Zimbabwe 2011: An opportunity for change?

Watch the event here. 

By Mariah Hamalainen

“I don’t think there will be free and fair elections in Zimbabwe in 2011” Geoff Hill said at a recent panel discussion on the topic at Frontline Club.

Geoff Hill wasn’t alone; his fellow panelists agreed that should the elections – which President Robert Mugabe is pushing for – go ahead, they would most likely be marred by unrest and violence, as was seen at the last elections in 2008.

Chaired by Gerry Jackson – the founder of SW Radio Africa – the heated debate took the attentive audience through various debates around the main topic:  the myth of all-powerful Robert Mugabe and his party the Zanu-PF, the military’s role in Zimbabwe, and the controversial land reform programme of the 1990’s.

After short explanation of their views on the main topic, the panel took turns in answering questions from the audience. The most debated topic was whether the media have misrepresented the Zanu-PF: Shire accused the Western media of creating myths about Mugabe and his party, but Jackson counter-argued that the Zanu-PF are unwilling to be interviewed, so it is very difficult to get accurate information.

Surprisingly, the Zimbabwean panelists did not seem to view Mugabe’s party as the kind of monster we are used to hearing about in the West; all of the three strongly suggested that there have been a number of strategic errors made by the opposition party MDC – “the good guys” as we seem to think in the West – since the power-sharing deal was signed between the two parties after the controversial elections.

Miles Tendi claimed that these mistakes might come at a cost:

The MDC is providing mediocre opposition to Zanu-PF. Should they find themselves out of power [after 2011 elections] they only have themselves to blame.

Along with the opinions on the two political parties, another hot topic was whether an uprising – such as we have recently seen in northern Africa – would be possible in Zimbabwe. For once, all the panelists were unified in the thought that a similar revolt would not take place:

Zanu PF is a violent party, I don’t dispute that…The people in Zimbabwe have no illusions regarding the response that the State would initiate.

In fact, the little noise that has been created, has been crushed very quickly.

From the discussion it seems that few people want the elections to take place this year, and even fewer seem to know what would happen should there be a call for the citizens to cast their votes on who they’d like to elect to run Zimbabwe.

The steps towards progress and stability that began when the power-sharing deal was signed in 2008 are widely seen as benefiting the nation more than repeating the experience of rigging, violence and terror that characterised the last elections.

What the audience and listeners could take away from the discussion was that there are a lot of myths surrounding Zimbabwe, biggest of them being the popular notion of Robert Mugabe being the embodiment of Zimbabwe and what the country is going through.

Yet, as Jackson reminded us, we should not forget the Zimbabwean people in towns and rural areas who are struggling; they are the ones who are tired of the game the politicians are playing and just want peace.