Will the people topple Mugabe?

RW Johnson believes that the opposition in Zimbabwe will resort to mass action if international pressure does not work.

TO VISIT ZIMBABWE now is to have an overwhelming sense of fin de règne. President Robert Mugabe, now more than 20 years in power, is embattled on every front. Both the political and the economic situation are such as to make it hard to believe that his regime can survive much longer. Two key events occurred on October 25. First, David Coltart, shadow justice minister for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), presented the speaker of Parliament with documents calling for the impeachment of Mugabe. While few imagine that the impeachment process - which would require a two-thirds majority to succeed - will of its own bring down Mugabe there is no doubt that the process will do him great damage.

It is the first time in any African country that such a process of presidential impeachment has been launched and the Zimbabwean Constitution gives little hint as to how the process should be conducted. Coltart envisages the setting up of a committee that will hold public hearings on the various charges. These will centre on the president's responsibility for the pre-election violence this year in which more than 30 people were killed; many thousands were beaten, tortured and raped. Political intimidation of every kind appeared to proceed from direct presidential instruction and exhortations, often made quite publicly at party rallies. During this period Mugabe uttered threats such as that "death will befall" Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader; that his opponents would be met with "fire" and he even boasted that he "had a degree in violence". Over and over again he insisted that the MDC would not be allowed to take power, apparently quite irrespective of the election result.

The grounds of impeachment entered by Coltart do not allude to the gukurahundi, the massacres in Matabeleland that killed at least 5,000 people in the 1980s. This is so for several reasons. First it is not entirely clear that the present Zimbabwean Parliament has jurisdiction over crimes committed more than a decade ago when Mugabe was prime minister, working under a different Constitution. More important, however, is the fact that a number of leading figures in the army and secret police, the Central Intelligence Organisation, have great reason to fear an exhumation of those atrocities since their own role in them would be bound to be viewed in an extremely unfavourable light.

Not the least remarkable aspect of the present situation is that it was on the advice of anti-Mugabe elements within Zanu-PF that the MDC omitted reference to the gukurahundi for fear of driving powerful military figures into the same corner as the president. These same people would not feel so alarmed if this year's pre-election violence was the sole focus of inquiry. The fact that the MDC is carefully taking into account the disposition of the senior military is in itself an indication of how delicate the situation has become. Were the impeachment process merely a case of party political propaganda then there would have been nothing to stop the MDC from launching an all out attack across the board.

There was surprise in some circles that the speaker of Parliament, Emmerson Mnangagwa accepted the motion for impeachment - though there is plenty of scope for parliamentary delaying tactics over the procedural basis of the inquiry. Mnangagwa said that he would study the motion but quite clearly the composition of the impeachment committee, its rules, schedule of meetings, its power to subpoena witnesses and so forth are all potential elements for long dispute. The MDC will press for equal representation on the committee though Mnangagwa has it in his power to pack the committee with non-elected members. However, it is difficult to see how he can refrain from appointing the chairman of parliament's legal committee, Eddison Zvobgo, to the committee - an awkward situation for Zanu-PF given that Zvobgo has become one of Mugabe's strongest critics and is almost publicly sympathetic to impeachment. Once considered a possible presidential hopeful himself, Zvobgo is now an ill man and has little to lose.

Perhaps more significant was the immediate ruling that the impeachment motion was now the private property of the speaker and that it could not be printed in the press; any editor who published it would face jail, the government insisted. This ruling, which has no constitutional basis, is merely a sign of the increasing government sensitivity to the powerful voice of the independent press. The Daily News is now out-selling the government-owned Herald by more than two to one on the streets of Harare and is a constant irritant. Senior Zanu-PF figures are talking about bringing in a new law to restrain the press, but it is difficult to see that this could be other than a further public relations disaster for government. The MDC would be bound to oppose such a law tooth and nail in Parliament and the international publicity that would accompany such a move would be disastrous. In the event both the Daily News and the Financial Gazette immediately printed the terms of the impeachment motion and although the government threatened action against them, none has been taken to date. Jonathan Moyo, the minister of information, who has rapidly become the second most prominent member of the regime after the president himself, announced a press conference at which, he said, he would unveil new regulations to control the media but then cancelled it without further explanation.

