May 26, 2008 (080526)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
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.
"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."
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
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
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
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
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
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
Out of 5.2 million eligible voters, approximately 2.47 million
voted (Zimbabweans outside the country were not eligible to
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
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
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
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.
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