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Zimbabwe: A Dream Deferred

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 26, 2008 (080526)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the text of "Zimbabwe: A Dream Deferred," a summary report from TransAfrica Forum on the joint observer mission sent by TransAfrica Forum and Africa Action to the Zimbabwe election in March. The summary is written for a U.S. audience, to provide a progressive alternative to misleading and simplistic characterizations of the crisis in Zimbabwe, often characterizing news coverage and debate in the United States.

It also includes a listing and links to previous AfricaFocus Bulletins and Africa Policy E-Journal issues on Zimbabwe, providing a wide variety of documentation on Zimbabwe in the crisis years from 2000 to the present.

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today contains excerpts from other recent commentaries on Zimbabwe that challenge the simplistic conflation of Mugabe's critics with the positions taken by the British and American governments.

For ongoing coverage of and commentary on current developments, AfricaFocus particularly recommends Zimbabwean sites and, and international sites and

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

@@@@@@@@@@@Editor's Picks: Crisis Updates/Background@@@@@@@

President Thabo Mbeki Address to the nation on Africa Day

"Sadly, here in South Africa, we mark Africa day with our heads bowed. The shameful actions of a few have blemished the name of South Africa through criminal acts against our African brothers and sisters from other parts of the continent, as well as other foreign residents especially from Asia.


Never since the birth of our democracy, have we witnessed such callousness. As part of the reflection that Africa Day requires of all of us, we must acknowledge the events of the past two weeks as an absolute disgrace."

Pambazuka News

Issue on "South Africa: Xenophobia and the end of an illusion", with articles by editors Mukoma Wa Ngugi and Firoze Manji on xenophobia and solidarity, eye-witness report from a trade unionist, statements by Abahlali baseMjondolo, Onyekachi Wambu, Social Movements Indaba, Southern African film makers, and roundup from African blogs

@@@@@@@@@@End Editor's Picks: Crisis Updates/Background@@@@@@@

The Zimbabwe Elections: A Dream Deferred

TransAfrica Forum Policy Brief

May 2008

Summary Report (May 12, 2008) from an
Election Mission to Zimbabwe, March 20 - April 2, 2008

[printed formatted version available from TransAfrica Forum]

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up?
like a raisin in the sun
Or fester like a sore-
and then run?


Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

       - Langston Hughes

TransAfrica Forum, founded in 1977, and Africa Action, formed in 2001 by the merger of the American Committee on Africa (1953), the Africa Fund (1966), and the Africa Policy Information Center (1978), have a long history of support for liberation, human rights, and economic justice in Zimbabwe. Before Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, TransAfrica Forum and Africa Action's predecessor groups were among the leading U.S. supporters of Zimbabwe's freedom struggle against the white minority regime of Rhodesia. They also actively opposed and exposed tacit U.S. and British collaboration with that white regime.

Since independence, both groups have maintained close contacts in Zimbabwe, particularly with the trade union movement and with Zimbabwe's active and diverse civil society, as well as with Zimbabwean political groups. They have joined Zimbabwean groups in opposition to conservative economic structural adjustment programs prescribed by international financial institutions and Western powers for Zimbabwe and other African countries. And they have shared the disappointment and disillusionment of Zimbabweans as political leaders have turned to corruption, demagoguery, violence, and repression to preserve their personal power instead of continuing to advance the shared dreams and promises of independence.

From March 20 to April 2, the two organizations fielded an unofficial observer mission to Zimbabwe during the election period, focusing on meeting with a wide range of groups as well as observing the election process. The delegation was made up of TransAfrica Forum Senior Director for Public Affairs Imani Countess, TransAfrica Forum Director for Africa Policy, Roxanne Lawson, and Africa Action Program Associate, Briggs Bomba. Their visit was facilitated by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD), a national social justice network with over 100 organizational members. The delegation met with civil society groups in Harare and Bulawayo, attended election events and briefings by Zimbabwean and other Southern African election observers, and interviewed Zimbabwean trade unionists, students, and other civil society leaders.

Groups that the delegation met with during the visit to Zimbabwe include Bulawayo Agenda, National Youth Development Trust, Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association, Center for Peace Initiatives in Africa, Christian Alliance and the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, Combined Harare Residents Association, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Matabeleland Empowerment Services Association, National Alliance of NGOs, National Constitutional Assembly, Student Solidarity Trust, Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Zimbabwe Elections Support Network, Zimbabwe Human Rights Campaign, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, and Zimbabwe Social Forum.

This preliminary report summarizes the delegation's observations and analysis, drawing both on interviews during the visit and on the two groups' longstanding engagement with Zimbabweans seeking social, economic, and political justice for their people. In doing so, it seeks to provide a progressive alternative to misleading and simplistic characterizations of the crisis in Zimbabwe.