October 25 also saw the release of the latest Helen Suzman Foundation opinion survey of Zimbabwe, the third that the foundation has carried out there this year. Almost without exception the news for the government was bad. The key finding of the foundation's June 24-25 election exit poll survey was confirmed, thus making it clear that those elections had been "stolen". In that June survey 31 per cent of respondents told us that many people in their constituency had not voted for "the party they really liked" but had instead voted "to stop further violence and trouble" and 12 per cent admitted that this had been true of their own behaviour. In our larger national survey carried out between September 21 and October 7 these figures are almost exactly confirmed: 32 per cent saying that many people in their constituency did not vote for the party they really liked and 13 per cent admitting that that was true of themselves. More than 95 per cent of these voters were MDC supporters who had faced unbearable pressure and intimidation. It is clear that if they had exercised their choice in favour of the party they preferred Zanu-PF would have lost the election heavily.

What the latest survey makes clear is that not only have these intimidated voters of June returned to their old MDC loyalties but that great swathes of previous Zanu-PF supporters have deserted their party. Some of the latter have crossed to the MDC, while others have retreated into the "don't know", "won't say" and "won't vote" columns. The result is that in the new survey the MDC stands at 47 per cent while Zanu-PF has plummeted to only 13 per cent. The MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai now leads Robert Mugabe in the presidential stakes by a margin of 41 per cent to 15 per cent. Even on the most favourable assumptions for Zanu-PF, Tsvangirai would win a presidential election by 62 per cent to 38 per cent. President Mugabe's support has collapsed particularly sharply in Harare; only 7 per cent of voters in the capital want to see him as president.

Voters are also bitterly regretting the results of the June elections. Forty-nine per cent agree that those elections were not free and fair due to violence and intimidation compared to 43 per cent who disagreed and 45 per cent also say that the elections were not fair due to vote rigging compared to 37 who disagreed. The current parliament is severely lacking in popular legitimacy.

The survey also reveals that Mugabe has been wholly unsuccesful in his attempts to galvanise support through the land invasions and his tirades against Zimbabwe's few remaining whites. Only 6 per cent now say that land is the most important issue - down from 9 per cent in the foundation's January/February survey. Land has thus slipped from being the equal fourth most important issue to sixth place. Even among the remaining hard core Zanu-PF voters it is the most important issue for only 14 per cent, compared to 36 per cent who nominate rising prices as the top issue. Eighty-one per cent of respondents, including 61 per cent of Zanu-PF voters, say that it is not sensible to blame the whites for the country's problems. Only 16 per cent say they have confidence that the government is telling the truth. The overwhelming majority simply do not believe what the government says - making political recovery a near-impossible project for the region.

The survey also makes it clear that the regime is paying a heavy price for having persistently disregarded the rule of law. The police and army have done the government's bidding and looked the other way as the farm invasions took place, refusing to intervene even when farmers were beaten or murdered. Whereas in January 61 per cent of respondents said that the police behaved well, very well or all right, now only 37 per cent do - while those saying that the police behaved badly or very badly has increased from 40 per cent to 57 per cent. Only 28 per cent think the police are politically impartial and 65 per cent said they are not. Twenty-six per cent thought the army was politically impartial but 58 per cent said it was not. Moreover, opinion has consolidated further against Mugabe's military intervention in the Congo.
But people are scared: those believing that you "have to be careful about criticising the government because harm might come to you as a result" have increased from 68 per cent in January to 74 per cent now. There is, however, one highly significant exception: in Harare fewer are now scared of speaking out and rather more are confident that they have free speech. This somewhat more assertive mood in the capital is clearly a warning signal to the regime.

