Robert Mugabe landslide election win triggers trepidation in Zimbabwe
Robert Mugabe‘s Zanu-PF, whose party symbol is a black cockerel, is crowing loud and hard. “There will be no Tahrir or Freedom Square here,” said an editorial in the state-owned Sunday Mail newspaper. “And the erstwhile foreign pundits will soon realise that it is not ‘game over for Mugabe’ but a new game altogether, not only for Zimbabwe and its neighbours, but for Africa.”
But pictures of celebrating supporters were conspicuously absent from the paper’s news pages.
Indeed, Saturday night’s announcement that Mugabe had extended his 33-year rule for five more years did not appear to meet with dancing in the streets. Instead, state-controlled TV showed pre-recorded footage of middle-aged women in Zanu-PF regalia jigging awkwardly against cheaply filmed backdrops, intercut with shots of Mugabe looking younger than his 89 years, all of which had a hallucinatory LSD-fuelled quality.
The curiously muted atmosphere contrasted sharply with the way South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, and the US president, Barack Obama, emerge from election wins with alacrity to lap up adulation from cheering crowds.
Instead of hope, there is, for many Zimbabweans, fear of what an all-powerful Mugabe means for the future of the country, and gloomy prophecies for an economy still fragile after the hyperinflation horrors of five years ago.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the outfoxed leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which intends to challenge the poll results in court, said: “Instead of celebration there is national mourning in this country. And surprisingly the mourning is not only the MDC, the mourning is actually national including Zanu-PF because can you imagine from now … what is the future of my children, what is the future of every household?
“What is the economic, social and political future of this country? That is the preoccupying moment for Zimbabwe. Are we sliding back to 2008, are we moving forward to new opportunities? All that hope has now been dashed.”
Zanu-PF’s admirers say the party has embarked on an unapologetic experiment in African nationalism. The violent seizure of white-owned farms in the 2000s, they argue, was a historic reclaiming of land from the legacy of colonialism, an act that South Africa and other post-independence governments have not dared carry out.
The land grabs created thousands of black farmers but put thousands of farm labourers out of work and there is fierce debate over whether the lost productivity was a price worth paying and whether it is now in a sustainable recovery.
Now Mugabe’s party has set its sights on business with an “indigenisation” programme, compelling foreign companies to hand over at least 51% of shares to local ownership. Critics say this has already hurt Zimbabwe’s economic recovery in the past two years and risks further scaring away investment. It remains to be seen, however, whether Zanu-PF played up indigenisation merely to win votes and will now temper the policy under international pressure.
In its favour, the party has strong and long-standing ties with China, a country with a thirst for natural resources that has driven economic growth in parts of Africa.
But independent investigations have uncovered evidence that millions of dollars earned from Zimbabwe’s diamond fields were funnelled directly to Zanu-PF coffers rather than the national treasury, helping to fund its election campaign and potentially an elaborate vote-rigging exercise. With the MDC now frozen out of government, there are concerns that corruption will run rampant while the people starve.
Critics in the west have denounced the election but now face a dilemma over how to respond, since any criticism can play into the narrative of white imperialism. It may be that sanctions against Mugabe and his allies have run their course and become counter-productive, gifting Zanu-PF propaganda and excuses.
Some believe it may be time to call Zanu-PF’s bluff by lifting sanctions and testing whether the party can deliver on its promises, with no one else to blame. Vince Musewe, a Harare-based economist, said: “Clearly the MDC has been weakened and will not be participating in government, [so] Zanu-PF will have unfettered access to the resources of the country and its institutions, as was the case in the 80s. We are going to see a parochial, unchecked, economy developing with the marginalisation of any progressive-thinking Zimbabweans.
“The economy is once again going to be raped through indigenisation and the return of political favours.
“Zanu-PF simply doesn’t care and now that they are in control arrogance is going to increase. I expect things not to get any better economically or politically. In fact they may get a little worse. However, the above will only happen if Mugabe is alive and in control. At his death I think that the party is going to implode and this means that we must wait and hope.”
By fair means or foul, Zanu-PF has defied the political law that African liberation movements have to suffer gradual erosion of support and eventually lose power. It got the fright of its life in 2008 but has roared back stronger than ever. Its three-quarter parliamentary majority is far greater than that of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, but that means its internal squabbles will now be held up to similar scrutiny.
It is no secret that Zanu-PF is deeply divided between factions led by Joice Mujuru, the vice-president widely seen as a reformer, and Emmerson Mnangagwa, the hardline defence minister dubbed “the crocodile”.
Mugabe, the Machiavelli of Africa with infinite reserves of guile, has always cleverly played one heir apparent off against another. He reportedly favours Mujuru but, when he gave rare press conference at the state house in Harare last week, it was Mnangagwa at his side.
Mugabe has insisted that he will serve a full term, taking him up to the age of 94. This may be as much for the sake of party unity as his own love of power. Should hedie in office, there is potential for Zanu-PF to self-destruct in the battle to succeed the only president Zimbabwe has ever known.