Zimbabwe is in turmoil. Robert Mugabe has won another presidential election amid allegations of vote rigging, intimidation, and violence against opposition politicians. African nations will not act. Western governments are divided on what to do.
Galway’s Zimbabwean community is deeply troubled by the events of the last eight years, which has seen the once stable and prosperous republic suffer economic ruin and political despotism. Juliet, originally from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, and Marian, also from Zimbabwe - both of whom now live in Galway - spoke to the Galway Advertiser about the current crisis which followed last month’s disputed presidential election results.
“People are fearful,” Juliet explains. “Things have changed since I came to Ireland and after the recent presidential election they have changed further. People wish the world could do something about it.”
In March, Zimbabwe held presidential and parliamentary elections. Ruling president and Zanu PF leader Robert Mugabe received 43.2 per cent of the vote while Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change with 47.9 per cent in the first round.
The result required a second round in June. However Mr Tsvangirai withdrew saying his supporters would be intimated and killed if he remained in the race. As a result Mugabe won the election easily.
However in this, as in previous elections, Zanu PF was accused of intimidation and murder of opposition supporters and vote rigging. After the election result, Mugabe spokesperson George Charamba said the West could “go hang a thousand times”.
Marian says intimidation of voters is widespread. “People in rural areas are being intimidated or bribed,” she says. “Mugabe people will come up to them and say ‘Vote For Mugabe if you want to eat again this year’ or, as they did in the past, will bring them maize and grain and people will think ‘Oh he’s come through for us, let’s vote for Mugabe’.”
Juliet says Mugabe’s inability to give up political office or recognise calls for change have resulted in his becoming a tyrant.
“For years Mugabe ruled and no one stood up to him or went for the presidency,” says Juliet. “Eventually people just wanted change and when Morgan Tsvangirai came along, and change became a possibility, Mugabe just couldn’t let go of power.”
The first signs of trouble came in 2000 when white farmers were expelled from their lands and their farms given to Zanu PF members who did little more than let the land lie fallow. The highly lucrative agricultural exports to South Africa were almost wiped out. This was a major factor in precipitating a massive economic collapse. The Zimbabwean dollar is now worthless and life is almost unbearable for ordinary people.
“I was back in Zimbabwe in 2005 and things were bad and my relatives tell me that things have got worse since,” says Juliet. “The supermarket shelves are empty. There is nothing there. People have to go outside the country to buy groceries! They are suffering. It is only by the grace of God they are surviving.”
“A loaf of bread can be five million Zimbabwean dollars in the morning and 15 million by the evening,” says Marian. “A person’s wage can’t buy them a taxi into town so children have to walk many kilometres to school. In rural areas prostitution is a huge problem and that exacerbates AIDs. Alcoholism is on the rise because if you can’t eat you might as well drink. People have lost their hope and dignity.”
Given his economic policies alone, how is it possible that Mugabe can still retain power and support among sections of the population?
“Because the military is behind him,” explains Juliet. “The generals are the ones working behind the scenes. Mugabe is more like a puppet leader. They have camps where they bring young people, brainwash them and give them money to carry out atrocities. People have been burned alive. When they see the MDC they are afraid they will be put in gaol for what they have done. As a result they feel they might as well do as Zanu PF tells them.”
Yet Mugabe’s presidential victory gives him yet another term of office. While the country goes to ruin the World powers remain divided about what to do. Efforts by the UN Security Council to impose new sanctions on Zimbabwe’s leadership failed when Russia and China vetoed the move. Although sceptical of Russia and China’s reasons, Juliet and Marian agree sanctions would have been counter productive.
“The sanctions won’t affect Mugabe and his supporters,” says Juliet. “They won’t help the people of Zimbabwe, they will only make things worse for them.”
Marian doubts whether the international community is committed to helping Zimbabwe and she is particularly critical of the other African nations.
“He is still considered one of the heroes over colonialism and as the longest serving president, that carries clout,” she says. “Also other countries have business interests there and won’t move against him.”
Juliet is pessimistic about the future of Zimbabwe.
“There may be civil war, or military rule. Whether Mugabe dies or leaves power, there are problems that will take years to solve. The MDC itself - does it have the resources? I don’t know. It will be a long time before there is change.”
Marian agrees it will take time but is determined to be optimistic.
“It may come to a point where Zimbabwe is left to its own devices but there is light at the end of the tunnel - there has to be. If Idi Amin was overthrown, and that was by people power, then surely Mugabe can be brought down. I cannot resign myself to the fact that Zimbabwe will go down and stay down.”