Socialist Worker

It's the beginning of the end for Robert Mugabe

Issue No. 2096

The outcome of Zimbabwe's elections remains shrouded in uncertainty. But one thing is clear. The country's politics remains dominated, as it has been for the last decade, by the struggle for power between the regime of Robert Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

For many people, this is a surprise. They had written the MDC off. Some saw Simba Makoni, formerly Mugabe's finance minister, as a presidential candidate acceptable to both the opposition and the ruling Zanu-PF party.

In the event, Makoni received a derisory vote, while the MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai is generally accepted to have defeated Mugabe in the presidential race. In the parliamentary elections the MDC beat Zanu-PF and would have won a spanking majority had a breakaway not split the vote in a number of constituencies.

The MDC remains the political voice of Zimbabwe's urban population, who rose against Zanu-PF in the late 1990s. But in these elections the MDC has also eaten into Mugabe's rural base, for example in the Eastern Highlands.

This is a real comeback for the MDC leadership, which made some disastrous political mistakes in the early years of this decade, above all in defending white farmers expropriated by Mugabe's regime.

Now the MDC has seized the initiative by claiming victory the day after the elections. Mugabe and his cronies are on the defensive.

The British media seems obsessed with psychoanalysing Mugabe. The Independent on Sunday carried a piece with the ridiculous headline 'How Love Made Mugabe a Monster'.

It suggested he might have been turned against Britain by the shabby efforts of the home office to deport his wife while she was living in exile in London in the 1970s and he was imprisoned by the racist regime of Ian Smith.


In fact, no black Zimbabwean has anything to thank Britain for. Britain conquered their country and stole their land, installing a settler regime that for 90 years denied them the most basic political rights.

What motivates Mugabe is hanging onto power. Every attack on him by a New Labour government knee-deep in Iraqi blood has been a gift, allowing him to pose as an anti-imperialist.

Mugabe's real nemesis will be the Zimbabwean people. Like Ian Smith before him he has badly miscalculated. A people worn down by starvation, hyperinflation and repression have refused to knuckle under, and voted him out instead.

No doubt Mugabe will try plenty of dirty tricks to remain in power. But he has a fundamental problem – he is 84. In every autocracy, the passing of the ruler is a dangerous moment for hangers-on.

Even before the election, there was plenty of manoeuvring at the top of Zanu-PF, as the so-called 'chefs' anxiously sought to hang on to their ill-gotten gains.

Makoni's presidential bid was apparently intended to flush these divisions out. Mugabe has long experience in playing different factions off against each other and managed to maintain unity during the elections.

His defeat in the polls may, however, make this balancing act harder. Mugabe is relying on the support of the military and security chiefs united in the Joint Operations Command – an inheritance from the colonial area that has effectively superseded the cabinet.

But the Financial Times quoted a former Zimbabwean diplomat who had been visited the day after the election by a presidential aide and a director of the feared Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). They wanted to open a line of communication to the MDC.

'He the CIO officer] was very concerned... He said this is the right time to get in touch with the opposition, and that it looks like the old man [Mugabe] is going, whether he likes it or not. 'We don't want to be associated with torturers,' he told me. 'We daren't go to Chitungwiza [the sprawling township south east of Harare] right now for fear of being stoned'.'

It may take a bit of time, and some more bloodshed, but this is Mugabe's endgame.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.