A False Polarization

Media coverage of the crisis in Zimbabwe has commonly highlighted criticism of Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe by Western governments, particularly the United States and Britain, on the one hand, and Mugabe's defense of his government's actions as a continuation of the liberation struggle against Western imperialism. This impression was particularly solidified during the period of seizures of white-owned farms beginning in 2000. International press coverage gave particular attention to the fate of white farmers and President Mugabe claimed fulfillment of long-deferred goals of the liberation movement. President Mugabe accurately blamed Western powers for failing to follow through on independence pledges to facilitate peaceful settlement of the land issue. Supporters of President Mugabe in Africa and around the world legitimately accused the Western powers of a double standard in singling out Zimbabwe for criticism.

What this picture obscured, however, was the fact that the government itself had moved slowly for two decades on this issue. Many of those who did receive large farms were themselves high government officials. In the context of conservative economic policies, the gap between rich and poor was accentuated. Critics charged that the new land seizure campaign was an opportunistic response to the government's defeat in a constitutional referendum that same year, and an attempt to divert attention from growing discontent at corruption at high levels while ordinary Zimbabweans saw their economic conditions continue to sink.

Crisis in Context

Zimbabwe's crisis is therefore not just the story of a liberation leader who has ruled for more than a quarter of a century and turned to violence and fraud to stay in power. It is a complex socio-economic crisis fueled by international economic pressures as well as government policies.

Unemployment is over 80 percent. Inflation is at astronomical levels. As many as 3 million of the 13 million population have fled the country, to South Africa, Britain, and around the world; for many families remittances from overseas relatives are the only source of survival.

Zimbabweans who voted against the government, despite enormous pressures from the ruling party, included not only political supporters of the opposition candidates. Many in fact have doubts about opposition leaders as well as government leaders. But overwhelmingly, the people of Zimbabwe want a new start, an opportunity to rebuild a country that, in the first decade after independence, was seen as one of the beacons of hope in Africa.

The actors are not just the political parties, but a richly diverse array of civil society organizations with grassroots constituencies, including trade unions, student groups, churches, human rights groups, professional groups, and independent media. Their demand is not so much for a particular candidate, but respect for democracy and the rule of law, an end to violence, and the opportunity to begin economic reconstruction that benefits the majority of Zimbabweans.

Election in Context

Reports that we heard during our visit agreed that while the election context was far from free and fair, the election itself was far more peaceful than previous elections in 2000, 2002, and 2005, with only very minor incidents of violence or overt intimidation. Among changes in election procedure, which were facilitated by mediators from neighboring countries, was that election results in each polling station were posted in public at the station, allowing both party officials and other observers to compile their own national tallies. It was such "unofficial" counts that first indicated a parliamentary victory by the opposition and a loss by President Robert Mugabe in the presidential race.

Out of 5.2 million eligible voters, approximately 2.47 million voted (Zimbabweans outside the country were not eligible to vote).

In the House of Assembly, President Mugabe's Zanu-PF party lost its majority for the first time since independence in 1980, with 97 seats against the MDC's 99 in the 210-seat chamber. The smaller MDC faction won 10 seats [for a total of 109 seats won by the opposition]. In the Senate, Zanu-PF and the combined opposition have 30 seats each. The official presidential election results were finally announced more than a month after the election, and showed Morgan Tsvangirai with 47.9% of the votes, Robert Mugabe with 43.2%, and Simba Mukoni with 8.3%. The MDC claims, however, that their count shows Tsvangirai won an absolute majority, and that the long delay, without transparency, allowed tampering with the totals.

Nevertheless, Zimbabwean civic groups told the delegation that there were many structural aspects of the election that were still unfair, including partisan security forces, biased state media, no provision for voting by Zimbabweans outside the country, the government's decision to invite only "friendly" observers, and the general factor of fear, particularly in rural areas.

In the period following the election, the prospect of a free and fair presidential runoff to complete the process has been gravely endangered by the return of violence, active repression of opposition supporters and other critical voices, and suspicions of fraud in the prolonged period before the final results were released.

Trade Unions and the Crisis in Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) was formed in 1981, the year after independence, merging six separate trade union coalitions. The ZCTU has 35 affiliated unions. In the 1980s the union took the lead in opposing the structural adjustment programs introduced by the Zimbabwe government with advice from the World Bank, calling attention to the negative impact on workers and the general population. Criticism escalated to strikes as economic conditions worsened in the late 1990s. From 20,000 workers who went on strike in 1995, the number rose to 235,000 in 1996 and over a million in 1997. In response to growing pressure from civil society, the Parliament passed the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) in 2002, which virtually outlawed public gatherings. The Act requires permission from security forces prior to holding any public meeting; POSA has stifled debate and resulted in the arrest and detention of trade unionists and human rights workers. As government repression against worker action intensified, the ZCTU played a key role in the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change. Morgan Tsvangirai, previously ZCTU Secretary-General, became the leader of the new political party.

