ZIMBABWE: Opposition turning up the heat

Wednesday, April 16, 2008
A call for an indefinite stayaway by Zimbabwe's opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, had a mixed response on 15 April, the day protest action began.

Most private commuter operators withheld their transport but resumed normal operations by midmorning, when most businesses in the capital, Harare, opened their doors after adopting a wait-and-see approach.

"I could not put on a suit because I was afraid that I could be harassed by people who might have thought that I was betraying them," a public relations consultant, who identified himself only as "John", told IRIN.

"The truth of the matter is that I support the stayaway, but my boss is a ZANU-PF supporter and I fear being victimised." About half of his colleagues had said they could not come to work because there was no transport.

The MDC's call to informal traders to refrain from business was doomed from the start, although youths forced some vendors to pack up their stalls.

"I am in support of the call to have the results of the presidential election made known, for we are in a state of anxiety, but the stomach comes first. As an informal trader, the sole breadwinner in my family, the quandary is between running around to sell my second-hand clothes and being seated at home to show solidarity with the MDC," Tariro Chiwewete, 40, a single mother of three, told IRIN.

"I think [President] Mugabe and his lieutenants know that their time is over and are just trying to provoke people to stage mass protests so that they can find a reason to stay in power. How else can one explain their reluctance to announce the results? It shows they have been beaten," she said.

The MDC is adopting a more militant stance against Mugabe's ZANU-PF government over its refusal to release the results of the presidential poll on 29 March.

A time for destiny

A High Court petition by the MDC to force the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to publish the results was dismissed with costs on 14 April; in response the MDC has turned to its urban strongholds and called for an indefinite mass stayaway.

In a statement on 14 April the MDC said: "For over two weeks since 29 March, ZEC is failing to release the presidential poll results, a situation that has caused an electoral impasse, as the people of Zimbabwe who voted in their millions have been waiting patiently for the results."

The statement said the time was ripe for Zimbabweans to take "destiny into their own hands as the ZANU-PF regime is not letting them have peace and democracy", and urged workers, businesspeople and informal traders to stay at home until the ZEC released the presidential results.

The MDC insists that according to results published outside each polling station, their leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the presidential poll by the required 50 percent plus one vote, negating the need for a second round of voting.

The ZEC has announced senatorial and parliamentary election results, in which the ruling ZANU-PF lost its majority in parliament for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980.

After publishing these results, the electoral commission secretly moved its national command centre in Harare, and has argued that the delay was a consequence of it collating and verifying the presidential ballots.

The commission has heeded a call by ZANU-PF to recount votes in 23 constituencies where it claims Mugabe was cheated of votes. The recount will take place on 19 April, even though the High Court ordered the recount to be stopped, according to local reports.

The ZEC parliamentary results gave Tsvangirai's MDC 96 seats while Mugabe's  ZANU-PF secured 94. A breakaway faction of the MDC garnered nine seats while ZANU-PF's former minister of information, Jonathan Moyo, who ran as an independent, won his seat.

The MDC described the 29 March elections as a referendum for "food, jobs and a better Zimbabwe", and said "a shocked ZANU-PF regime has failed to come to terms with the defeat and is doing everything in its power in order to subvert the people of Zimbabwe's will."

The police, who have banned demonstrations, said in a statement responding to the stayaway that "the call by the MDC Tsvangirai faction is aimed at disturbing peace and will be resisted firmly by the law enforcement agents, whose responsibility is to maintain law and order in any part of the country."

On the eve of the stayaway police patrolled the capital's suburbs in riot gear and on the day police trucks cruised the streets, with the police chanting revolutionary songs and beating the sides of their vehicles with batons in an in an apparent show of force.

Labour unions may join stayaway

Lovemore Matombo, president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), a militant labour federation that has also urged the ZEC to speedily release the results of the presidential vote, warned that his organisation might join the stayaway call.

"This [mass stayaway] seems the most immediate option that the MDC has after all the other gentlemanly strategies: going to court, approaching SADC [Southern African Development Community] and talking to ZEC, failed," Matombo told IRIN.

"Adopting militancy is a potent strategy in our given circumstances, and my personal feeling is that the MDC took too long to realise that it should effectively use the urban voter as a vehicle to push the government to accept the importance of publicising the results," he commented.

Matombo said the delay in announcing the results was pushing the country "towards an explosion and chaos", and vowed that the ZCTU "would not sit back and watch as the political situation degenerates".

"Government might take advantage of a seemingly docile population and declare everything in its favour, but the time will come when we will pour into the streets and show them that we cannot be taken for granted," Matombo said.

Source: IRIN http://www.irinnews.org