Can Zimbabwe Get Past Mugabe?

Zimbabwe, one of Africa’s most troubled nations, may witness signs of hope with recent opposition victory in parliamentary elections. However the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), led by Robert Mugabe, is offering stalwart resistance to the first transfer of power in Zimbabwe’s 28-year existence as an independent state.

The current situation in Zimbabwe is a bleak and dismal reminder of how far the “breadbasket of Africa” has declined under Mugabe’s 28 year rule. Zimbabwe was formerly the British colony of Rhodesia, and it was a thriving economy within Africa. It was a hot tourist destination with the spectacular Victoria Falls, Great Zimbabwe ruins, and the world’s second largest dam, Kariba Dam. The core of the economy consisted of massive farms owned predominantly by white settlers.

The high price for this productivity was an apartheid government lead by Ian Smith. He sought to maintain racial white rule in a country with a black-white population ratio of 22 to 1. The long Bush War insurgency fought throughout the sixties and seventies by the ZANLA, military wing of ZANU, and growing international isolation brought about the eventual enfranchisement of blacks in government. This was followed shortly by the creation of independent Zimbabwe from the British in 1980. The biggest winner and hero of the independence movement was Robert Mugabe of the ZANU-PF coalition, who became the first president. Mugabe has held on to power since then and has entrenched himself and his supporters in all levels of government from cabinet to local militia.

Although initially conciliatory, Mugabe continued the racial war during his presidency and led a crusade against the white minority that still owned most of the farm land. As president, Mugabe embarked on a policy of land redistribution that in theory should have transferred land from elite whites to impoverished blacks. Instead, Mugabe propped up his own elite supporters in often violent seizures of private property. The nationalization and neglect of farmland sent Zimbabwe’s agriculture based economy into a nose dive. Currently Zimbabwe has the world’s highest hyperinflation of 100,000%, 80% unemployment, and an exodus of about a third of the country’s population. Basic necessities of food and fuel are hard to come by and people struggle to survive. The utter failure of Zimbabwe is a result of Mugabe’s shift from an independence fighter to a megalomaniacal racist who seeks to rid Zimbabwe of all whites even if it costs Zimbabwe so dearly.

The largest opposition to Mugabe comes from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party led by Morgan Tsvangirai. They spearheaded the movement to prevent an expansion of presidential powers in 2000. However, this election marked a major victory for them, given that the odds were stacked heavily against them. They captured a 99-seat majority in the 210-seat Parliament, although the ZANU-PF is legally contesting some close races.

When this article was written, the results of the presidential race had not yet been announced. Although the Zimbabwe Election Commission hadn’t yet released results, most international observers predict a victory for Tsvangirai over Mugabe. It’s uncertain whether he took the 50% necessary to prevent a runoff. A runoff would most likely be difficult for the MDC, since Mugabe will likely fight it with all the resources at his disposal, from court proceedings to militia intimidations. Mugabe claims that the MDC is really a puppet of the British. Although most of Zimbabwe’s current problems are internally-caused, Mugabe reiterated to the state daily Herald that “Land must remain in our hands. The land is ours; it must not be allowed to slip back into the hands of whites.”

Although the results seem to show a clear victory for MDC, ZANU-PF is fighting as hard as possible to remain in power. Currently many close precincts and the presidential election are being debated in courts, and the ZANU-PF is using lawyers. The few remaining white farmers fear greater incursions and attacks from “war veterans,” Mugabe’s henchmen.

In the upcoming weeks and months if there is a runoff election, we will see whether the people of Zimbabwe can wrestle their future away from the poor course it has taken under Mugabe’s rule.

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