Zimbabwe’s Ian Smith still rebel without a cause.
HARARE, June 21 (Reuters) – Former Rhodesian leader Ian Smith says he doubts Zimbabwe’s weekend parliamentary elections will be free or fair but believes the opposition has a chance of defeating President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party.
“There has not been an honest election in this country since 1980,” the ex-prime minister told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday. “I don’t think this one will be any different. The evidence available suggests it will not be free or fair.”
Smith, who led Rhodesia to a unilateral declaration of independence from Britain in 1965 and then defied world opinion by keeping a minority white government in power until its independence as Zimbabwe in 1980, said the opposition would win by a landslide if the election was not rigged.
“There is no doubt the country is fed up with this government,” he said. “But the government can’t see the writing on the wall… they seem to think they have a divine right to rule.”
Smith no longer has much political credibility in Zimbabwe, but at the age of 80 still commands some respect among the white community and even from some black people.
But he remains a thorn in the flesh of Mugabe’s government, which accuses the opposition of “selling out” to the minority white population and foreign interests.
Mugabe has made race a central issue of the election, which follows widespread invasions of white-owned farms by veterans of Zimbabwe’s 1970s liberation war and threats to nationalise foreign-owned mines.
Smith’s farm is one of over 800 which have been designated for takeover by the government.
Now a more frail and stooped figure than the man who vowed in 1976 that “never in a 1,000 years” would there be majority rule in the country, Smith was speaking at his home in suburban Harare.
The garden gate was wide open, the front door ajar. The lack of security was a contrast with Mugabe, who has a phalanx of bodyguards.
“I’m happy to walk around and do my own thing,” he said. “I’ve got as many black people coming to see me as whites. They tell me ‘why don’t you tell Mr Mugabe how to run the economy, we used to live better under you’.”
He said he had not spoken personally to Mugabe since 1981 when, he said, the Zimbabwe President appeared to “change overnight”.
“I had regular meetings with Mugabe. He used to welcome me and thank me for giving him the benefit of my experience,” Smith said.
He said that after initially appearing to allow free enterprise and market forces to set the pace for Zimbabwe’s economy, Mugabe reverted to the brand of Marxist state control that has characterised his rule ever since.
“I told Mugabe that I would have to criticize him for that,” Smith said. “He didn’t even bid me goodbye and he has never spoken to me since.”
Smith, his face still bearing the scars of the injuries he received as a fighter pilot in Britain’s Royal Air Force during World War Two, said he believed a change of government in Zimbabwe could herald a new era of prosperity in the southern African country.
“There is a great deal of goodwill in the international community, but that goodwill is being withheld because of this government,” he said.
“I am certain that if the government changes, the opportunities for this country are very good.”
Zimbabwe to vote in crossroad elections.
By David Fox
HARARE, June 21 (Reuters) – Zimbabwe votes this weekend in the most crucial election since independence from Britain 20 years ago, a poll scarred by violence, intimidation and the deaths of at least 29 people.
President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party faces a credible and united opposition for the first time since elections in 1980 ending a century of white minority rule in what was then Rhodesia and paving the way for the emergence of an independent Zimbabwe.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by charismatic former trades union chief Morgan Tsvangirai, is fielding candidates in all the 120 constituencies up for grabs.
A host of smaller opposition parties are also contesting some seats, but are not expected to mount a serious challenge to ZANU-PF or the MDC.
An opinion poll last week suggested the opposition – which in previous ballots has won a maximum of three seats – could win up to 70 this time.
ZANU-PF has dismissed the poll as flawed and says the best the opposition can hope for is a handful of seats.
The election comes two months after a successful MDC campaign against a government-sponsored referendum to change the constitution – – the biggest ever blow to Mugabe and his party.
Since then Mugabe and ZANU-PF have been scrambling to shore-up their support, using political violence and intimidation to try to guarantee victory, and dividing the country’s 12.5 million people along racial and tribal lines.
Hundreds of white-owned farms have been invaded with Mugabe’s backing by veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation war and ZANU-PF has made land the central plank of its manifesto.
Mugabe says it is a gross injustice that two decades after independence white Zimbabweans still control the best farmland while hundreds of thousands of black peasants eke out a subsistence living on sub-standard property.
