Will 2013 see the end of Mugabe’s 33-year rule?

August 2, 2013

By Dan Tookey

After a tense five year coalition between Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Zimbabwe is back at the ballot box. On the eve of the polls closing on 31 July, the Frontline Club hosted a debate with four experts to discuss what this election will mean for the future of Zimbabwe.

Simukai Tinhu (left), Dr Sue Onslow (centre), Wilf Mbanga (right)

Simukai Tinhu (left), Dr Sue Onslow (centre), Wilf Mbanga (right). Photo: Dan Tookey

Dr Sue Onslow, currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, began by asking whether the panel believed there to be any ‘vital conditioning before the start of today?’ and commenting:

‘It’s often said that elections are stolen well before anyone actually puts a cross on a piece of paper’

Wilf Mbanga, the founder, publisher and editor of The Zimbabwean newspaper, said:

‘At the last election the African Union condemned him [Mugabe] for the 400 people who were killed. . . . There were people with broken bones, people in hospitals and there was evidence of violence which you couldn’t deny. This time around he has decided he’s not going to do that. People will vote peacefully, there are no dead bodies, no broken bones, but they’re manipulating the figures.’

Mbanga continued by explaining in detail how the electoral role has been doctored. ‘They will do it  and win the election with the figures, not beating up people’’.

Chofamba Innocent Sithole, a Zimbabwean journalist and current assistant editor of NewsAfrica magazine, argued that there was a positive element to the current election in that the violent wings of all the parties have been demobilised:

‘It is true that all the parties engage in violence; Zanu-PF perhaps just has a bigger capacity for violence.’

He continued that although Zanu-PF seem to have retreated from violence, they still have other things in their arsenal:

‘They control the institutions that register voters, that delineate constituencies and that has pretty much been in evidence at this election.’

Simukai Tinhu, an African Affairs Analyst based in London, pointed out that in the first round of the 2008 elections there was very limited violence:

‘It was only in the second round when Mugabe had realised that there was a potential that he might actually lose the presidency. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is surge in violence if there is to be a run-off.’

According to Dr Onslow the electoral rules for the election are baffling, making her ‘quite cross-eyed trying to work out what was going on.’

Mbanga agreed but argued that this confusion had been quite deliberate:

‘They’ve actually criminalised voter education. A number of people have been arrested who were found educating people how to vote; where to put their x. They will be going to court after the elections. People have gone in to this election ignorant of whether their names are even on the electoral rolls.’

Sithole argued that the ‘Mugabe factor’ is not going to have as much sway in this election as it has in previous ones:

‘It is ludicrous for young Zimbabweans looking to the future to be seized with this zeal to go and thrust this old man back in to power. Because of this I think Tsvangirai is going to swing it.’

However, Tinhu disagreed with this analysis arguing that to the contrary Mugabe does appeal to the youth though it not seen to be ‘trendy.’

Mbanga argued that Mugabe has great appeal for those who remember Zimbabwe pre 1980 – and Mugabe is still acting like he is fighting that war.

Sithole made it clear that he thought that Mugabe as an individual was not prepossessing to the Zimbabwean people – but that his ideas still resonated with a lot of people:

 ‘Even among young people there is an admiration for a leader who is seen to be strong. Someone who can stand up to powerful countries, and powerful interests. This is something that not only resonates in Zimbabwe but also across Africa.’
All three panelists agreed that should the Supreme Court be involved in the election, any decision would be made in Zanu-PF’s favour. Tinhu pointed out that in 2008 the decisions made almost always helped Robert Mugabe and that the delivery of ‘TVs and Mercedes’ may have had something to do with this.
The panelists were skeptical that Mugabe would not hold on to power for another five years. But they all pointed to positive developments in the political process, namely the lack of organised violence and the rise of new pressure groups.