The data also makes clear that the populist rhetoric which accompanied the farm invasion has failed entirely. Those who think that all farms should be taken away from the whites have fallen from 30 per cent in January/February to 20 per cent now. Sixty-nine per cent think that white farmers should be left on the land or that white farmers who have left Zimbabwe should be invited back. Sixty-four per cent say the land invasions "have nothing to do with genuine land reform". Only 21 per cent think that farm invasions are justified and understandable, while 70 per cent think that the war vets "are just criminals who should be charged with their crimes". Eighty-three per cent regret the fact that whites are leaving Zimbabwe and of these 46 per cent say it is "terrible" that they are leaving since they have contributed a lot and "belong in Zimbabwe". Seventy-eight per cent of respondents oppose Mugabe's plans to take over white farms, mines and factories and only 14 per cent support those plans; indeed, 59 per cent say that they amount to "economic suicide".

The survey suggests that not only has Zanu-PF support crumbled completely since June but that recovery may be difficult or even impossible. Only 20 per cent of respondents say that Zanu-PF can recover its old strength and over two-thirds expect it to continue to decline and to lose power soon. Only 8 per cent believe that it can recover under its present leadership.
Throughout the survey it is clear that hostile opinion has converged more and more on the figure of Mugabe himself. It is now clear what a high price the president has paid for his decision earlier in the year to place himself at the centre of the political process as opinion turned against him and his party. It would, after all, have been possible for him to adopt the same attitude as a French or American president confronted by a swing in opinion that leaves his party in a minority in the legislature. The presidents of both these countries have to be willing to work with parliamentary majorities drawn from their political opponents. Mugabe could have taken the attitude that Zanu-PF must fend for itself and that he would happily work with whatever majority the June parliamentary elections produced. This would have seen him retreat to his role as head of state and founder of the nation and might have preserved a good deal of his standing. Instead he chose to put himself on the line to maintain the hegemony of Zanu-PF. Given the nature of the liberation culture of which he and the party are part this was always his most likely course of action - but the price has been high. Sixty-four per cent of voters now say that Mugabe is the major obstacle to change and improvement with only 26 per cent disagreeing, while 74 per cent want him to step down compared to only 19 per cent who don't. Moreover, 56 per cent say they would like to see him impeached for his failure to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law against only 27 per cent who would not. Finally, 51 per cent say that even if he resigns he should be put on trial for the crimes alleged against him, while a further 24 per cent say he should be offered immunity for prosecution in return for his resignation.

The Mugabe government greeted the survey with considerable hostility. The presidential press secretary, George Charamba, issued a statement in which he said that the foundation merely added "figures to the manifesto of the MDC. They seek to vindicate the whites as owners of land, king-makers and political players and take the MDC to be a political hero." The findings were biased, he said. "Why is there a co-incidence to the use of language used by the MDC - that land is not the most important thing? They just turned rhetoric into a survey." Land reform in Zimbabwe had shaken the whites of southern Africa and 'pseudo-surveys' such as this were aimed at "destroying the agenda of land." The state-owned Herald featured some parts of the survey. In its editorial, under the headline "Helen Suzman Foundation report is just a load of pseudo scientific junk", the Herald said "It is a pity that the foundation has been so amateurish in its research." Oddly, however, the Herald believed that the most of the results of the survey were "not unexpected" but seemed concerned that they might influence the business community.

Charamba also insinuated that the timing of the survey's release had been co-ordinated to coincide with the MDC's impeachment motion. Given the coincidence of the survey and the impeachment motion both being made public on the same day one can see how such a suspicion could arise - but in fact a survey of this kind has a months-long timetable all of its own, with the release date set long before the political context is known. Charamba made no reference to the fact that the foundation has offered Zanu-PF its own private briefing on both its national surveys. In the case of the January/February survey Zanu-PF accepted this invitation but then failed to show up at the scheduled presentation without offering any explanation or apology. In the case of the invitation to a private briefing on the September/October survey - sent to Jonathan Moyo - no reply was received at all. However, Moyo later issued a statement, reported on Zimbabwe Television on November 3, attacking the foundation's survey. "It is scandalous for a white man from South Africa to make it his business to come and tell Zimbabweans what to think about themselves," he said. "The government would not tolerate a white South African, linked to Tony Leon of the Democratic Party, coming into the country to initiate the people who in future would not be welcomed and would be declared persona non grata." This was understood to be a reference to the author of this article.

