Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Elections in the African context

By Ben Mensah

On the eve of the elections Prime Minister Mugabe has reaffirmed that the establishment of a one-party state remains the ultimate goal of his party. Will the results encourage him to forge ahead?
Despite his sustained bashing at the multi-party system Comrade Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe has not succeeded in denying his country's 2.9 million black voters of their constitutional right to choose their leaders in general elections scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.

The outcome of the elections is not in doubt. Prime Minister Mugabe's supporters, taking a cue from his pledge to turn the country into a one-party state, have not failed to intimidate, through violence, supporters of the opposition parties into disarray and near extinction.

Two years ago, the intensity of pressure and intimidation was unbearable for the country's best known opposition leader, Mr Joshua Nkomo, who had to flee to Britain. By the time he returned home, Mr Nkomo had succeeded in focussing world media attention on the atrocities perpetrated by Prime Minister Mugabe's government against members of the opposition parties, particularly in the heartland of the Ndebele people.

On top of these atrocities and other forms of intimidation, the morale of the opposition has been undermined by what seems like a miraculous economic achievement of Prime Minister Mugabe's administration. For after three years of drought which at one stage forced the government to import £25 million worth of cereals, Zimbabwe's economy has once more become so buoyant that from the country's worst balance of payments deficit of £267 million on its current account in 1982, a trade surplus has been recorded this year.

Signs of this economic up-swing are the relaxations on the outflow of foreign reserves, dividends and partnership profits announced last month by Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, Senator Bernard Chidzero.

On the social front, Prime Minister Mugabe's compulsory primary educa- tion and provision of free health services are achievements unparalleled in the history of the country.

But in veteran Joshua Nkomo, Ndabaninge Sithole and former Prime Minister Abel Muzorewa, Zimbabwe's opposition has a formidable leadership who will not easily give up their fight for what they refer to as "peace, national reconciliation, social and economic progress and respect for fundamental freedoms of individuals, rule of law and maintenance of law and order".

Contesting the elections are Prime Minister Mugabe's Zimbabwe African People's Union (Patriotic Front) ZANU PF, Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Party (ZAPU), Bishop Abel Muzorewa's United African National Council (UANC) and Rev. Ndadaninge Sithole's Zimbabwe African National Union. Twenty seats reserved for the whites in the country were contested for last Thursday.

Joshua Nkomo

The last elections which were also the first legally in independent Zimbabwe were held in 1980. With hundreds of former guerrillas then roaming the streets with their arms, the 1980 elections were not given a dog's chance of escaping the kind of violence usually associated with politics in Africa.

Robert Mugabe, the darling guerrilla leader who was contesting the elections was himself a target of two assassination attempts in addition to numerous killings, abductions, shootings and other forms of violence during the electioneering campaign.

The Commonwealth Observer group that was in Harare to monitor the conduct of the electioneering campaign were not unduly influenced by these incidents of violence and concluded that in the African context the elections were fair.

This time there is no Commonwealth observer group to catalogue the various incidents of violence to enable them to pass a verdict on the conduct of the elections yet a number have already been recorded which have elicited protests and condemnations mainly from the opposition circles.

To start with, the original date for the elections was postponed by the government and when a new date was announced the opposition party of Mr Nkomo went to court for a proclamation that the day for nomination of candidates was unreasonable and too short for his party and others to complete the nomination formalities.

His application was rejected but there was a Presidential order extending the date by one more day. A spokesman for Prime Minister Mugabe, Dr Eddison Zvobgo, Minister of Justice, later explained that the extension was agreed upon because the government truly wanted to have a free and fair election.

Notwithstanding this pledge on free and fair elections there have been very serious instances of violence in which supporters of Prime Minister Mugabe have been implicated.

The home of a candidate of Mr Nkomo's ZAPU has been burnt down in the township of Chiturnguiza, near Harare, and the car of another ZAPU supporter was stoned in the Highfield constituency which is also being contested by Prime Minister Mugabe. Other supporters of ZANU-PF were also reported to have disrupted a meeting of Bishop Muzorewa's UANC which was addressed by the party's Gen. Secretary, Mr. Edward Mazaiwara. These incidents have virtually shut the part of the country where the ruling party holds sway, to any of the opposition parties.

Meanwhile in the western provinces of Matabeleland the government has mounted anti-guerilla operations reminiscent of the brutal attacks on civilians in similar anti-guerilla operations in 1983 and 1984. The chair- man of the Roman Catholic Commis- sion for peace and justice in Zimbabwe had condemned this latest operation and said that they do not augur well for free and fair elections. So far there have been no reported incidents of violence in which the opposition parties have been incriminated. But they have featured in other areas. Mr Nayson Takomwe who had been registered as the UANC candidate for Rushinga Constituency has denied having any connection with the party. Mr Takomwe, a prominent business- man and farmer, said he has been a member of ZANU-PF since 1970 and that he was surprised to find his name among UANC candidates for the general elections. He has threatened to sue whoever was responsible for fielding him as a UANC candidate.

On the eve of the elections Prime Minister Mugabe has reaffirmed that the establishment of a one-party state remains the ultimate goal of his party. Even though this is not the main issue in next week's general election there is no doubt that the results will go a long way either to encourage a man who is thirsting for absolute power to follow the footsteps of other African dic- tators, dead or alive, to proclaim his country a one-party state or confront Mugabe with a formidable opposition to his plans and ensure that Zimbabweans continue to exercise their right to elect their leaders under a multi- party democratic system.

talking drums 1985-07-01 questions about ghana's holy war - constitution debate continues