If you want to challenge Robert Mugabe — who once claimed that he’d be president until 100 years of age — you’ll be lucky to come out of the experience alive.
That’s what makes opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai a true survivor. Tsvangirai’s party announced Sunday that he will pull out of his presidential runoff race against Mugabe in the midst of mounting violence and intimidation.
Tsvangirai is president of the Movement for Democratic Change — something Zimbabwe is aching for after the catastrophic rule of Mugabe — and has survived, by his count, four assassination attempts at the hands of Mugabe’s goons, including a 1997 attempt to throw him out of a 10-story window and a savage beating last year as punishment for proceeding with a banned protest march. After forcing Mugabe to a runoff in the presidential election this year — and let’s face it, the MDC probably won more than 50 percent outright, besides just edging out Mugabe as claimed — Tsvangirai’s return to Zimbabwe to campaign was delayed by word of an assassination plot that allegedly was organized by military intelligence.
Now the man who revealed the damning details of that plot — which allegedly involved 18 snipers being specially tasked with taking out Tsvangirai — will likely be killed by Mugabe.
Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the MDC, was hauled into a Harare court last Thursday, accused of penning documents that call Mugabe a criminal. Even though that shoe fits, the MDC claims the state’s “evidence” consists of forgeries with “not even an attempt to simulate the accused’s signature.” This opposition is classified as subversion, with capital punishment as the convenient penalty. Biti has been refused bail.
Also last week, 27-year-old Abigail Chiroto, the wife of the mayor of Harare — Emmanuel Chiroto, a member of the MDC — was abducted along with her 4-year-old son; the couple’s house was also firebombed. Abigail’s blindfolded body was discovered hours later, and the boy was released. “My son keeps on saying to me, ‘Daddy, go and get mummy from the forest, go and get her and bring her home’,” Emmanuel Chiroto told the Telegraph.
The MDC estimates that since the first round of voting on March 29, “about 70” opposition supporters have been tortured and killed by operatives of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. A Zimbabwean intelligence officer told the UK’s Channel 4 News last week that the toll is much higher and that the killing will continue through the June 27 runoff. The unidentified active-duty officer, who also confirmed that Mugabe indeed rigged the first round of the vote, said the current goal is to keep people from the polls. “Personally I say to them to use plastic, to burn plastic and put it on their backs,” he said. “What else? To put them in handcuffs. And with iron bars — to beat them the whole night. (And) to put them in water.”
Mugabe promised conflict and more bloodshed — with the assistance of his loyal “war veterans” militia — if the MDC wins in the runoff; most recently, the MDC has proposed an election boycott by the opposition. Mugabe even blocked international food aid shipments to multiple provinces, preferring that his people starve as his government contended the aid was just a front to give a hand to the opposition.
Last Monday, Mugabe vowed to arrest “in broad daylight” those who would try to get him to yield to an election defeat, and was quoted the day before in state-run media as having said, “We are not going to give up our country for a mere X on a ballot. How can a ballpoint pen fight with a gun?”
That certainly says it all, as does the fate that may befall Biti. And yet, the silence of the world is deafening.
“How can global leaders espouse the values of democracy, yet when they are being challenged fail to open their mouths?” Tsvangirai wrote in an April Guardian editorial.
Find someone who cares, or who will even give the maniacal Mugabe his due. Andrew Young, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Jimmy Carter, infamously told the Times of London in 1978 that he was “fascinated by (Mugabe’s) intelligence, by his dedication. The only thing that frustrates me about Robert Mugabe is that he is so damned incorruptible.” Decades of deadly, corrupt rule didn’t seem to change his mind much, as Young incredulously compared Mugabe’s persecution to that of America’s founding fathers in an interview with allAfrica.com in 2002.
Although Condoleezza Rice is pressing the U.N. to take action on Zimbabwe, it’s doubtful that the world body will take concrete action to stem the violence. It will likely take the safer route of generally calling into doubt the fairness of the June 27 vote. But people are dying, and will continue to do so — a one-party runoff vote won’t eliminate the need, in Mugabe’s mind, to eliminate every last drop of the opposition, particularly as the MDC handed him a humiliating defeat in the first round. European Union leaders meeting in Brussels last Friday expressed “deep concern” about the carnage and warned Zimbabwe of further sanctions. But the bloodshed is beyond being solved by another classic EU working group.
“Major powers here, such as South Africa, the US and Britain, must act to remove the white-knuckle grip of Mugabe’s suicidal reign and oblige him and his minions to retire,” Tsvangirai wrote in the Guardian.
And the MDC leader — whose party’s initials could just as well stand for Marked for Death Constantly — has definitely earned the right to demand real international help.