Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
With no respite in sight from the political and economic crises that maintain their grip on Zimbabwe, the year ahead seems even bleaker than the last for many in the country.
“There is nothing new in the new year”, quipped Raymond Majongwe, secretary general of the militant Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe. “We are still living in old houses, driving old cars and we still have an old president.”
Many Zimbabweans have been hoping that President Robert Mugabe will be voted out of power in the March elections. But as every day passes, the prospects of this happening appear to be dimming.
Despite the cracks that emerged in the ruling ZANU-PF in 2007, and an electorate wearied by the ravaged economy, the aging president has still managed to firmly entrench himself as the party’s official nominee, buoyed up by belligerent veterans of the country’s 1970s war of liberation. As Mugabe gears up to run for a sixth term with the powerful machinery of the state at his beck and call, all the signs are that he will once again sweep to victory, leaving the country stuck in the mire for another five years.
The view among conservative analysts is that Mugabe would have done better to pick a successor and pass the baton to the so-called “Young Turks” in ZANU-PF in order to secure victory in the coming elections.
But other analysts argue that recovery from debilitating economic crisis can only come from a totally new political dispensation. In their view, ZANU-PF lacks the reformers who could steer the party away from populist policies that have entrenched corruption and ruined what was once southern Africa’s second-largest economy.
During the run-up to the ZANU-PF congress in December, party loyalists, including Gender and Women’s Affairs Minister Oppah Muchinguri, insisted Mugabe should carry on indefinitely.
However, the endorsement of Mugabe as ZANU-PF’s candidate was seen by many – including some within the ruling party – as a sure way to hand victory to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
But hopes that the MDC might take advantage of a weakened ZANU-PF were dashed by continuing factionalism in the opposition as last year drew to a close.
While the main MDC faction under Morgan Tsvangirai has called for all democratic forces to come together and form a united front, Gibson Sibanda, the deputy leader of the other faction, told the media his group did not share this vision.
Another barrier to change is the failure of negotiations between ZANU-PF and the MDC mediated by the South African Development Community, SADC. Even though Tsvangirai’s members of parliament cooperated with the ruling party to get a controversial set of constitutional amendments through the legislature, he has since hinted that his party will not take part in the March elections unless there is an all-new constitution and other mechanisms to ensure a free and fair vote.
In his New Year message, Tsvangirai argued that ZANU-PF wanted to go to the polls with only “cosmetic reforms” and to “rig the outcome through a flawed process”.
“A lot of work is still pending to repair our voters’ rolls and the historically disputed electoral management system before any legitimate election with a legitimate result can take place. We maintain that an election is impossible in the next 100 days, in March 2008,” he said.
The Zimbabwean parliament fast-tracked amendments to three restrictive laws towards the end of 2007, but the opposition says the changes were merely designed to hoodwink the SADC leaders who are sponsoring the talks mediated by South African president Thabo Mbeki.
The Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Broadcasting Services Act were amended in December in record time. But as Tsvangirai noted – and as many civic groups agree - nothing has changed on the ground, with human rights abuses continuing unabated.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, handpicked by Mugabe himself, has said everything is ready for a March date and there is no going back. Its refusal to budge sets the stage for a possible boycott of the polls by the MDC.
Jethro Mpofu, a Bulawayo-based political commentator, believes a divided MDC does not bode well for the party’s chances of electoral success.
“What will save Zimbabwe is the coming together of all progressive forces under one banner to challenge ZANU-PF,” said Mpofu. “Outside that, we are in for a long fight against tyranny.”
Highlighting the pessimism that has clouded the new year, teaching union leader Majongwe said there was not much to celebrate and teachers were “entering the new year poorer than ever”.
Rural communities appear even worse off than usual. Many had hoped a good agricultural season would help alleviate their plight. The rainy season began well, but then led to flooding that could render the 2008 crop a write-off.
“Our hope for a better future lay with the rains,” said one a village elder, noting that the downpours had instead left a trail of destruction across the country.
HIV/AIDS has continued to wreak havoc, often leaving grandparents to care for young orphans.
Meanwhile, young men continue to leave the country in search of work in neighbouring southern African countries or further afield, so that they can feed their extended families,
Last month, villagers in the countryside around Tsholotsho, in Matabeleland, reported an alarming increase in the number of funerals of young expatriates who had died while working away from home.
Tsvangirai summarised the situation in his message, saying Zimbabweans would need to show “a great deal of courage, endurance and our usual resilience”.
“We are stretched to the limit. Daily, we are fighting despondency, hopelessness and state-sanctioned despair,” he said.
Yamikani Mwando is the pseudonym of a journalist in Bulawayo.
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