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Zimbabwe's election blues

About the authors
The Zimbabwean is a weekly newspaper, founded in 2004, publishing news from Zimbabwe as well as portraits of life in exile. It is available online here.
Wilf Mbanga lives in Britain in self-imposed exile having been declared an enemy of the people of Zimbabwe. He is the founder, editor and publisher of The Zimbabwean.



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.

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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”.

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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

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