Socialist Worker

Revolt from below threatens Mugabe’s stranglehold on Zimbabwe

Ken Olende looks at the election crisis in Zimbabwe

Issue No. 2095

As Socialist Worker went to press, it appeared that Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe had lost both the parliamentary and presidential elections in the country by a landslide vote.

So far official results have been released painfully slowly, with authorities trying to ensure that news of a defeat for the ruling Zanu-PF party is always paired with news of a win.

But initial election results are being posted outside polling stations—and these strongly suggest massive setbacks for Mugabe’s forces. At least six cabinet ministers have already lost their seats.

Independent election monitors believe that Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has won 55 percent in the presidential election against Mugabe’s 36 percent. This would remove the need for a run-off.

Mugabe fixed Zimbabwe’s election results in 2002 and 2005, but this time the margin is too large to paper over.

Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the MDC, noted that the party had “garnered more votes in rural areas than in urban areas”. This is an extraordinary breakthrough for the opposition, whose strength had in the past been centred in urban areas.


Zanu-PF has previously been able to rely on bolstering its vote with support from rural areas and from Mugabe’s base among the Shona people. But this strategy has now failed even in previously secure heartlands.

People in Zimbabwe have overcome fear and repression to reject Mugabe. Struggle from below was central to providing them with the confidence to back an alternative.

Not only did they not require intervention from the West, what intervention there has been has worked to hold back the movement from below.

The strategy of the “Orange revolutions”, pioneered in Ukraine and much praised by Western governments, NGOs and media commentators, relies on the most passive participation by the masses.

It certainly doesn’t encourage the kind of militant demonstrations and strikes that could be needed in Zimbabwe to make Mugabe accept defeat.

Even the Financial Times admits that “no one outside Zimbabwe can claim credit” for Mugabe’s humbling. In the last resort the people of Zimbabwe “may have no option but to take to the streets to save their country from a creeping coup,” it adds.

Mugabe held a crisis meeting with security chiefs last Sunday to work out how he can hold on to power.

But it appears his supporters are divided over whether they can get away with this and are now trying to stall for time.

There are obvious parallels with the elections in Kenya three months ago that saw an opposition led by Raila Odinga challenging the country’s president Mwai Kibaki.

In that case the opposition started off more strongly, publicising its victories and calling its supporters onto the streets.

But it had no strategy once the state hit back with massive violence. People in Zimbabwe need to be prepared to take strike action and come out on the streets to defend the election result.

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