President Robert Mugabe is serious. There will be no violence in this year’s elections. If there is, he will not be responsible. People might ask why? After all the country has never held any elections that were free of violence since its independence!
The answer is simple. Mugabe is fighting for legitimacy and a noble exit.
The next question then is, why is Mugabe fighting for legitimacy now if every election has been marred by violence since independence?
A look at the country’s history shows that it has been divided into three phases. The first decade when the country was still suffering from what people termed the independence euphoria and the majority supported Mugabe, blindly.
The second decade when there was relative stability after the merger of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union which turned the country virtually into a one-party state.
And the third decade when everything went haywire with the emergency of the Movement for Democratic Change and the fast-track land reform programme.
Though there was violence in the first decade, the West turned a blind eye and showered Mugabe with accolades and hailed him as the best statesman in Africa because of his policy of reconciliation.
If Mugabe had stepped down before the unity accord of 1987 for example, or soon thereafter, he would probably still be considered a better statesman than Nelson Mandela.
Mugabe himself was the victim of violence in 1980. His lieutenants were subjected to harassment and violence, their houses were bombed, his party headquarters was bombed, his own house in Mount Pleasant was under constant attack, he escaped a bomb blast in Masvingo- all this prior to the February 1980 elections.
But Mugabe won those elections overwhelmingly because people wanted peace. His Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army was considered the guarantors of peace.
The 1985 elections were marred by violence. This time it was Mugabe’s government targetting his previous liberation partner, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union. Villages were burnt to the ground in the purge against so-called dissidents. One person was even dragged from a police station and killed. Thousands of villagers were killed in the Midlands and Matebeleland.
At the time Mugabe was so sacrosanct that even the West turned a blind eye and showered him with awards instead. Maybe this was because this was black on black violence and did not affect those who controlled the economy.
The 1990 elections were also violent. This time the violence was targetted at the newly formed Zimbabwe Unity Movement formed by former Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front secretary general, Edgar Tekere, who had been technically Mugabe’s number two.
Former Gweru mayor Patrick Kombayi was shot and almost killed in the run-up to the elections. He had joined ZUM and was contesting against then vice-President Simon Muzenda.
The 1995 elections were probably the most peaceful because the country was now virtually a one-party state ruled by the new ZANU-PF which was a merger of the old ZANU-PF and ZAPU.
The emergency of the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999 brought back violence in the 2000 elections. Elections since then have been marred by violence and this has been worsened by the West’s overt drive to kick Mugabe out of government.
While most people have focussed on the MDC threat, the real problem was not that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai would take over. It was that Mugabe had become a monster because he had upset the natural order of things by taking over land from white farmers- the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy.
British academic George Monbiot put it succinctly: “The seizure of the white farms is both brutal and illegal. But it is merely one small scene in the tragedy now playing all over the world. Every year, some tens of millions of peasant farmers are forced to leave their land, with devastating consequences for food security. For them there are no tear-stained descriptions of a last visit to the graves of their children. If they are mentioned at all, they are dismissed by most of the press as the necessary casualties of development….These are dark-skinned people being expelled by whites, rather than whites being expelled by black people. They are, as such, assuming their rightful place, as invisible obstacles to the rich world’s projects. Mugabe is a monster because he has usurped the natural order.”
Everything that Mugabe has touched since then has been tainted with blood. Even the country’s diamonds have been termed blood diamonds when the official definition meant something else.
With the economy slowly getting back on track, there has never been a better time for Mugabe to exit. But he must leave a victor- a legitimate winner. Mugabe must therefore ensure that he wins the elections, freely and squarely this time. And this must be pronounced so by the West and not just by the friendly countries that have accepted his 2002, 2005, and 2008 victories.
This will not be an easy task because Mugabe has been a cash cow for decades. People have thrived from his “misrule” and have been shouting that he must go during the day but praying all night that God give him life and a prolonged stay in office. It will therefore not be in their interests for the country to have peaceful elections whose results will be accepted internationally.
Ironically, a Tsvangirai victory is a road to starvation for these people. There are already reports of violence being tabulated by these people, yet no one knows yet when the elections will be held. They are preparing the groundwork.