Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Mugabe Set for 'Ugly' Campaign

President kicks off election campaign that seems certain to be disfigured by violence.
By Chiedza Banda

Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe has launched his ruling ZANU PF party’s general election campaign with a blistering attack on British prime minister Tony Blair, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.


Wearing a bandana in Zimbabwe’s national colours, Mugabe denounced Blair as a liar, Rice as a slave of white men, and Tsvangirai as a stooge of the West.


The bitterness of Mugabe’s two-and-a-half hour tirade late on Friday, February 11, has set the tone for what now looks certain to be an ugly and violent campaign.


It came as one of the few remaining white commercial farmers was abducted and strangled to death with wire by youth militiamen and so-called war veteran supporters of Mugabe.


Norwegian-born Ole Sunde, 66, became the 13th white farmer to die in ZANU PF’s land invasion campaign. His assailants seized him on his Musozowa Farm, near Banket, northwest of Harare, and drove him into nearby forest where he was killed.


Commercial Farmers Union president Doug Taylor-Freeme said Sunde had serious head in juries and had been strangled with wire. It was impossible to establish an official cause of death because Zimbabwe’s last forensic pathologist resigned and quit the country nine months ago.


Two of Sunde’s white neighbours who went to his assistance were also abducted and, as yet, their fate remains unknown.


The Sunde attack is expected to trigger a series of attacks on the 400 remaining white farmers. In 2000, when the president gave the signal to war veterans, party supporters and youth militiamen to invade agricultural land, there were 5000 white commercial farmers, whose produce made Zimbabwe the breadbasket of Africa. Taylor-Freeme said 20 white farming families still in the Banket area immediately quit their properties after Sunde’s murder and moved into flats in Harare.


“The man you call Blair, I call him B-liar,” Mugabe told a rally of 3000 wildly cheering ZANU PF supporters at the election campaign launch rally at the Harare International Conference Centre. “I say this because he goes around telling lies to the rest of Europe that the problem in Zimbabwe is one of lack of democracy, lack of human rights and lack of transparency.


“It is now again the time to demonstrate to the world that it is we who established democracy in Zimbabwe. We taught the British what democracy for Zimbabwe was.”


As the president said the March 31 poll would be an “anti-Blair election”, banners were unfurled which read, “2005 election – time to bury Blair and his puppets”; “2005 anti-Blair election – Blair keep your England, I’ll keep my Zimbabwe”; and “Zimbabwe will never be a colony again”.


Turning to Rice, Mugabe, who will turn 81 later this month, said, “The white man is the slave master to her. She says Zimbabwe is one of the five or six outposts of tyranny. Ah well, she has got to echo her master’s voice.” It was the first time Mugabe had responded to Rice’s branding of Zimbabwe as an outpost of tyranny along with North Korea, Cuba, Belarus, Burma and Iran.


The president labelled Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, which came close to toppling ZANU PF and Mugabe in the last parliamentary election in 2000, a stooge of the West who had lobbied the US, the European Union and Britain to impose sanctions on his own country


“Morgan Tsvangirai, you sold out to the whites,” said Mugabe. “It is you who has invited Blair, it is you that has lobbied for sanctions that affect the same people that you want to vote for you.


“Time and time again you run to Blair, (US President George) Bush. What do you want them to do? We are a sovereign people, sovereignty derived from the fact of our independence in 1980. We are masters of our land. Do we need Blair or Bush or anyone to think for us?”


Mugabe said because Zimbabwe was a democratic country, the MDC was free to campaign anywhere in Zimbabwe without fear. “Let anyone else who wants to participate come into the arena,” he said. “They are free to seek for votes. We know they will lose. When we win they will say elections were rigged. Rest assured, you will hear that many times. You will hear Blair saying there is no democracy.”


Britain and other western countries have backed an assertion by the MDC that ZANU-PF rigged 2000 parliamentary elections and a presidential vote two years later in which Mugabe won another six years in office. ZANU-PF insists it won fairly. The MDC last week lifted a threat to boycott this year's polls, saying it would take part although it doubted the contest would be free or fair.


Political analysts say the elections are almost certain to return ZANU-PF to power, prolonging a political and economic crisis they say has ruined the once prosperous southern African country.


A flavour of the way the coming poll is likely to be skewed towards the ruling party came in a new government edict banning opposition and independent candidates from canvassing support among army, air force, police and prison personnel, all of them considered to be part of the bedrock of ZANU PF’s grip on power since independence 25 years ago.


Commanders at army, police and prison camps have in the past few weeks refused the candidates permission to hold meetings or distribute manifestoes in their barracks where thousands of service personnel live with their families. ZANU PF candidates and government ministers have been entering freely to canvas for support.


Harare lawyer and senior MDC candidate Tendai Biti, who was refused entry into Chikurubi prison complex, east of the capital, said, “It is unconstitutional and immoral to bar the opposition from campaigning in camps and barracks. Uniformed officers must be given the right of choice. Politicians must be allowed to campaign freely if Zimbabwe is a democratic country.”


Just before the 2002 presidential election, controversially won by Mugabe, the country’s army, air force, police, prison and secret service chiefs declared in a joint statement that they would not allow anyone to take over the country who did not fight in Zimbabwe’s 1970s independence war. Tsvangirai, a trade unionist, was an opponent of the former white government but did not become a guerrilla fighter.


The statement was seen as a clear threat to stage a coup should Tsvangirai win the presidential election.


Chiedza Banda is the pseudonym of the IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.