Magazine article The Spectator

In Zimbabwe, Hope Has Turned to Silent Terror

Magazine article The Spectator

In Zimbabwe, Hope Has Turned to Silent Terror

Article excerpt

On the night after the presidential elections 12 days ago, a British diplomat, Philip Barclay, witnessed the count at the little outpost of Bikisa deep in rural Masvingo. This part of Zimbabwe is Zanu PF heartland. In all five presidential elections since independence in 1981 the people of Bikisa had voted solidly for Robert Mugabe -- and there was little expectation of anything different this time.

Barclay reports feeling faint with sheer amazement when it became clear that the largest pile of votes was for Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Just 44 people in Bikisa voted for President Mugabe, against an overwhelming 167 for Tsvangirai.

Reports from other areas soon made it clear that Bikisa was not exceptional, and that Mugabe had been voted out of power in a political earthquake. By late in the afternoon on 30 March -- the day after the election -- the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, an independent body charged with overseeing the poll, was in a position to make a cautious estimate of the result. It judged that Morgan Tsvangirai had secured almost 60 per cent of the vote, more than double that of Robert Mugabe with 27 per cent.

Sources say that when this news was brought to the President his first reaction was genuine incredulity. He is now so out of touch, and so used to winning elections, that he had felt confident of a comfortable majority.

Incredulity swiftly turned to anger, and Mugabe grimly ordered the Electoral Commission to declare him the victor. This command was resisted by very brave election officials. They received unexpected support, however, from senior personnel within the Zimbabwe state security apparatus, fearful of the public order consequences that would certainly flow from such blatant fixing of the result.

At this stage South Africa's President Mbeki tried to solve the problem. Reportedly Mbeki also wished the result to be rigged, though not as blatantly as Mugabe. He seems to have proposed that the ZEC should sharply downgrade Tsvangirai's share of the vote, sharply upgrade Mugabe to a more respectable 40 per cent and dramatically increase the share of the vote enjoyed by the renegade Zanu PF presidential candidate Simba Makoni.

Simba Makoni is Mbeki's personal choice as the next president of Zimbabwe. There is some evidence that he is also supported by the US state department. A highly intelligent and well-educated man, Makoni was a member of the Mugabe inner circle for many years, while maintaining warm links to foreign observers and exercising care to evade personal responsibility for the worst of the regime's atrocities. He only stood for the presidency after being given the green light by Mbeki earlier this year. Unlike Morgan Tsvangirai, a former miner of incredible courage but with little formal education, Makoni is the kind of politician who appeals profoundly to the bureaucratic mind.

Mbeki, quietly backed by the United States, hoped to induce Mugabe to step down and get Makoni to stand in his stead.

This plan had definite logic. Makoni, though he will never be forgiven by Mugabe for what the President sees as an act of unspeakable betrayal, retains the strongest links with Zanu PF. This means that he would probably be acceptable to the senior generals and policemen who hold the key to Zimbabwe's immediate future, and to whom Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change is utterly repugnant. …

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