The opposition argues that Mugabe and his cohorts have squandered Zimbabwe’s resources and attempts at land reform have been tainted by corruption.
At least 29 people, most of them opposition members, have been killed in violence linked to the farm invasions or this weekend’s ballot.
Thousands more have fled their homes in rural Zimbabwe as gangs of marauding youths terrorise their opponents into leaving.
Mugabe remains an avowed Marxist who sees Western plots behind every corner.
His campaign speeches are peppered with contempt for former colonial ruler Britain, which he accuses of attempting to recolonise Zimbabwe through the MDC.
He has alienated even his strongest allies abroad, resulting in foreign aid and investment drying to a trickle. The economy is reeling from the effects of the land crisis and uncertainty over the future.
The opposition has built its manifesto around the slogan “Time for Change” and clearly has a groundswell of support.
MDC rallies have been better attended than those for ZANU-PF candidates and the country’s key middle class – salaried city dwellers who are feeling the economic crunch more than the rest of the population – appear to have rallied to Tsvangirai’s cause.
But ZANU-PF still draws a great deal of support from the rural areas – a great part of which will be out of sight for the 300 or so international observers who have so far been registered to monitor voting.
“The observers can’t be everywhere at once,” former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday. “And even if they do see widespread cheating, widespread intimidation, what can they do about it?”
Zimbabwean authorities have so far refused permission for around 200 other international observers to monitor the election, prompting angry criticism from Washington and European Union mission leader Pierre Schori.
“We have never encountered so many problems with accreditation anywhere in the world,” Schori said on Wednesday, amid mounting international concern over the fairness of this weekend’s poll.
Mugabe urges defeat for “stooge” opposition.
By David Fox
CHITUNGWIZA, Zimbabwe, June 23 (Reuters) – President Robert Mugabe on Friday made his last pitch to voters before elections that threaten the 20-year rule of his party, urging Zimbabweans to reject opposition “stooges”.
Addressing a crowd of around 5,000 people at a football stadium in Chutungwiza, around 30 kms south of the capital, Mugabe said the Movement for Democratic Change was a front for the minority white population that ruled before independence.
“You must say no to this group of neo-colonialists,” he told the crowd. “Vote for the party that won independence and defeated the British.”
The rally, Mugabe’s last before voting begins on Saturday, had been billed by officials as the grand finale of the parliamentary election campaign by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.
But the audience – many of whom had been brought by bus from other constituencies – grew impatient after waiting for hours in the hot sun for Mugabe to arrive and began drifting off in the middle of his speech.
By the time he had finished, the majority of the crowd had left. The size of the audience was well below the hopes of ZANU-PF officials. Mugabe followed the same theme while speaking earlier to a rally of around 15,000 people in his political heartland of Chinhoyi, northwest of Harare.
He has accused Britain of bankrolling the MDC, which poses the first serious threat to the ZANU-PF’s grip on power since independence in 1980.
Around 15,000 people, many of them schoolchildren on mid-term break, attended the rally which began two hours behind schedule in a local sports stadium.
Mugabe attracted 30,000 followers at the same venue in 1995 when ZANU-PF swept back into power with an overwhelming majority. A local ZANU-PF official told Reuters on Thursday they were expecting up to 60,000 people.
“It was still a decent crowd, but we had expected more,” the official said after the rally. “Our problem is that it is the eve of the election and our people are off organising the vote.”
Despite the low turnout, a combative Mugabe – wearing a baseball cap emblazoned with the name of his party – strode into the crowd and punched the air with the clenched-fist ZANU-PF salute as supporters chanted “Mugabe, Mugabe.”
Before the rally began, an organiser warned the crowd not to speak to foreign journalists and international observers.
Foreign monitors have strongly condemned a wave of political violence linked to the elections and the invasions of hundreds of white-owned farms by pro-government militants since February.
At least 30 people, mostly MDC supporters, have died and hundreds of others have been beaten in a terror campaign blamed on Mugabe’s supporters.
The MDC said on Friday one of its election candidates had been beaten into a coma by suspected pro-government thugs on Wednesday and was moved to a Harare hospital on Friday.
At one point in his speech, Mugabe switched from the local Shona language to address the observers in English.
“You have not come to give us legitimacy. That is the duty of our people,” Mugabe said, looking directly at the observers.