The independent press treated the survey quite differently. Under the front-page headline "74 per cent want Mugabe to quit", the Daily News gave extensive coverage to the survey and complimented the Foundation on its work. A similar attitude was taken by the Financial Gazette and the Standard. The survey results were also extensively carried by the Independent, which commented on the survey in an editorial entitled "Mugabe: listen, the bell tolls for thee". The newspaper felt that the foundation had "clearly revealed the extent of popular disaffection with a regime that has not only lost its way but can offer nothing more than arrogant defiance of the popular will. In a week that saw another African dictator on the run [in the Ivory Coast] this is a bell tolling for Mugabe and his party. If he can't hear it, at least everyone else can."

On the evening of October 25, apparently reacting both to the impeachment motion and the survey, Mugabe appeared on television in angry mood. He announced that the government was considering the revocation of the policy of reconciliation for those involved in war crimes during Zimbabwe's war of liberation. Despite the fact that the amnesty for both sides of the struggle had been part of the Lancaster House agreement in 1980 and a key underpinning of the independence settlement, the president insisted that the behaviour of the whites "is taking us back to the pre-independence era." The president argued that "Ian Smith and his fellow whites" must "stand trial for their crimes," adding "they (the whites) must take note that the Coltarts, Aurets and the rest of them will not be free from arrest."

This reference to Michael Auret, the Catholic activist who renounced his commission in the Rhodesian army rather than serve under the Smith regime and who was forced to flee the country, as well as the mention of David Coltart, who was too young to participate in the liberation war, betoken a significant broadening of the president's attack from Smith-era whites who resisted African nationalism to whites in general. Whites, the president insisted, were "trying to recolonise Zimbabwe by sponsoring unprincipled and unprogressive black puppets such as the MDC. White imperialists want to perpetuate their domination over our land and economy and leave us with nothing in terms of resources other than our vote." The president insisted that blacks were being made to fight among themselves while the whites who sponsored the fighting stood in the background and laughed. He reserved particular anger for the MDC, which, he said, was a party sponsored by whites. "We shall not allow it as a party of the people of Zimbabwe. What kind of party says the commercial farms belong to whites? Whose interests does it represent? MDC shall not rule this country. Never, never, never, never," insisted the president. There seemed to be a clear indication here that the president was considering the possible declaration of a state of emergency under which he would be able to ban political parties, censor or close down newspapers, arrest opponents without trial and rule by decree.

However, Mugabe faces a battle on yet another front - in New York, where a $400 million civil suit has been filed against him by Evelyn Masaiti, an MDC member of parliament, and three relatives of other victims of the pre-election violence. The victims are charging Mugabe with gross violations of human rights under an American law that has already been applied against several third world dictators with large financial awards made against them. The effect of such suits is not merely to make it impossible for those found guilty to set foot in the United States again but that their property anywhere in the world may be attached by the court. The writ for this case was served against Mugabe during his recent visit to the United Nations but the president decided not to defend the suit. This led the judge, Victor Marrero, to pass a default judgment against him.

This news was immediately reported by the Daily News but hotly disputed by Moyo, who described the lawsuit as "a figment of some people's imagination". He added, "There is no legal basis for something like that to happen." Moyo also denied that any writ had been served on the president in New York, although the court record shows that this was effected. The Herald reported that the attempt to sue the president and two other cabinet ministers in the United States had failed because the American authorities had agreed that all three of them enjoyed diplomatic immunity and that it was therefore inappropriate for them to have to face charges. Greatly angered by the reporting of the case in the independent press, Moyo insisted that he would take action against the newspapers concerned to prevent such "irresponsibility" in the future. Insisting - against the clear facts - that their reports about the New York case were untrue, Moyo claimed that "This is a very serious issue. In the first place it is false, in the second place it is malicious and in the third place it is defamatory and criminally so." He also said that the "must Go" ads placed in a number of Zimbabwean newspapers were inciteful, unprofessional and unethical and that the laws governing such advertisement would be reviewed. However, lawyers present at the court issued a statement noting that in fact the president was not able to claim immunity for any reason under American legislation, that the judge has issued a default judgement and had referred the case to a magistrate for the assessment of damages. According to their account the question is now simply how much the judge should rule as the appropriate amount in damages. The offending ads in the independent press also continue.

