ZIMBABWE: Government of National Unity mooted amid increasing violence

Thursday, June 19, 2008
The upsurge in political violence in Zimbabwe, which has reportedly resulted in the murder of five opposition activists in the past 24 hours, is being attributed to attempts by the ruling ZANU-PF party to achieve the upper hand in deciding who will hold sway in the composition of a proposed government of national unity (GNU).

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, appointed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to act as mediator between ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to resolve the political crisis, arrived in Zimbabwe on 18 June and held meetings with both parties.

According to senior members of both ZANU-PF and MDC, the only point of contention in setting up a GNU was who would assume overall leadership. Mugabe's contempt for MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who polled more support than Mugabe in the first round of presidential voting, is common knowledge.

There is a precedent for a GNU. After the massacres in Matabeleland and the Midlands in the 1980s, which killed 20,000 civilians, Mugabe formed a coalition government with his arch-rival, Joshua Nkomo, leader of the rival liberation movement, ZAPU.

A ZANU-PF source told IRIN that Mbeki spoke of the advantages of a GNU in separate meetings with both parties, while also calling for the cessation of hostilities.

But after the discovery on 19 June of the bodies of five murdered MDC activists in and around the capital, Harare, Mbeki's plea for an end to the violence appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

"Now it's about 70 we've lost," MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told local media, referring to the number of MDC supporters the party claims have been killed since the 29 March election, in which ZANU-PF lost control of parliament for the first time since independence in 1980.

With the 27 June presidential run-off imminent, Tanzanian foreign minister Bernard Membe reportedly said on 19 June: "According to SADC, there are fears that there will be no free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, due to the prevailing political and economic situation in that country."

SADC, which has given previous Zimbabwean elections a clean bill of health despite the misgivings of other observer missions, said it would increase the number of its observers to 400, but according to Zambian Foreign Affairs minister Kabinga Pande, only 210 were on the ground by 19 June.

The post-election violence since the 29 March poll is leading to a growing number of calls for the run-off election to be cancelled in favour of a negotiated settlement.

"As ZANU-PF, we feel that President Mugabe should be the leader of such a formation (GNU), given his history as a founder-leader. Making him a subordinate of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, would be disrespectful. An acceptable solution would be the Kenyan compromises, whereby the head of state would remain in power while the position of prime minister can be created for Tsvangirai," the ZANU-PF source told IRIN.

ZANU-PF officials told IRIN, on condition of anonymity, that threats of war, murder, abduction and mass arrests of the opposition leadership and party members were designed to break their spirits and make them "very eager to form a GNU".

"For your own information," an MDC official told IRIN, "when the secretary-general of the MDC, Tendai Biti, was arrested, he had just attended a meeting with his counterparts in ZANU-PF on a possible GNU. ZANU-PF is using all tactics in the book to ensure that Mugabe wins the [presidential] run-off, which would give him moral authority to form a GNU."

Biti was arrested last week after returning from South Africa and is facing treason charges, which carry the death penalty.

The MDC official said Biti and eight other MDC legislators on the government's wanted list could be used as bargaining chips in the make-up of the GNU.

Mugabe's chief election agent, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and Tsvangirai have both said the election run-off was a legal requirement that needed to be fulfilled, and that it was up to the winner to form an inclusive government.

Drums of war

Further doubts about the freedom and fairness of the upcoming run-off poll were expressed on 18 June by the Pan African Parliament Observer Team, one of the few other electoral observer missions permitted by Mugabe's government to oversee the ballot.

The head of the Pan African observer mission, Marwick Khumalo, told journalists at a media briefing that "Beating the drums of war is not acceptable ... When people make statements which are derogatory and inflammatory, they would know that they can incite other people into being violent." 

At a rally in Mashonaland West Province on 16 June, Mugabe warned: "You decide for yourselves: to vote for war, or vote for people who work for the development of the country."

Responding to reports that members of the armed services had cast postal ballots under the supervision of their senior officers, Khumalo said he had requested a meeting with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to express their concerns, but "What we have received is a letter apologising that they cannot attend or respond to our invitation for a meeting."

"They have now invited us to a meeting, together with other observers, on June 23," he said.

The observer team visited trouble spots and on one occasion met a man displaced by the violence after his wife had been killed with an axe by assailants, and her body buried.

Khumalo said, "It is honestly regrettable that violence has resurfaced in this manner. Instead of concentrating on observing a smooth election, violence has come top of the agenda, where we now have to observe and investigate and, as you know, investigating is time-consuming."

Haile Mankerios, UN assistant secretary-general for political affairs, arrived in Zimbabwe on 17 June and after a meeting with Mugabe told journalists: "I am here to find out what measures are being put in place to ensure there is a free, fair and transparent run-off, and what we as the UN can do to support Zimbabwe."

Mugabe agreed to the UN envoy's presence after meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the recent conference on the global food crisis in the Italian capital, Rome. Ban expressed "profound alarm" on 18 June about the prevailing conditions in Zimbabwe ahead of the 27 June ballot.

But a Zimbabwe government official told the state-controlled newspaper, The Herald, that "He [Mankerios] is here to assess Zimbabwe's technical capacity [to hold the election], following a meeting between President Mugabe and the UN Secretary-General in Rome."

Mugabe condemned by his peers

An array of Africa's luminaries, including Nobel laureates Kofi Annan, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Wangari Maathai, signed an open letter in their personal capacity, calling for the run-off elections to be conducted in "a peaceful and transparent manner that allows the citizens of Zimbabwe to express freely their political will."

The signatories include a number of former presidents: Burundi's Pierre Buyoya, Mozambique's Joaquim Chissano, Nigeria's Abdusalami Alhaji Abubakar, Ghana's Jerry Rawlings, Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda, Botswana's Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae, Tanzania's Benjamin Mkapa and Ali Hassan Mwinyi, among others, as well as business leaders such as Mo Ibrahim, founder of Celtel International, and musicians like Youssou N'Dour.

"As Africans, we consider the forthcoming elections to be critical. We are aware of the attention of the world. More significantly, we are conscious of the huge number of Africans who want to see a stable, democratic and peaceful Zimbabwe," the letter said.

"Consequently, we are deeply troubled by the current reports of intimidation, harassment and violence. It is vital that the appropriate conditions are created, so that the presidential run-off is conducted in a peaceful, free and fair manner. Only then can the political parties conduct their election campaigning in a way that enables the citizens to express freely their political will," the signatories confirmed.

"To this end it will be necessary to have an adequate number of independent electoral observers, both during the election process and to verify the results."

Source: IRIN NEWS http://irinnews.org