“We have had open elections so when people talk about there being a lack of democracy. We don’t understand.
“We agree to observers because we have nothing to hide. We are not going to do anything hidden. We are going to win because we have the support of our people and we are going to win in the way that we have always won. We are going to teach them about democracy, especially Britain,” Mugabe said.
Whites still struggling to find role in new Zimbabwe.
HARARE, June 25 (Reuters) – Jonathan Spence, his son and two grandchildren were born in the same hospital in the same city, yet their birth certificates show they all came into the world in different countries.
The riddle that makes up their lives perfectly illustrates the difficulty many white Zimbabweans have in finding their place in this southern African country.
Spence was born in what was then Salisbury in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland when it was a British colony. His son was born in the same hospital after the minority white population unilaterally declared independence for Rhodesia from Britain in 1965.
One of his grandsons was born in 1979 when the country was a short-lived transitional creation called Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and a grandaughter in 1985, five years after Zimbabwe had won independence for the majority black population.
“There have been a lot of changes over the years,” he told Reuters. “But sometimes I’m still not sure exactly where we fit in this country.”
The uncertainty has grown this year as President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party made race one of the key platforms of their campaign for parliamentary elections which end on Sunday.
Mugabe accuses the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of being a front for former white Rhodesians to regain power through the back door. He also says the party is backed by racists from South Africa and British interests which want to restore colonial power.
“I find myself in an odd situation,” Spence told Reuters while watching England beat South Africa in a rugby test on television on Saturday night.
“If I support England, I’m a colonialist. If I support South Africa I’m a racist.”
The election comes after government supported invasions of white-owned farms by veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation war.
Spence’s farm, north of the capital Harare, is one of those that have been invaded. Some 120 war veterans are now encamped around a kilometre from his house and his chief complaint is the noise they make while drinking at the weekend.
“I have no real problems with them,” he said. “But it is unsettling – particularly when they are drunk. My labourers also feel uneasy then because the vets become a little bit unpredictable. They start nicking things like chickens.”
Spence’s farm is one of over 800 which have been designated for compulsory purchase by Mugabe’s government for distribution to black Zimbabweans. Mugabe says the land was stolen by early British settlers and the government will only compensate farmers for improvements they have made to it.
“I don’t know the full origin of the farm,” Spence said. “I bought it 15 years ago – when the country was already Zimbabwe. I paid tax for it to the Zimbabwe government and I have paid tax on everything I have produced to the Zimbabwe government.”
Spence is the first to admit that full racial integration still has a way to go in Zimbabwe, but says Mugabe’s election campaign has widened a rift between whites and blacks that was slowly closing.
“Sure, I can’t say I have any close black friends,” he said. “But I’m a farmer for heavens sake – I live in the middle of nowhere. My neighbours are white and my social peers are all white. What is Mugabe expecting? Does he want me to stick an advert in the lonely hearts column asking for black friends? ”
He argues that ZANU-PF’s tactics are the last throw of the dice for a regime that has become financially and morally bankrupt after 20 years in power.
“This election has nothing to do with whites or the land issue,” he said. “This election is all about whether the people of this country are sick and tired of ZANU and whether they want to give someone else a chance to run it properly.”
“So what if a lot of whites suppport the MDC? They have a right as Zimbabweans to support any legal party in the country.”
EU team says Zimbabwe poll ‘not free or fair’.
By David Fox
HARARE, June 25 (Reuters) – The head of the European Union team monitoring this weekend’s Zimbabwe’s parliamentary elections said on Sunday the poll had been seriously flawed and in no way could it be described as either free or fair.
“The term ‘free and fair elections’ is not applicable in these elections,” Pierre Schori told a news conference in the Zimbabwe capital.
“The level of violence and intimidation in the pre-election phase makes the term not applicable.”
Schori said while voting itself was “highly positive”, the level of pre-poll violence and a “lack of transparency” by the government appointed election body meant the process was seriously flawed.
At least 30 people were killed in the run-up to the elections – which closed on Sunday evening after two days of voting – and Schori said the ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe had been responsible for the bulk of it.
Mugabe and his party have ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980 and since then opposition groups have never held more than three seats in parliament at any one time.
But the government faces a serious challenge this time around from the nine-month-old Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which analysts say could grab a majority of the 120 seats at stake.