The big question is how long Mugabe will last. It would seem, despite the president's clear determination to stay on, that he cannot do so for much longer. Apart from the pressures alluded to above, the fast track resettlement plan, which seeks to put 150,000 peasant families onto white farms, has never come close to reality in practice and as the rains have now begun it seems certain that this objective will not be achieved. All that can be achieved is the ongoing disruption of commercial agriculture. Violence and chaos are now an everyday occurrence across the country as farmers attempt to plant crops on land which the occupying war vets claim as theirs - but which they have no means of cultivating themselves. The result of such alarming scenes is a panicky atmosphere and an economic meltdown with the flight of skills and capital apace. In Matabeleland, for example, the chamber of commerce has warned that as much as one half of all the heavy industry in the area will close at Christmas and not re-open thereafter. Forecasts in Harare are equally dire. The country is racked by a continuous fuel crisis despite the fact that there is some inflow of foreign exchange from the tobacco auctions. Once that inflow of foreign exchange comes to an end, a worsening fuel and food crisis can be expected - probably by January.

In addition, the escalation in the price of bread, apart from causing bread riots, means that many Africans are now moving back into complete dependence on the older staple of maize. While there was a good maize crop this year it may not be enough for several reasons. First, the collapse of the bread market means that demand for maize has increased. Secondly, many Africans in urban employment, finding that transport costs have risen to a point where they cannot usefully continue to work, are now trekking back into the rural areas in search of maize. Thirdly, the uprooting of large numbers of peasant farmers in order to push them onto white farms has disrupted life in many maize-producing rural areas.

Most important of all, communal farmers have to sell the maize they have produced to the Grain Marketing Board; the money they receive from this is the most important cash payment they receive in any given year. This year, however, the communal farmers have frequently not been paid for the maize they produced. As a result the board is thought to be short of many hundreds of thousands of tonnes of maize, which will produce grave food shortages not far down the line. The situation is causing great anger in the rural areas and communal farmers will be slower to grow maize for sale than before. Without the single large cash payment on which they depend they will also lack the resources necessary to buy seeds and tools - quite apart from the more immediate holes in their own budgets and the knock-on effects of reduced spending power in rural areas. One estimate is that as much as Z$5 billion has been lost to the rural areas in this way. In many cases, of course, communal farmers still have surplus maize in the villages - but storage facilities are inadequate so it is likely to rot or be consumed by rats, mice or insects.

All of this points to the likelihood of large-scale hunger in the first half of next year: estimates vary from March to May as the time when this may be expected. But such are the scenes of violence on the farms, the calamitous state of business confidence and the advancing signs of economic collapse on other fronts that the prospect of huge civil unrest looms long before that. It is, moreover, difficult to imagine international agencies stepping in with emergency food relief if there is still a government in place that seems to be actively abetting the country's economic self-destruction. Already the fears induced by such a prospect are creating a large emigration of both blacks and whites. The position is at its most dramatic in Matabeleland: the foundation's latest survey found that only 36 per cent of Bulawayo residents definitely plan to stay in Bulawayo, that 14 per cent are either thinking about leaving or have a definite plan to leave; and that a further 49 per cent say they would leave if they had the means to do so.

Inevitably, this situation has led to growing domestic and international pressure for Mugabe to step down before more economic damage is done to the country and before civil unrest boils over uncontrollably. Nobody is quite sure what role the army and police will play faced with large-scale public demonstrations and the possibility remains of serious bloodshed before change can be effected. The minister of defence, Moven Mahachi, has reacted to MDC talk of mass action against the regime with the ominous declaration that Zanu-PF came to power by force and was willing to use force to stay there. Coming from the minister who publicly justified the torture of journalists last year, such a statement cannot be taken lightly. Nonetheless it seems certain that the opposition will resort to mass action to force Mugabe out if international pressure cannot do the job.

