deep concern. Even the normally uncritical South African and Zambian governments voiced worry about concern about events north and south of their border. To Africa, Zimbabwe and Mugabe are a deep embarrassment.

Dizzy worms in Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe’s despotic rule has brought Zimbabwe to its knees. An emergency recovery programme, coordinated by the Commonwealth and made accessible to Zimbabweans at home and abroad, could become a catalyst for change, writes Michael Holman.

Zimbabwean travails

The people of Robert Mugabe's fiefdom are staggering under a weight of poverty, repression and social collapse. But they keep hope alive, reports Conor O'Loughlin.

Zimbabwe between past and future

Zimbabwe's ruthless leader Robert Mugabe is sowing the seeds of his regime's demise, says Andrew Meldrum.

'The Zimbabwean' in danger

Robert Mugabe's media bullies are trying to stifle free expression about the failings of his regime.

Fear and loathing in Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe's cronies are worried and his party deep in debt. "The Zimbabwean" reports on a regime rotting from within.

Zimbabwe's unending crisis

Chinese friends, emigrating faith-healers, and baton-wielding police are all part of Zimbabwe's slow collapse, reports "The Zimbabwean".

Zimbabwe reforms bite government where it hurts

The Zimbabwean reports that while the government extends its disastrous economic reforms, its own power base in the security forces is weakening through discontent and hardship.

Zimbabwe needs tolerance and diversity

The senate election and the opposition MDC split are further evidence of Zimbabwe’s meltdown. The HIV/Aids calamity is just one of its symptoms.

A glimmer of change in Zimbabwe

A low turnout, an easy ruling-party win - but Zimbabwe's senate elections could yet prove a turning-point in Zimbabwean politics, says Andrew Meldrum.

Two nights in Harare's police cells

Fifty hours’ detention in Harare Central Police Station gave civil-rights activist Netsai Mushonga an unmatched insight into the decay of Robert Mugabe’s regime

Zimbabwe's election blues



Wilf Mbanga: An exercise in futility

The Zimbabwean senate elections on Saturday 26 November 2005 are an exercise in utter futility. They mean nothing. They will change nothing. Millions will continue to suffer. Mugabe and his henchmen have not even bothered to go out and campaign.

They probably won’t even bother to rig the results. What’s the point? It’s much more fun to sit back and watch the two warring Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) factions fight it out between themselves.

The only thing that can hurt the ruling thievocracy now is a massive stay-away from the polls. In the past Zanu-PF has been happy with a fairly low turnout – knowing that a high poll will favour the opposition. But this time around they need the people to vote.

If they don’t, the whole thing will be seen for the meaningless sham it is – an elaborate and costly exercise to warehouse the party geriatrics who have been rejected by the people but who refuse to die quietly. And as power inexorably slips away from him, the aging Mugabe indulges in one more desperate throw of the dice to buy influence and support.

We at The Zimbabwean would like to throw our weight behind the ZCTU in urging Zimbabwean citizens “find something else to do on Saturday”. This election has nothing to do with the people of Zimbabwe. It will serve only to impoverish them further.

It will not reduce inflation, now over 400%, create jobs, build homes, heal the sick, provide seeds or fertiliser, or repeal unjust laws. Even if the MDC wins all the twenty-six seats it is contesting, Zanu-PF already has twenty-four uncontested ones in the bag, with a further sixteen to be appointed by the president – a total of forty out of the sixty-six-member senate.

back to top

Wilf Mbanga: Spy-deal confusion

The wide-ranging military pact sealed in Cape Town on 17 November between Zimbabwe’s intelligence minister, Didymus Mutasa, and his South Africa counterpart, Ronnie Kasrils, has been the subject of confused debate ever since. Almost before the ink is dry, the deal – especially its intelligence-sharing component – has run into problems.

The confusion reveals a fundamental difference between the two nations in the definition and interpretation of what constitutes security – and who is their enemy. The issue aptly demonstrates just how difficult it is for a democracy to get into bed with a dictatorship.

Wilf Mbanga is editor of the weekly newspaper The Zimbabwean

openDemocracy articles on Zimbabwe’s humanitarian and political crises include:

Novel Chivukanyanga, “Those in government” (December 2003)

Andrew Meldrum, “Who won Zimbabwe’s election?” (April 2005)

Wilf Mbanga, “The end of Mugabe?” (October 2005)

If you find this material valuable please consider supporting openDemocracy by sending us a donation so that we can continue our work for democratic dialogue

The Zimbabwean perception of the deal was graphically illustrated by the fact that super-spook Aggrey Maringa, evidently cock-a-hoop that the neighbouring country had agreed to do his dirty work for him, gave an interview to the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times. This is unprecedented for the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), normally secretive to the point of paranoia.

Maringa was happy to send a thinly-coded warning to any “enemies” of Zimbabwe, who thought they might be safe in South Africa, that the evil eye of the CIO now extends across the Limpopo: “There are some NGOs under the microscope ... we will be comparing notes. We have not given each other prescriptions as to boundaries”.

This unbridled enthusiasm from across the border understandably rang alarm bells – particularly with the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) – and the South Africans were forced to issue a woolly denial.

The Zimbabwean definition of enemy had been clearly spelled out by Didymus Mutasa in Cape Town: “NGOs and journalists are the greatest threats to Zimbabwe’s stability”. By contrast, Kasrils made it clear that the South Africans think the deal is about international terrorism, syndicated crime, drug- and people-smuggling and money-laundering.