Mugabe can handpick a further 30 MPs to round-up the 150-seat parliament.
“ZANU-PF leaders seemed to sanction the use of violence and intimidation against political opponents and contributed significantly to the climate of fear so evident during the election campaign,” Schori told the news conference.
“In many rural areas, the level of intimidation was so intense as to make it virtually impossible for the opposition to campaign.
“Overall, the conduct of the government has failed to uphold the rule of law and compromised law enforcement agencies.”
Schori said in contrast to the build up to the elections, the poll itself had gone relative smoothly.
“Presiding officers and their staff on the whole were competent and efficient. There were however, serious problems with the voters’ roll and the number of intending voters who were unable to vast their ballots.”
Schori said his team had visited 1,700 polling stations since voting began on Saturday morning – nearly half the 4,000 established for the election.
He said while his team had enjoyed good access to all sites, obstructions had been placed in the way of domestic monitors that compromised their impartiality.
The “serious defects” in the electoral process needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency, he said.
Schori concluded with an appeal for Mugabe to show leadership in the days ahead and respect the wishes of the electorate.
“We believe the issues to be addressed include the extent to which the new dispensation respects the will of the people (and) how the general environment in the country accommodates the new political realities,” he said.
“With high authority comes high responsibility. The president of Zimbabwe will have to play a crucial role in the post-election phase,” Schori said.
ANALYSIS-Zimbabwe to change regardless of poll outcome.
By David Fox
HARARE, June 26 (Reuters) – Whatever the outcome of Zimbabwe’s parliamentary elections, analysts say the country’s political map has been re-drawn forever.
“There will be change in the country,” said Brian Raftopoulos, a political analyst and lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe’s Institute of Development Studies.
“It may be change for the better, it may be change for the worse, but there will be change.”
Counting for the weekend election began on Monday following a near-record turnout by voters to elect 120 members of parliament. The president can hand pick a further 30 MPs.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is expected to put up a strong showing against President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, which has ruled virtually unchallenged for 20 years.
Some analysts believe the MDC could win control of parliament, bringing a sea change in Zimbabwe’s history.
With inflation rising, growth stagnant, a currency that is worthless outside the country and high unemployment, the MDC says it has tapped into a rich vein of disenchantment with the government.
There is no doubt that Zimbabwe’s economy and political systems are in a parlous state.
The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and donor nations have cut aid to the country in protest at high-level graft and mismanagement.
Invasions of white-owned farms by self-styled independence war veterans have strangled the key agricultural sector.
The pre-election period was marked by what European Union observers say were “intense levels of intimidation” supported at the highest levels by ZANU-PF and government officials. The campaign created deep rifts in the country that will need to be addressed by the new government.
Analysts believe that despite international suspicion of the current government, tremendous goodwill exists for the country as a whole and this will be forthcoming if real political change is seen.
A public forum on possible post-election scenarios organised last week by the National Constitutional Assembly, a coalition of civic groups, agreed that change was in the air.
The NCA envisaged three possible scenarios after the vote:
– ZANU-PF retains an overwhelming majority and this vote of confidence encourages Mugabe to press ahead with radical legislation that further isolates the country.
– ZANU-PF and the MDC share the spoils and Mugabe agrees to some form of power-sharing that addresses the nation’s problems in a transparent manner.
– The MDC gains a majority and stifles Mugabe’s executive rule through parliament, forcing an early presidential election that Mugabe loses, but bringing more poll violence in the process.
“The best option, the most mature option would be the second,” said NCA spokesman Brian Kagoro, who chaired the forum.
“That would show a political maturity that would offer real hope for the future of the country. It would be a bridge-building exercise that everyone would applaud.”
But Mugabe stalwarts have made it clear that the party has no intention of relinquishing power regardless of the support it receives at the polls.
ZANU-PF national chairman John Nkomo said on Sunday that Mugabe – who does not face re-election until 2002 – will pick his cabinet from party MPs even if they only win five seats.
Under the terms of the constitution, executive power lies with the president, but a two-thirds majority in parliament can block legislation.
Analysts see this as a recipe for legislative paralysis and few people, including some ZANU officials speaking privately, believe Mugabe will have the credibility to finish his term if the opposition controls parliament.