Zim bows to SA World Cup

Posted in Africa | 16-Mar-07 | Author: Godwin Gandu| Source: Mail & Guardian Online

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe speaks to journalists after casting his ballot in Highfields, Harare, in the 2005 Parliamentary elections.

Under apparent pressure from South Africa, President Robert Mugabe will submit himself to a popular presidential election in 2008 rather than extend his term for another two years.

According to this scenario, presidential and parliamentary elections will be harmonised in 2008 after Parliament is dissolved in January next year. Mugabe announced recently that he plans to stand as the party’s candidate despite growing pressure within his party for him to step down.

No problem with 2008, says the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. But “we need a Constitution that will guarantee free and fair elections, not the current Constitution that breeds predetermined and illegitimate outcomes,” says Nelson Chamisa, MDC secretary for information, who believes that whether Mugabe stands or not “is [a] matter for Zanu-PF … We want an independent electoral framework”.

Mugabe had wanted to harmonise elections in 2010, so that he could extend his presidential term, which expires next year.

Insiders within the ruling Zanu-PF’s information department told the Mail & Guardian that the ruling party will use the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to justify the about-turn.

“Zimbabwe’s presidential elections normally grab the attention of the international community. The potential for violence exists and we can’t be seen spoiling the World Cup just next door. Instead they want to take that opportunity to market our tourist resorts,” he said.

Zanu-PF insiders believe this thinking could have been forced on Mugabe by South Africa. Meanwhile, diplomatic sources told the M&G that President Thabo Mbeki advised Mugabe against extending his presidential term when the two met on the sidelines of Ghana’s 50th independence jubilee in Accra, Ghana, last week.

South African spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa confirmed that Mbeki and Mugabe did talk in Ghana, while the Ghanaian president and president of the African Union, John Kufuor, also said this week that Mbeki had tried to influence positively the situation in Zimbabwe.

The ANC is believed to have conveyed the same message to Zanu-PF secretary for information Nathan Shamuyarira during his visit to South Africa this week. Shamuyarira said he was in the country to express his dissatisfaction with the SABC’s coverage of Zimbabwe.

Insiders in Zanu-PF have expressed discomfort at having Mugabe as their presidential candidate as they feel this improves the chances of the opposition winning, given that there “is a strong feeling he [Mugabe] has outlived his usefulness”.

“There is nothing new he is bringing,” the insider, one of the few Zanu-PF reformists from Masvingo province, said. “He was our hero but slowly he is turning out to be a liability for our party and his country.”

Insiders say Mugabe no longer has a firm grip on power and that securocrats are running the show. Last week’s brutal beating and torture of opposition MDC activists has further exposed growing fissures within government and the party, with key dissenters blocking further unconstitutional action.

This week Attorney General Sobuza Gula Ndebele advised Cabinet that there were insufficient grounds to prosecute the 50 MDC activists accused of taking part in a prayer rally last Sunday.

Other Cabinet members also believe the police actions were wrong and supported Ndebele’s view that the police acted “over zealously” and that this “was counterproductive to the country’s efforts to restore its battered image and terrible human rights record”.

But the ministers refrained from saying so directly to Mugabe during a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi is understood to have chronicled events leading to the arrest of the MDC activists, saying that three policemen had been attacked first.

Mohadi also reiterated the tired mantra that the opposition was being used by Western forces to effect a regime change. Although his viewpoints found currency with Mugabe, Ndebele spoke out against the crackdown.

According to a government official in the ministry of foreign affairs, Ndebele indicated that “anybody seeing Tsvangirai’s images across the world would think twice before coming to Zimbabwe, either as a tourist or investor”.

After the Cabinet meeting, which ended at about 6pm, Ndebele ordered the “release [of] the accused into the custody of their lawyers around 9.30pm”, the source said.

When the accused appeared in court the following day, Wednesday, “there wasn’t any docket, prosecutor or magistrate to hear the case”.

Sources within the Auditor General’s office told the M&G “there weren’t sufficient grounds for prosecution”, given that “the accused were neither at the rally, nor is there good reason to believe they were mobilising people to go there” or that the “prayer meeting on a Sunday at an open ground constituted a rally”, the source said.

The official said these are “some of the crucial points that their office would have to contend with before arraigning the accused before the courts”.

“The police acted unlawfully by arresting the accused. The police were over zealous and they arrested our clients without reasonable suspicion,” says Beatrice Mtetwa, a lawyer for the opposition activists.