Rafeek Shah, DA spokesman, said South Africa had to treat with the greatest reserve any information given by Zimbabwe:

"It must be remembered that the Zimbabwean government's current understanding of human rights and legitimate comment and criticism is grossly dysfunctional. They regard even the mildest criticism as being treasonous, and President Mugabe is notorious for making hysterical accusations that foreign-funded NGOs are trying to overthrow his government. South Africa must not fall into that trap. People and organisations have the fullest right to operate within the bounds of our constitution and our law, and if they are critical of the Zimbabwean government, this is probably a plus factor..."

This harsh criticism forced intelligence ministry spokesperson Lorna Daniels to deny any SA monitoring of NGOs: “The issue of NGOs has not come up in the bilateral talks. We will only investigate an organisation if it aims to undermine constitutional democracy”.

The Democratic Alliance was also concerned about South Africa strengthening its relations with "a military that is responsible for ongoing human rights abuses by bringing in Zimbabwean trainers to teach (South African) pilots".

The brouhaha is particularly interesting in light of President Thabo Mbeki’s recent unprecedented attack on foreign-funded NGOs. He told a group of African editors and an African peer-review conference that he was worried about the influence of some NGOs because “their agendas are set by donors and not by the needs of Africa”.

back to top

Woza: A time for dignity

More than 400 members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza) took to the streets of Bulawayo and Harare on 17 November in protest against the holding of the senate elections instead of dignifying Zimbabweans with food, water, housing and basic needs.

The women were able to complete their demonstrations and disperse before riot police could arrive. Information to hand indicates that four women were arrested after the protest, whom lawyers are attempting to have released.

Woza has conducted over thirty protests in its three-year existence and more than 800 women have spent up to forty-eight hours in custody, some more than once. On 31 March 2005, more than 265 women and twenty babies spent a night in custody after conducting a prayer-vigil on election-night.

In the marches, women carried placards with differing messages, including “senate will make us poorer”, “we are starving” and “senate is not a priority”. They distributed Woza’s newsletter, Woza Moya (“come healing wind”), sang songs like Amalungelo (“we are fighting for our rights”) and chanted Tairamba Senate (“we have refused the senate”).

In Harare women marched towards parliament and left their placards and flyers there. The riot police approached, walking very slowly; most of the women had already dispersed before they arrived.

In Bulawayo, as women gathered to prepare for the march – the ninth Woza demonstration in the city this year – three busloads carrying approximately 250 members of the youth militia arrived, parked and disembarked. Leaders had to keep a cool head and waited to determine if the Woza march was on the notorious brigade’s agenda. Very soon though, they walked off to queue at a nearby bank, obviously hoping to obtain a few pennies for themselves.

The demonstration then proceeded along Fife Avenue to offices of The Chronicle newspaper where the women left their placards and fliers before dispersing. The Chronicle reached the streets the next day without a mention of the Woza demonstration – further evidence that there is no freedom of the press in Zimbabwe, even when the news happens right on the press’s doorstep!

As the women dispersed, they saw riot-police and law-and-order vehicles speeding towards The Chronicle. Once again Woza had caught them napping! The leaders of Woza are currently in safe houses, foiling the normal police attempts to arrest them in their homes after failing to get them at their “place of work” in the streets.

Woza is part of the “speak out coalition” that calls for a boycott of the senatorial elections. The group is asking citizens to participate in a protest referendum offering a straight choice: vote for the senate and more poverty vs boycott the senate and vote for dignity.

This is an activist, grassroots, door-to-door campaign being conducted in both urban and rural areas. Its results will be announced next week. For more information, please email

back to top

Zimbabwe's opposition: a house divided

Robert Mugabe’s regime is as oppressive as ever, but the opposition Movement for Democratic Changes is busy fighting itself. Wilf Mbanga, editor of “The Zimbabwean”, hears MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s version.

Thabo Mbeki in Zimbabwe

Two reports from this week’s issue of The Zimbabwean show deep South African involvement in the politics of Zimbabwe – from keeping its neighbour’s military afloat to meddling in Harare’s opposition wrangles

The end of Mugabe?

Wilf Mbanga, editor of “The Zimbabwean”, reveals members of the ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have held secret meetings in London and Washington to discuss plans for a new Zimbabwe after Robert Mugabe.

Zimbabwe's empty gestures, empty stomachs

Two reports from “The Zimbabwean” reveal the endemic crisis of a state offering food to the wealthiest country on the planet while inflicting violence and starvation on its own people.

Zimbabwe inside and out

openDemocracy continues its collaboration with The Zimbabwean, publishing two stories from this week’s edition that shed light on life for Zimbabweans, both inside and outside of Robert Mugabe’s ailing nation.

Zimbabwe's calvary

Zimbabweans are facing new dangers at home and no respite when they flee.

Zimbabwe's paper dreams

Robert Mugabe’s government is locking the country’s exit doors, shutting its citizens’ minds – and creating a nation of mathematical geniuses. Three reports from “The Zimbabwean” on life under Zanu-PF.

Zimbabwean stories

In openDemocracy’s continuing collaboration with “The Zimbabwean” newspaper, we republish four short articles which chart the humanitarian consequences of Robert Mugabe’s repressive policies.

A tale of great loss

Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe is crushing the lives and hopes of its citizens. In the first in a series of collaborations with “The Zimbabwean” newspaper, openDemocracy republishes Jeremiah Kure’s account of a disillusion so profound he is preparing to quit the land he loves.

Mass evictions in Zimbabwe

The destruction of townships in Robert Mugabe’s Operation Murambatsvina (“drive out the rubbish”) campaign is both naked assertion of power and challenge to Zimbabwe’s political opposition, says human-rights campaigner Bev Clark.
Syndicate content