News / Africa

Zimbabwe Politics Grows More Volatile During 2010

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, right chats to Prime Minister Morgan Tsavangirai during their end of year press conference at State House in Harare, Dec 20, 2010
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, right chats to Prime Minister Morgan Tsavangirai during their end of year press conference at State House in Harare, Dec 20, 2010

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Zimbabwe's appears to be in for more political turmoil with talk of fresh elections earlier this month at the conference of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF Party. Most Zimbabweans indicate they do not want elections next year because they may interfere with the political stability and economic progress made since the unity government came to power nearly two years ago.

Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change have been discussing elections in the final months of 2010. Much of the talk on the streets of Harare is very different from the noise coming from political leaders.

Blessings Sibanda works for a Harare company that sells agricultural supplies. He said that for him and many others, 2010 was one of the better years since Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis began a decade ago.

"We have seen a little improvement, increasing capacity and seen it in government where revenues have gone up to a point where government has given salary increases for next year, which means the festive season is going to be better, merrier," said Sibanda.

He said with a measure of economic stability many people now have more disposable incomes and will be able to buy extras for their families during holiday period, especially food. He and others say the talk of elections is worrying.

"The only damper will be after this festive season [if] we go into election mode and it will scuttle some of the benefits we have seen from the stabilization," said Sibanda.

Earlier in the year, Tsvangirai and Mugabe were getting on much better than at the end of the year.

In September, in Johannesburg, Tsvangirai described the slow progress and many frustrations of the unity government, but said people should remember the despair and catastrophe of Zimbabwe before it came to power.

"We are making progress. Zimbabwe is moving forward, it is slow, but it is there. We have health workers and medicines in our hospitals, teachers and books in our schools, food in our supermarkets, water in our taps and fuel in our petrol stations."

Tsvangirai later became angry when Mugabe awarded several top civil servant jobs to ZANU-PF supporters instead of to the MDC, as spelled out in the political agreement.

More important than allocation of these jobs, according to many political analysts, was the lack of progress in electoral reform and better governance, so that the next polls would be undisputedly free and fair.

A political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, Eldred Masunungure, said he was thoroughly disheartened by the state of the unity government at year end.

"I would say the coalition government is in a very perilous state and the marriage between the old regime ZANU-PF and its coalition partners, the two MDC formations, is approaching a stage of irretrievably breaking down," said Masunungure.

Tsvangirai ended the year also talking about elections. He said he wants a re-run of presidential elections because they were disputed by violence at the last polls in  2008.  

Elections would end the inclusive government, but the local public affairs watchdog, Veritas, said the constitution does not allow a presidential election to be held on its own.

Veteran political analyst, Brian Raftopoulos, who is also director of the Solidarity Peace Trust, said senior security officials within ZANU-PF, whom he called securocrats, have strong influence within ZANU-PF. They want elections to protect the massive assets they acquired under Mugabe's rule since 1980 independence.

"They would feel endangered if any other party came to power because of the massive abuses they have inflicted on Zimbabweans over the last 30 years," said Raftopoulos. "They have a terrible history of terror, torture, violence, throughout  post-colonial Zimbabwe."

ZANU-PF ministers in the inclusive government introduced controversial laws in early 2010 that say black Zimbabweans must own 51 percent of any company worth more than $500,000.

There was a storm of protest and the unity government moved quickly to water down and delay the so-called indigenization laws. By year-end no action had been taken beyond the continued threats from ZANU-PF leaders.

At the ZANU- PF conference, Mugabe linked indigenization to the targeted sanctions by the United States and European Union against senior ZANU-PF leaders and about a dozen mostly state-owned companies.

"In some cases we must read the riot act to the British and others, and say to them, this is only 51 percent we are taking," said Mugabe. "Unless you remove sanctions we will go for 100 percent."

Despite Mr. Mugabe's threats about indigenization, the unity Cabinet recently allowed foreigners to buy a 53 percent stake in a state company, the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company.

The Southern African Development Community, which mediated and guaranteed the power-sharing government agreement, has not commented on the election talk by either  Mugabe or Tsvangirai. SADC indicated last month it will hold a meeting in January to discuss the unity government's progress in implementing the political agreement.

Mugabe relishes criticizing London and Washington, but he has shown in the past that he can be influenced by SADC. Many people are wondering what action SADC will take if Mugabe unilaterally dissolves parliament and declares elections next year before a new constitution can be put in place as called for by the power-sharing accord.

Raftopoulos is concerned SADC is running out of patience with Zimbabwe's political in-fighting.

"SADC in a sense are looking to bring this to some kind of finality, and so are all three parties [in the Zimbabwean government]. From SADC's point of view they would like an election that is reasonably free and fair that they can sell as legitimate," said Raftopoulos.

Raftopoulos said Zimbabwe has a long way to go in order to have reasonably free and fair elections.

Despite slow progress in 2010, businessmen are enjoying the stability that came with the inclusive government and believe 2011 is too early for elections.

The managing director of a chain of Harare retail shops, Paul Hanyani, says recent year-end bonuses for civil servants have improved sales and says the economy has improved.

"From the experience we had in our country, we are not yet ready for such kind of a process because we have seen things that are not good, violence and so on, retrogressiveness in terms of the economy. Personally I think we needed more time before we get to such a process again," said Hanyani.

Zimbabwe's unity government has no limit to its existence, but the constitution says elections must be held every five years - or by March 2013.

Experts say progress in implementing the political agreement, most of which is now enshrined in the constitution, is due for review before any of the three political parties in the unity government can unilaterally bring the inclusive government to an end.

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