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Mugabe fighting fit and talking peace ahead of Zimbabwe election
Blessing-Miles Tendi, The Guardian UK
July 12, 2013
held his first campaign rally for the upcoming
Zimbabwe presidential election in a traditional stronghold of
Mashonaland Central this week, with all indications that the 89-year-old
is fighting fit while talking peace.
in Mashonaland Central Province offered a show of strength from
Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF)
party, as a crowd of up to 20,000 people, clad in green and yellow
party regalia, thronged Chiweshe. This election will be about which
party is best able to mobilise its core constituencies to turn out
en masse to vote on 31 July, and Zanu-PF's provincial leadership
was visibly buoyed by the turnout.
campaign in the 2008 election was limp, and primary elections
earlier this year faced a number of logistical and funding problems.
But the Chiweshe rally indicated that Mugabe and his party will
roll out a slick and well-funded election campaign this time.
was handed a variety of party regalia at the entrances. The first
lady, Grace Mugabe, donated over 22 tonnes of food to the aged in
Chiweshe. Young cadres captured the rally on expensive cameras and
iPads for social media sites, and the party provided considerable
transport to the venue for its supporters. Speaking on a brand new
public address sound system, Mugabe lauded his land reform and indigenisation
programmes and urged supporters to deliver a landslide victory in
the election to preserve the country's 1970s liberation war legacy.
campaign war chest was ready as early as January. The president
took charge of it. Many senior party members had no idea about the
amount of resources and material that had already been put together,"
a member of Mugabe's inner circle confided to me. Mugabe's henchmen
were tight lipped about the identity of the benefactors of this
campaign largesse. No one seemed to care. All they cared about was
the party's seemingly rejuvenated fortunes compared to 2008.
sat in a grassy field beneath thick threatening dark clouds as they
listened to their leader speak from the main podium. In the past,
Mugabe's campaign address would have seamlessly matched the ominous
clouds with his threats against white farmers, the "puppet"
MDC opposition created by the west and, of course, Zimbabwe's former
colonial power Britain. Robert Mugabe rally Zimbabwe president Robert
Mugabeat an election campaign rally in Mashonaland.
Mugabe lines such as how "only a dead imperialist is a good
one" or Zanu-PF "must strike fear in the heart of the
white man" were absent. This was a different, mellow and jocular
Mugabe. There was no mention of the British government and he did
not threaten his longtime main challenger Morgan Tsvangirai in violent
terms. Instead, the president vehemently urged his party and supporters
to desist from political violence.
This was in
sharp contrast to 2008, when the presidential run-off election was
marked by strong state sponsored political violence. Then, the regional
Southern African Development Community (Sadc) body had to intervene
to broker a power-sharing
government between Mugabe and the opposition, to resolve what
it saw as a legitimacy crisis. Since 2009 Sadc has insisted on various
political reforms – the most important being a new constitution,
which Zimbabwe passed in March.
cares for Sadc's verdict on the upcoming elections. Should he win
and Sadc deems the result credible, it will remove Zimbabwe from
the regional body's political crisis agenda, leaving Zanu-PF to
consolidate its rule, free from external interference.
southern Africa, with the exception of South Africa, are hardly
ever "free and fair". The manipulation of votes, even
when the incumbent is unlikely to lose – as happened in Angola
and Mozambique in 2012 and 2009 respectively, and the occurrence
of violence around elections in Madagascar and the Democratic Republic
of Congo (DRC) among others, means that Mugabe does not have a particularly
high standard to meet.
What is more,
because the violence in 2008 and the delays in counting the votes
set a very lofty bar in terms of bad conduct in elections, any improvement
is likely to be acceptable to Sadc. Against this background, Mugabe's
peace narrative at the Chiweshe rally begins to make sense. Moreover,
the smooth running of the referendum on the new constitution, which
took place without violence, was a dry run by the Zimbabwe Electoral
There has been
much speculation about Mugabe's health in the run-up to the election.
But on Thursday I was seated on the lower end of the main podium,
as I have an official pass to observe his rallies. I had a good
view of the 89-year-old while he was seated. He was about his wits.
I observed him intently when he rose to speak and throughout his
address, scribbling a note to myself when he finished his off the
cuff talk: "Mugabe is old, but in remarkable shape for a man
his age. He will conduct fewer rallies in this campaign than he
did in the past, but it is mistaken to think he will not complete
his campaign schedule with steely determination."
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