On the third anniversary of Zimbabwe’s unity government, President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s fragile partnership is credited with delivering a degree of stability after 2008’s violent elections.
But this week’s brutal assault on members of a leading civil society group is a vivid reminder that Mugabe’s Zanu-PF remains the de facto ruling party and its control of the state’s repressive apparatus constitutes a major obstacle to democratic reform.
Mugabe could be barred from contesting another election, according to the first draft of a new constitution released today. But few observers believe constitutional niceties will be enough to lever the ruling party from power.
Riot police in Bulawayo beat members of Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA – right), a leading advocacy group, on Tuesday, and detained coordinator Jenni Williams as she left a meeting of the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee. The cross-party panel was launched in January 2009 to monitor and ensure the implementation of the 2008 Global Political Agreement, which ostensibly committed Zanu-PF to a power-sharing pact with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
“The GPA way has failed to pave the way for a political transition,” said Dewa Mavhinga, regional coordinator for the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.
With authoritarian regimes “collapsing like houses of cards” across the Arab world, further south in sub-Saharan Africa, Zimbabwe should be ripe for revolution, writes Eusebius McKaiser, a political analyst at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa:
State-led land grabs started in 2000, a disastrous policy response to the problem of unequal land distribution. Since then, living standards have plummeted. Zimbabwe consistently ranks very low in international ratings on quality of life.
President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF Party is chiefly responsible for this deterioration. There are no free and fair national elections, and the government has become increasingly repressive. Zanu-PF’s leadership is drunk on political power and is prepared to use violence to remain at the helm. Zimbabwe can no longer be described as a democracy.
“But don’t bet on a revolution there any time soon,” McKaiser writes:
Why not? For one thing, Zimbabweans are too scattered to coordinate a revolt. Of the eight million who live inside the country less than 40 percent reside in urban areas.
Zanu-PF has also been exceptionally effective at clamping down on perceived dissidents. Mugabe relies on the police, as well as Zanu-PF’s militia, to intimidate, assault and sometimes even kill political opponents.
Only too aware that cities might become epicenters of resistance, in 2005 Zanu-PF launched Operation Murambatsvina (“Drive Out Filth”), an innocuous-sounding campaign that really amounted to demolishing the shacks and stalls of supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (M.D.C.). It left 700,000 of the country’s 2.4 million urban dwellers homeless.
But the resilience of the country’s democratic forces was in evidence this week, as the Civil Society Coalition of Zimbabwe announced plans to visit the Marange Diamond Fields:
The diamonds were discovered in the eastern part of Zimbabwe in 2007 after a minor earthquake. The government drove locals out of the rich diamond fields and brought in the army and the police. The army moved in with dogs and helicopters. About 200 people are believed to have been killed.
Two Chinese companies and a Zimbabwean-owned company aligned to president Robert Mugabe’s party gave been licences to mine the diamonds. It remains to be seen whether civil society will be allowed into the fields after Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Members of Parliament were barred from visiting the diamond fields.
Civil society groups condemned the decision under the Kimberly Process – an international certification scheme to prevent trade in diamonds that fund conflicts – to permit Zimbabwe to trade alluvial diamonds without regard to state-sponsored corruption and human rights atrocities.