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

Mugabe's Post-Election Media Blitz

Zimbabwean leader appears desperate to shore up support at home in the face of mounting criticism abroad.
By Hativagone Mushonga
In the face of growing condemnation from the international community, President Robert Mugabe is appealing to the Zimbabwean public for support as he battles for legitimacy.



In what amounts to an after-the-fact election campaign, the state-owned media have gone into overdrive to try to salvage Mugabe’s battered image after the second-round presidential election held on June 27.



The run-up to the ballot was one of the most violent election periods the country has seen, with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, saying 113 of its supporters were killed and thousands of others beaten, tortured and displaced.



The election had been conceived as a run-off between Mugabe and the MDC candidate Morgan Tsvangirai – who won more votes than the incumbent in the first round on March 29, but according to the official returns, not the majority required to be elected outright. However, Mugabe ended up as the sole candidate when his rival withdrew from the contest, citing fears that more MDC supporters would suffer acts of violence.



Advertisements now being aired on public radio every 20 minutes or so feature Mugabe thanking the nation for voting for him and for their “faith and confidence” in him.



“I feel honoured and humbled,” he says. “Our challenge today and in the years ahead is to move forward in unity, regardless of our diverse political affiliations, united by the sense of a common vision and destiny for a prosperous Zimbabwe.”



Full-page advertisements in state-run newspapers feature a younger-looking, smiling Mugabe, saying, “The people of Zimbabwe have spoken. Let us therefore continue rebuilding our nation. Thank you for rejecting recolonisation of our precious Zimbabwe by the western powers. I know you believe and I believe that all good things are possible. God bless Zimbabwe. Thank you for voting for me – thank you for voting in peace.”



The advertisements portray Mugabe as the champion of the Zimbabwean people, someone who has fought relentlessly for their sovereignty and has once again won a mandate to govern them.



However, despite this media blitz, observers say Zimbabweans will not easily forgive the president for masterminding the bloodletting in the run-up to the polls, or for the humiliation he inflicted on the electorate.



A veteran Zimbabwean journalist, who requested anonymity, told IWPR that Mugabe appeared desperate to win the legitimacy the international community, including some former allies in Africa, have refused him after what is widely seen as a sham election.



“The main aim of the advert is to prop up and polish Mugabe’s image. He seems desperate for acceptance from Zimbabweans and for them to recognise him as the legitimate president. This is the first time Mugabe has shown himself so desperate for public support,” said the journalist.



A senior official with a non-governmental organisation, who asked not to be named out of concern for his security, believes Zimbabweans will find it difficult to forgive and forget.



“His advertisements would have been more effective if he had acknowledged the violence, demanded an immediate end to it and issued a stern warning to those who continue to engage in it,” said the official.



Aside from the violence, the prospect of continuing hardship is a major concern for the electorate. With no resolution to the political crisis in sight, the government looks unlikely to find any way out of the country’s deep-set economic problems.



Rutendo Ruzvidzo, a primary school teacher, blames Mugabe for the long-running economic meltdown, and specifically for the fact that she is unable to survive on her salary and is living in near destitution.



“As long as people continue to suffer, Zimbabweans will not be able to accept Mugabe, who they believe cheated them. A thank-you message alone, without offering a solution to the economic crisis, will not win him the acceptance he wants,” she said.



“Personally, I would have preferred a message saying, ‘Thank you, Zimbabweans, for voting for me, but for the sake of national interest and for the love of my people, I have decided to step down.’ Such a message would have earned him some respect and restored him some dignity, which he desperately needs from the people of Zimbabwe.”



Alex Mukaka, who comes from the southern province of Masvingo but is currently in the capital Harare recovering from wounds he sustained during the violence, said people in the countryside would never again fully accept Mugabe because of the violence perpetrated by his security forces and youth militias.



“We were stripped of our dignity during the run-up to the election and also on election day itself. We were driven like beasts into torture bases every day. We spent whole nights in the mountains where we were intimidated and humiliated by mere youths who were not born at the time of the [1970s] liberation war. On voting day, we were herded like sheep into the polling booths where we voted against our will,” he said. “We are people who think to be treated like animals was very insulting.”



The president’s sudden desire for public approval comes against a backdrop of crumbling support from African leaders who were formerly sympathetic to his robust defiance of external criticism.



That includes countries in the immediate neighbourhood, which are members of the Southern African Development Community, SADC. One of these, Botswana, has refused to accept the results of the election, and is urging its neighbours not to recognise Mugabe as president and to suspend Zimbabwe from both the SADC and the African Union.



“As a country that practises democracy and the rule of law, Botswana does not... recognise the outcome of the presidential run-off election, and would expect other SADC member states to do the same," Foreign Minister Phandu Sekelemani said on July 4.



The Zimbabwean authorities, he said, should not be allowed to participate in SADC meetings “until such time as they demonstrate their commitment to strictly adhere to the organisation's principles”.



Hativagone Mushonga is the pseudonym of a reporter in Harare.