The key player is inevitably South Africa and here the tragically mistaken policy of President Thabo Mbeki towards Zimbabwe has a capital significance. While the MDC's leader Morgan Tsvangirai has attempted to persuade former President Mandela to intervene on his behalf, Mbeki has not only refused to see Tsvangirai but has continued to accept Mugabe's interpretation of events in as much as he continues to regard the problem of land reform as critical to the whole situation - something with which only 6 per cent of Zimbabweans agree. Thus Mbeki wishes to bring Britain into the negotiations and to get the British to put forward a serious financial commitment to assisting land reform in Zimbabwe as part of a package deal which would leave Zanu-PF in power, though perhaps minus Mugabe. Britain for its part has no intention of providing such aid, which would be seen by British public opinion as accepting the violent and illegal tactics that Mugabe has used throughout this year over the land issue.

Moreover, Britain points out that it stopped providing financial assistance for land reform in Zimbabwe because the government was clearly not serious about it, either leaving expropriated land vacant or distributing it to the government's rich and powerful friends. That is, future British aid for land reform will only materialise if linked to a coherent and properly organised land reform programme. Mugabe's fast-track resettlement programme emphatically does not qualify as such a policy and, indeed, it is difficult to believe that any policy emanating from Mugabe will now attract British support. British public opinion has been thoroughly aroused by what it sees as Mugabe's untrustworthy and murderous behaviour and no British government is likely to give its blessing to the Mbeki strategy.

Behind Mbeki's linking of the land issue to any prospect of defusing the Zimbabwean situation lies his conviction that Zanu-PF must remain in power, albeit under a new and reformed leadership. That is to say, the ANC cannot accept that one of the governing liberation movements of southern Africa should be ejected from power. Recurrent statements from ANC spokesmen make it clear that they view the MDC as a reactionary force, analogous to the Inkatha Freedom Party in South Africa, and that they still subscribe to the view that the liberation movements - the ANC, Swapo, Zanu-PF, Frelimo and the MPLA - are the rightful rulers of their countries more or less in perpetuity.

Mugabe continues to show what can only be termed a bold lack of realism about the situation. On a state visit to Nigeria in early November he claimed that his land reform programme had the support not only of Africa but of the whole of the third world. Contrary to all the facts on the ground he insisted that the land acquisition programme was "progressing well" and added, "the international condemnation is that of imperialist powers. It is not a condemnation of Africa - our African brothers and in fact the third world as a whole supported us. All we are doing is making Africa more African and taking land from those who colonised us and wanted to continue owning the land by using all kinds of legal technicalities." What the president means by "legal technicalities" is clearly nothing less than title deeds, the rule of law and the due process of the courts. It is precisely his disregard for all these things that has endangered the investment climate of Africa as a whole.

If Mugabe continues to cling to power and Mbeki continues to take the line he has, then it seems likely that Mugabe will be swept from power by a popular uprising. While it would be foolish to put an exact date to such an event it is difficult to see how Mugabe can possibly last if the economic predictions made for the next four months are anything like accurate. To date the Zimbabwean security forces have proved extremely adroit at preventing large crowds from the high-density suburbs marching into Harare. But it seems inevitable that this will occur and ultimately in such numbers that only a bloodbath will prevent the population from over-throwing the regime by the same means recently seen in both Yugoslavia and the Ivory Coast.

If this does indeed occur it will provide an immense shock to the political system of the whole southern African region. The overthrow of the Portuguese empire in Mozambique and Angola in 1974 had an electrifying effect on most black South Africans because it showed that white minority rule was vulnerable and could be overthrown. It was no accident that the Soweto rising occurred shortly thereafter. In the same way, the sight of a liberation movement being ejected from power by a popular uprising and replaced by a moderate black government that shows a complete disdain for the language, style and rhetoric of the liberation era will undoubtedly have an equally strong effect on Mozambique, Angola, Namibia and South Africa. For all these countries are ruled by liberation movements that have begun to lose ground with their electorates for precisely the same failures that have ultimately undone Mugabe. They share a set of ideological convictions allied to an incorrigible self-righteousness that together mean that no amount of regime corruption, failure to deliver on promises or any of the normal deficiencies of government are seen as sufficient reasons for it to allow a democratic alternation in power. Unfortunately for this liberationist view of life the Freedom Charter was quite right - ultimately the people will govern.