Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mugabe replaced by junta as Zimbabwe plunges further into despair

A Zimbabwean court has overruled a police move to ban opposition rallies in advance of the forthcoming presidential run-off election between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai. The decision came after police denied authorisation last week to Tsvangirai’s MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) party to stage rallies in Zimbabwean townships on the specious grounds of ‘assassination threats’. The MDC then filed papers with the High Court in Harare. On Saturday an MDC lawyer announced that the court had ordered the rallies be allowed and that the police should not interrupt them.

This is one of rare pieces of good news for the MDC as it faces massive hurdles to overcome Mugabe’s state apparatus in the 27 June election. Tsvangirai was arrested twice last week; most recently on Friday when he was stopped at a roadblock as he was on his way to a regularly scheduled rally. He was taken to a police station and was released after 2½ hours. In both arrests Tsvangirai was accused by police of threatening public security by addressing a gathering without prior authorisation. This low-level harassment has impacted the entire campaign since Tsvangirai returned to the country three weeks ago. “We've noticed that it's going to be a common trend in this campaign,” said his spokesman George Sibotshiwe. “Obviously the government…are trying to prevent him from going about his campaign freely and peacefully.”

Tsvangirai and his party have been victims of systematic violence since the first election in March. A scathing new report from Human Rights Watch called “Bullets for Each of You” (pdf) now presents compelling evidence to support the obvious conclusion that the campaign is aimed at ensuring Mugabe wins the run-off election. The violence has claimed thousands of victims as both national and local government authorities systematically and methodically targets both MDC activists and the party's perceived supporters.

The violence has been particularly concentrated in former rural strongholds of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). These areas turned their back on their traditional party to vote for the Tsvangirai and the MDC in the parliamentary and first-round presidential elections. In government and top military circles the campaign has been called “Operation Where Did You Put Your Cross?” The administration has been using independence war veterans to beat, torture and mutilate people as well as burn down their homes for “voting incorrectly” in the first election.

HRW now say that if current conditions are maintained, there is no possibility of a credible, free and fair poll. “Time has nearly run out for Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU),” it says, “to make the necessary political interventions to end the violence and ensure a free and fair vote.” They say the violence is orchestrated at the highest levels of government (known as “Joint Operations Command”) which includes senior ZANU-PF officials as well as the heads of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, police, prison services, and the Central Intelligence Organisation.

The report also confirms the report of a “senior western diplomat” that the Joint Operations Command (JOC) has taken de facto power in Zimbabwe reducing Mugabe to a mere figurehead. The unnamed source told Britain’s Daily Telegraph last week that a small circle of "securocrats", who sit atop the JOC committee, are now in day-to-day charge of the country. The most powerful figures in the new junta are General Constantine Chiwenga, the overall military chief; followed by police commissioner Augustine Chihuri and prison service commander General Paradzai Zimondi. The source said Mugabe remains a useful figurehead to parade in front of African leaders but had no real power left. "This is a military coup by stealth," he said. "There are no tanks on people's lawns, but the Joint Operations Command runs this country."

The absence of tanks on lawns does not disguise the fact that the country is in deep crisis. Zimbabwe is an economic as well as political shambles. The currency has depreciated by about 84 percent since the central bank floated it in early May after years of an official peg. On Thursday the Zimbabwean dollar plunged to a new record low, trading at an average 1 billion to the US dollar. The rapid weakening of the currency was caused by inflation expectations and a huge demand for hard currencies. The latest move triggered further massive price increases. Prices of basic goods, most of which are now imported, have gone up sharply since the disputed March 29 election. A loaf of bread cost Z$15 million before the polls but now costs about Z$600 million. And the army has warned off its population of change occurring any time soon. “If you vote for MDC in the presidential runoff election,” said soldiers addressing villagers at one meeting, “you have seen the bullets, we have enough for each one of you, so beware.”

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