In the dying days of the apartheid regime in South Africa, those of
us who lived in the "Front Line States" were subjected to a wide
range of attacks on our well being and security. It was a no holds
barred effort by the South African regime to protect itself from the
growing influence of regional states and the international community.
Infrastructure was destroyed; schools, clinics and food production
systems were undermined and sabotaged. Hundreds of thousands of
people died - many from hunger and the effect of the collapse of
normal social support systems.
Rebel movements were financed and armed and even given clandestine
logistical support by a rogue regime that knew it was against the
ropes. The regime justified the operation saying they were being
subjected to "a total onslaught" that required a "total response".
In Zimbabwe, we have seen a similar last-ditch effort by the Mugabe
regime to defend itself by reckless attacks on a very wide range of
targets. The commercial farmers, the independent media, targeted
industrialists, bankers and others who were perceived as being
potential sources of opposition activity. Now the independent schools
and remaining pockets of commercial agriculture.
The result. Death rates have soared to over 300 000 people a year -
three times the "normal death rate". Some 8 million people have been
critically short of food for most of the past 4 years. A third of all
children of school going age and two thirds of all girls, are no
longer in school. The economy is in free fall - declining 40 per cent
in 6 years and foreign exchange earnings are down by two thirds. Over
a third of the work force has lost their jobs in the formal sector
and only 8 per cent of the population
are now employed. A quarter of the total population has fled the
country for political and economic reasons.
Right now the pace is accelerating even further - a new Reserve Bank
Governor is herding all available foreign exchange towards the State
coffers, selected targets in the financial sector are being picked
out for "special attention". No one is exempt from attack. If you are
perceived as being less than reliable in this conflagration, you are
neutralized. All State organs are being mobilized for one last-ditch
effort to protect the status quo at any cost.
They know full well that pressure for free and fair elections are
growing steadily - both in the international realm and here in the
region. They know that time is running out, they feel that they have
the upper hand over the MDC which they see as exhausted and short of
resources and barely able to stand up after 4 years of pummeling in
the ring. What they need now is a knockout blow - if this match is
allowed to run to the end of its allotted rounds, they are scared of
a point's loss to a more nimble, disciplined and principled opponent.
So the talk is all about a snap election in September or October this
year. Zanu PF is racing to complete its preparations - candidates
selected, a rigged voters roll, and gerrymandered constituency
boundaries. The opponent beaten and exhausted by constant attacks
and restrictions on its access to essential resources. What is
intended is much the same as the final scene in
the film "Gladiator" where a severely wounded Maximus is pitted
against the wily Caesar. Caesar intends to take his life in an
unequal contest witnessed by thousands who are unaware of the injury
done to Maximus just a short while before.
I am sure we are going to see a relaxation of some the restrictions
that we have been operating under in the past 4 years - Sky
Television is here right now - so is Kenya Television - both
carefully supervised and being shown what they can and cannot film.
Oh yes, they were allowed to see Morgan Tsvangirai - locked in his
cage and unable to move freely before the contest. I am sure we will
see some concessions to a free and fair election - not fundamental
enough to permit Zimbabweans to vote freely and secretly for those
they wish to govern them. But enough to allow Zanu PF to claim
victory after the contest supported by their acolytes in the stands
from the region.
The preparations for this final round (final for Zanu PF) are almost
completed. The local media is cowed and nearly totally controlled by
Zanu PF, sources of support for the MDC are also cowed and
suppressed. MDC structures have been severely damaged by a campaign
of terror and arbitrary arrest and detention. The voters roll is
being manipulated on a massive scale - MDC has not been able, despite
repeated requests and Court decisions in our favour, to get a copy of
the roll - in any form. From the limited access we have had over the
past two years we know that there are 2 to 3
million-ghost voters on the roll. We also know that hundreds of
thousands have been taken off the roll or had their votes transferred
to another constituency.
We also know they are preparing to again reduce the number of urban
constituencies despite the growth in the urban population. Squatter
camps are in existence on the outskirts of all the cities and towns
and are being settled under Zanu PF supervision and control.
Now we also have clear evidence that they are going to use the food
crisis to the maximum extent that they can in the election. Last year
they carefully built up a stock of maize - 250 000 tonnes. This is
being held by the GMB in silos. They know there is at the very most
800 000 tonnes of grain from the present harvest - enough for 4
months. This gives the country enough food for human consumption up
In August real food shortages will appear. Alternative foods such as
rice, bread, potatoes will all be prohibitively expensive for the
majority. Dependency on maize as the basic affordable staple will be
at its peak. The maize purchased in 2003 will be cheap enough to give
away - already paid for and in the hands of a parastatal controlled
by the military.
Zanu PF will make maize available through its systems - at low prices
and on a strictly rationed basis - both in urban and rural areas.
They will then say - "any constituency voting for MDC will lose its
food supply. If you do not vote for the government, why should the
government feed you?"
Voting in the rural areas, resettlement areas and in Zanu PF
controlled shanty towns will be under close supervision. Headmen will
line up their people and tell them who to vote for. The penalty for
not doing so is made quite clear - expulsion from the village or
shanty town or your patch on a confiscated commercial farm.
All polling stations will have their associated camps of green
bombers or militia. State agencies linked to the military will be
everywhere. The threat of force and violence constant - even if
unspoken. This weekend, as the people of Lupane vote in a bi election
they will do so under a threat from Zanu PF that if they vote
MDC "the 5th Brigade will come back". This, in a community that saw
the brunt of the killings and genocide in 1983/85.
The first order of business for a peasant family or a family in a
squatter camp is to survive.
That is the whole point of the "total onslaught". The question is,
can we, like Maximus, get up enough courage and strength to go back
into the ring and beat this monster? We can - that is what makes a
competitor a champion in every competition.
Bulawayo, 10 May 2004