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

Tsvangirai Pulls Out of Ballot Amid Growing Violence

Opposition leader refuses to take part in what he calls a war, as ZANU-PF militias prowl the streets.
By Jabu Shoko
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's decision to pull out of the June 29 elections comes amid increasing violence in urban areas of Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai made the announcement on June 22, explaining that he did not want voters to risk their lives in the run-off which pitted him against the incumbent president, Robert Mugabe.

He said Zimbabwe was facing a war, not an election, and added, “We will not be part of that war”.

Only hours later, he sought refuge at the Dutch embassy in Harare, but diplomats said he did not ask for asylum.

His Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, says more than 80 of its supporters have been killed by ZANU-PF militias as the regime uses intimidation to recoup the electoral reverses it suffered in the March 29 polls.

The dormitory town of Chitungwiza, 30 kilometres south of the capital Harare, was tense on June 23.

“We would have expected the violence to end immediately after Tsvangirai’s move, but the opposite is happening,” said local resident Abel Marufu. “I think Mugabe is just sneering at the world and telling it whatever it thinks about him will not sway him from his chosen path.”

A day earlier, the Harare suburb of Mbare witnessed a surge in violence just as Tsvangirai announced his withdrawal. According to media reports, members of pro-regime youth groups went on the rampage and attacked local residents.

On June 23, Harvest House, the MDC’s headquarters in Harare was raided by police, who detained up to 60 people, mostly women and children who had found sanctuary there after coming under attack in their rural homes.

When the election violence began in April, it was mainly focused in rural areas, where ZANU-PF performed unexpectedly poorly in the parliamentary election and in the first-round presidential poll held the same day. The aim of the violence seemed to be to force out MDC activists so that the party would lose its capacity to organise on the ground, and to scare ordinary voters who might be considering opting for Tsvangirai.

In the last two weeks, however, the focus seems to have shifted to the towns. Groups of Mugabe supporters, some armed with knobkerries and machetes – weapons banned by the police in the run-up to the March 29 elections – have begun to appear in central business districts, townships and even in the usually quiet wealthy suburbs.

Youth militia wearing ZANU-PF insignia have been setting up impromptu roadblocks on the outskirts of towns and cities, including Harare, where they randomly stop vehicles, order the passengers out and make them chant slogans.

“Not knowing the slogan can earn you a beating or your dear life,” commented MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa.

Chamisa said that in the towns, there had been a marked increase in murders, abductions, kidnapping, intimidation and assaults on people perceived to be sympathetic to the opposition, especially in the last two weeks.

Speaking to IWPR last week, said Eldred Masunungure, a professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe, said, “Even if the violence stops today, the damage has already been done. Fear is now deeply entrenched in people’s minds…. You can’t vote at gunpoint and be expected to make a rational decision.”

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission insists the election will go ahead anyway, with Mugabe as the sole candidate.

The president’s spokesman George Charamba told CNN television on June 23 that Mugabe was determined to stand and the election commission would legitimise the outcome.

Concerned at the increasing instability in Zimbabwe, African leaders have issued unprecedented statements criticising Mugabe’s tactics.

However, analysts say this condemnation, even strongly-worded remarks from previously formerly unwavering allies Tanzania and Angola, will do little to sway the embattled Zimbabwean leader at this stage.

“In fact, the condemnations egg Mugabe on,” argued political analyst Ernest Mudzengi, director of the National Constitutional Assembly, a non-government group calling for constitutional change.

Mudzengi explained that postponing the election and accepting the kind of negotiated settlement proposed by South African president Thabo Mbeki would, for Mugabe, mean conceding that he was defeated by Tsvangirai in the first round.

“The man is arrogant and if he were to postpone the elections, he would have exposed himself. The fact of the matter is that he thrives on elections which are not free and fair, as is the case now,” said Mudzengi.

Gorden Moyo, a political analyst and executive director of the Bulawayo Agenda group, agreed that the president had gone beyond the point where he would listen to his critics.

“Mugabe is now politically deaf and politically blind. He will not listen to all these voices. He has invested too much in violence,” said Moyo.

At the same time, Moyo welcomed the new, more vocal stance taken by southern African leaders – with the exception of Mbeki, who has not spoken out against Mugabe.

“They are now flexing their muscles. It is a diplomatic coup for the sub-region. The sub-region, especially SADC [Southern African Development Community], has been a problem as it has been giving Mugabe a home. It is unfortunate that South African president Mbeki is not doing the same,” said Moyo.

Tsvangirai met Mbeki and a visiting United Nations special envoy last week. Inside sources said he told them both that he had categorical proof that Mugabe was behind the violence, including the murder of MDC activists, and furnished the South African leader with files chronicling the attacks.

Jabu Shoko is the pseudonym of a journalist in Zimbabwe.