Unions in other Southern African countries and the international trade union movement in general, have been among the most consistent supporters of both economic and political justice in Zimbabwe. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has been particularly outspoken through the years of crisis. Most recently, in April, South African dockworkers in Durban refused to offload arms from a Chinese ship for shipment to Zimbabwe. Together with the International Transport Federation (ITF) and the International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC), and unions in other Southern African countries, pressure was successfully mobilized to stop the ship from offloading through ports in other African countries.

Resurgent Violence and Repression

As noted above, the lead-up to the March 29, 2008 election and Election Day itself were remarkably peaceful, and the initial process was smooth. As election results were delayed, however, violence began to mount, most of it reportedly the result of a campaign by security forces and pro-government gangs against opposition supporters. On May 9, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights released a report expressing deep concern over the escalating cases of organized violence and torture and the increasing intimidation of medical personnel. The report said over 900 victims of violence have been documented in the post election period. But they stress that this figure grossly underestimates the problem because many cases go unreported countrywide and the violence is so widespread that it is impossible to properly document all the cases. The doctors report that the victims being treated have identified the perpetrators as war veterans, armed security forces and ZANU-PF youth militia. There were a few acts of violence that victims attributed to opposition members, and these appeared to have been retaliation or self-defense.

In addition, election officials in areas voting for the opposition have been arrested; teachers, who often served as local election officials, have been particularly targeted. On May 8, ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo and Secretary-General Wellington Chibebe were detained. The office of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, the independent civil society election monitor, was raided. Many of its workers are in hiding or in detention. While some of those detained during this period have been released after short periods, there is still no sign that the pattern of arrests and violence is changing.

A Way Ahead?

Any detailed policy proposal risks being overtaken by events. The most recent developments are that the opposition has decided to enter the runoff campaign for president, despite the failure to verify the long-delayed presidential vote count and their contention that they were deprived of a 50%-plus margin by fraud. But the timing of an election is uncertain, while violence continues to rise, most of it attributed by observers to a decision by security authorities to intimidate the population into voting for President Mugabe. Whether a runoff election with any credibility is in fact possible or not will depend on whether both internal and external pressures force security officials to limit, even if not to stop entirely, the climate of intimidation.

Nevertheless, there are some fundamental principles that must be observed if the people of Zimbabwe are to be able to exit from the crisis and make a new start. Any runoff election must be carried out under conditions of security, which will require the presence of observers not only from governments but also from civil society. Whatever the electoral outcome, or whether it is preceded by a transitional arrangement acceptable to the political contestants and to civil society, no "winner-take-all" solution can be a sustainable path to the future. Zimbabweans deserve a plan for economic reconstruction that breaks both with the current downward spiral of corruption and collapse and with rigid economic formulas imposed by international financial institutions. Western governments with little credibility should refrain from rash statements that give credibility to the regime's charges that opposition comes from Western powers rather than from Zimbabweans themselves. And, outside groups who wish to support the struggle for economic, social, and political justice in Zimbabwe should maintain a wide range of contacts with Zimbabwean civil society. The international community must provide humanitarian support as well as the commitment to be supportive of an open and democratic process in Zimbabwe.

Evolution of the Zimbabwe Crisis

Zimbabwe: Writing on the Wall
Mar 31, 2008

Zimbabwe: A Regional Solution?
Sep 23, 2007

Zimbabwe: Pan African Response
Sep 23, 2007

Zimbabwe: Call for SADC Action
Jul 1, 2007

Zimbabwe: The End of "Quiet Diplomacy"?
Mar 26, 2007

Zimbabwe: Symptoms of Decline
Dec 12, 2006

Zimbabwe: Displacement and Survival
Aug 6, 2006

Zimbabwe: Shadows and Lies
Aug 6, 2006

Zimbabwe: Housing Tsunami Continues
Jul 28, 2005

Zimbabwe: Election Fraud Report
Apr 18, 2005

Zimbabwe: Solidarity Newsletter
Mar2, 2005

Zimbabwe: Test for African Responsibility
Aug 14, 2004

Zimbabwe: "We Are Still Here Ambuya"
Dec 10, 2003

Zimbabwe: Civil Society Voices
Dec7, 2003

Africa Policy E-Journal (2000-2003)

Zimbabwe: Statements on Crisis

Zimbabwe: Human Rights Watch Report

Zimbabwe: Civil Society on Crisis

Zimbabwe: Election Reports

Zimbabwe: Update / Analysis

Zimbabwe: Press Freedom

Zimbabwe: African Rights Letter

Zimbabwe: Updates / Analysis

Zimbabwe: Statements/Analysis, 2

Zimbabwe: Statements/Analysis, 1

Zimbabwe: Recent Documents

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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