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

ZANU-PF Deadly Serious About Retaining Power

President Robert Mugabe makes it clear he will stay in power even if that means civil war.
By Hativagone Mushonga
It is becoming increasingly apparent that 84-year-old President Robert Mugabe does not plan to stand down, whatever the outcome of the June 27 ballot.

Senior ZANU-PF politburo members have told IWPR that Mugabe will never cede power to someone he considers a puppet of the West. In other words, even if his challenger Morgan Tsvangirai wins the run-off vote and this is acknowledged by the electoral authorities, Mugabe will not step aside.

Mugabe and his allies are now threatening to launch a civil war to retain power. As the president told supporters on June 15, “We are not going to give up our country for a mere X on a ballot. How can a ball point pen fight with a gun?"


With the vote only days away, ZANU-PF is pulling out all the stops. Reports from around the country say the pace of the campaign of violence has quickened, and supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, continue to be displaced from their home areas so that they cannot vote.

At least 60 MDC supporters have been killed and more than 3,000 beaten or tortured since the first round of elections, according to the opposition. Much of this has been in rural areas, but a recent upsurge in urban violence has gone largely unnoticed.

This week’s abduction and murder of Abigail Chiroto, the wife of the recently elected MDC mayor of Harare, Emmanuel Chiroto, and the death of four opposition activists in a firebomb attack in the capital appear to mark a new low.

IWPR has been told that the logistics for the campaign have come from the Zimbabwean army, which has been supplying war veterans and other militant ZANU-PF supporters with guns, transport and bases.

There are reports of soldiers handing out bullets to villagers and warning them that if Mugabe loses, the ammunition will be used against them. This gives added grim meaning to a campaign which IWPR understands is officially known as “Operation Makavhoterapapi”, or “Where did you put your vote?”


The authorities are leaving nothing to chance when it comes to securing exclusive media exposure. This week, Tsvangirai and the MDC had their advertising pulled from state-controlled television, radio and newspapers.

Meanwhile, the new line from the authorities appears to be that since Mugabe is not going anywhere, a vote against him will not count anyway.

Leading opposition politicians accept that given the circumstances, a Tsvangirai victory looks unlikely. Lawyer and top opposition official Welshman Ncube said this week, “We are back to 2000 – Mugabe is going to win because he controls the process.”

The violence unleashed in recent weeks threatens to undermine the willingness of voters to turn out for Tsvangirai, given that this seems both risky and futile.

From statements by top ZANU-PF politicians it is clear that for them, political change is not on the cards. It is unclear whether these officials are focused more on preserving their own power or on the mantra that the MDC must not win power as this would reverse the gains Zimbabwe made by winning independence from Britain.

Politburo members who spoke to IWPR on condition of anonymity expressed confidence that Mugabe would be awarded victory.

Yet Tsvangirai performed better than Mugabe in the first round held on March 29, and it might be hard to close that gap – assuming a fair election.

Asked what would happen if Mugabe did lose, one ZANU-PF official replied, “I can only tell you that Tsvangirai is not going to win, so there is no need to talk of a Mugabe defeat – it is not going to happen.

“Tsvangirai will never rule this country and his only chance of being in a government is if we agree to a government of national unity after the elections. As you can see, we are already talking of a post-election period.”


One of the surprises in the March 29 ballot was that the MDC captured many votes in rural areas regarded as ZANU-PF strongholds. It is significant that the post-election violence started precisely in areas of this kind like the three Mashonaland provinces, Manicaland and Masvingo.

Another top ZANU-PF official assured IWPR that Mugabe was going to win in the countryside because the regime had now regained control of most, if not all, the rural areas where it ceded votes to the opposition last time.

“We have already covered the gap and can now rest assured that people in rural areas will go and vote for the president. I can tell you right now that we now have the support of all rural areas which had been in ZANU-PF’s control. Remember, this time we are going into this election united.”

Ahead of the March elections, ZANU-PF suffered internal turbulence as rival factions competed to succeed Mugabe. Referring to this, the official said, “The divisions we had during the March 29 elections have been ironed out and our people will vote for the president. We are now all campaigning for the president and people understand what it will mean if President Mugabe loses.”

Finally, the ZANU-PF official asked rhetorically how a party that controls the voting process, the count and the announcement of results could lose an election.

He noted that the authorities could easily restrict access to election monitors from groups like the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, ZESN.

The ZESN, which provides the bulk of independent local election observers, has not yet been invited to submit names for accreditation. During the last elections, just over 9,000 ZESN monitors were accredited.

With just a few days to go to the polls, the ZESN might not be able to get enough observers in place to deploy to all polling stations. This will work in ZANU-PF’s favour, as the MDC is also unlikely to have enough election agents for all the constituencies. It did not do so last time, and the wave of violence in rural areas is likely deter many political agents from putting their heads above the parapet.


All told, the strategy seems to be to reduce the MDC’s visibility and ability to operate to a minimum, drop heavy hints that Mugabe will not cede power regardless of ballot figures, and warn that bloodshed could ensue.

Senior ZANU-PF officials like Oppah Muchinguri, Shuvai Mahofa, and rural affairs minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is rumoured to be Mugabe’s nominated successor, have all warned there will be civil war if Tsvangirai wins.

Mugabe set out his own his position in unambiguous terms on June 14, when he attended the funeral of retired Lieutenant-General Amoth Chingombe.

“This country shall not again come under the rule and control of Britain, direct or indirect. We are masters of our destiny. Equally, anyone who seeks to undermine our land reform programme – itself the bedrock of our politics from time immemorial – seeks and gets war,” he said.

“On these two interrelated matters we are very clear. We are prepared to go to war. We are prepared to fight for our country if we lose it.”

Hativagone Mushonga is the pseudonym of a journalist in Zimbabwe.

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