After the Election
R.W. Johnson in Zimbabwe
I was in the Harare headquarters of the Movement for Democratic Change when news came through that two boxes of uncounted ballots had turned up in Buhera North, the constituency in which the MDC’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, had been narrowly defeated by his Zanu-PF opponent a few days before. I asked Tsvangirai what he made of this. ‘Well, it means we can apply for that election to be declared null and void too. But frankly I can’t look forward to contesting it again, not if it means Zanu-PF is going to go round beating and torturing people who support me.’ You can’t blame him: his home village is near Buhera and many of his family live there.
This illustrates the MDC’s dilemma as it confronts the sullen and battered Mugabe regime in the wake of the election. For, despite the campaign of state-sponsored terror waged against it, the MDC is in good heart, while the ruling party, which suffered almost no casualties, is in terrible shape. In Kwekwe, for example, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Minister of Justice and much-feared former head of the secret police, was up against an MDC newcomer, Blessing Chebundo. Chebundo and his agent were offered bribes to stand down and, when they refused, Mnangagwa issued death threats against them at a party rally. Not long afterwards, Zanu-PF thugs tried to burn Chebundo alive and then attacked and burned down his house, and that of his agent, severely beating the women and children they found there and throwing one unconscious boy, doused in paraffin, into a burning house. It is difficult to believe that Mnangagwa – the man Mugabe wants to succeed him – could not have prevented all of this if he’d wanted to. Chebundo spent the rest of the election in hiding, while his family joined the ten thousand or more refugees created by the election.
In the event Chebundo trounced Mnangagwa, despite being unable to campaign. Elsewhere it had not been safe for the MDC to put up posters, hold rallies or wear party T-shirts, but even in those constituencies, major Zanu-PF figures squeaked home only by the narrowest of margins as thousands of MDC voters suddenly materialised in the secrecy of polling booths.
It was obvious to both the Government and the MDC that only the violence and intimidation had prevented an MDC landslide: a fact confirmed by an exit poll conducted by the Helen Suzman Foundation which showed that 12 per cent of voters admitted they had been bullied into not voting the way they wanted. On the other hand, a comfortable MDC win would have been very dangerous, probably tempting Mugabe to ignore the result and step up the campaign against his opponents. As it is, the MDC has 57 elected MPs to Zanu-PF’s 62, and one can already feel the change of atmosphere. Even the venomously pro-Government Zimbabwe Herald now treats the MDC with a little more respect and it is impossible for the radio and TV to ignore them any longer. MDC T-shirts are being worn in the streets of Harare for the first time and it is widely expected that the Party will make a clean sweep in the Harare and Bulawayo municipal elections in August. This will give it a chance to put down local roots and to show the electorate what a non-corrupt administration can deliver: Zanu-PF proved so corrupt in their running of Harare that six months ago commissioners had to take over from them.
The full text of this essay is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.