As Zimbabwe’s unity government teeters towards its termination, NewsDay Online gives you- in multimedia- a three part series of the highs and lows of this historical transitional set up.
Part 1- From Strife to Brutality to Compromise
Report by Tapiwa Zivira, Online Reporter
At the turn of 2007, the country’s political landscape had become extremely polarised.
Zanu PF- often with the alleged security forces’ help-was struggling to maintain its political hold amid an untenable economic free-fall and a rising mass opposition to its policies.
Zanu PF was facing the strongest opposition in the form of MDC led by former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai and the other smaller MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara.
The two MDCs were rallying the discontented populace to stand against Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF.
The MDCs fingered Mugabe- in power for 27 years at that time- as the chief cause of the political and economic calamity.
The economy was in shambles, and the country was grappling with ever rising commodity prices, fuel and food shortages.
Company closures and retrenchments became the day’s order.
The health and education sector was crippled by acute shortages of medicines and persistent staff strikes.
A health sector in crisis.
Seven years after Zimbabwe’s war veterans and Zanu PF officials and supporters embarked on an ill-co-ordinated exercise of seizing white-owned commercial farms, agricultural production had inevitably slumped, triggering negative an economy slump.
The University of Zimbabwe estimated that between 2000 and 2007, the country’s agricultural production shrunk by 51 per cent.
Zimbabwe, once hailed as the bread basket of Southern Africa- could not sustain itself.
Zanu PF remained on the offensive, denying accusations of being the reason behind the crisis.
The party claimed it was a victim of efforts by the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) to effect ‘regime change’ through the imposition of sanctions on the Zanu PF leaders.
The EU and US maintained that the sanctions were restrictive measures on those accused of impinging on human rights.
Tension, brutality and International focus.
As political tension and economic decay continued to mount unabated, opposition and civic society leaders called for a prayer rally on 11 March 2007.
Armed with the Draconian Public Order and Security Act, the police unleashed its instruments of suppression, including crowd Israeli-made dispersal water-tanks, teargas, and AK47 rifles.
Political party leaders, including Tsvangirai, and hundreds of activists were arrested and allegedly tortured while in custody.
A political activist, Gift Tandare, was reportedly shot dead by police.
Images and videos of badly tortured opposition and civic society leaders- beamed all over the world- drew the regional and international spotlight on Zimbabwe’s political crisis.
A police officer was quoted in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper saying, “Using sjamboks, army belts and gun butts, the soldiers attacked Tsvangirai until he passed out. One of the soldiers poured cold water all over Tsvangirai to resuscitate him. Tsvangirai regained consciousness again at around 1:30 am… One vicious woman was left to work on him. She removed an army belt from her waist and used it to assault Tsvangirai until he passed out again.”
President Mugabe allegedly ordered the beating of Tsvangirai.
United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon condemned the incident.
“Such actions violate the basic democratic right of citizens to engage in peaceful assembly,” said Ban.
The late Levy Mwanawasa, president of Zambia at that time, compared Zimbabwe “to a sinking Titanic whose passengers were jumping out in a bid to save their lives”.
The US, through its State Secretary of that time Condoleezza Rice added its voice to the condemnation.
“The world community again has been shown that the regime of Mugabe is ruthless and repressive and creates only suffering for the people of Zimbabwe,” said Rice.
Sadc’s road to peace, elections.
Political observers noted that the assaults and the deteriorating state of affairs pushed the regional bloc Sadc to strengthen its efforts towards the resolving of the Zimbabwe crisis.
By the end of 2007, with the help of Sadc, the Zimbabwe government had passed Constitution Amendment 18 to pave way for Zimbabwe elections under the newly introduced Sadc guidelines on elections.
Despite the continued economic disintegration, the beginning of 2008 and the run up to the March 29 elections was marked by a generally peaceful environment.
For the first time since its formation, the MDC was allowed air space on state broadcaster ZBCTV and radio stations.
Although incidences of hate speech and violence were recorded, they were minor compared to the previous elections.
Zimbabwe’s held its first harmonized polls in peace.
Soon after the election, Sadc head of observer mission Jose Marcos Barrica described the voting process as “a peaceful and credible expression of the will of the people of Zimbabwe.”
The international community lauded the process and the general atmosphere of political tolerance that prevailed on the run up to the polls.
The Nosedive- back to the dark period.
The peace and tolerance did not last long for as soon as the outcome of election showed a possible opposition victory, systematic political violence ensued.
Zanu PF and state security agents allegedly started terrorizing purported opposition supporters while The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) withheld presidential results for more than a month.
Senior MDC-T officials, including Tsvangirai, sought refuge in Botswana and other countries claiming their lives were in danger.
Mwanawasa called for an urgent Sadc leaders meeting on 12 April 2008 to discuss the post-election impasse.
On the eve the April 18 Independence Day celebrations a defiant Mugabe accused the western countries of trying to effect regime change through the MDC-T.
“”We should not let our children down by dropping our guard against imperialism, British imperialism, which is surreptitiously and clandestinely weaving its way through our society trying to divide us,” he said.
On May 2, 2008, ZEC announced that Tsvangirai had received 47.9 percent, and Mugabe had 43.2 percent of the votes.
Neither of the two was a clear winner so there was to be a second round contest.
This was because the law states that where there is no presidential contestant with a vote percentage of 50 percent plus one, the first two front runners go for a second round run-off.
Meanwhile political violence continued to escalate.
On June 22, five days before the election, Tsvangirai announced his withdrawal from the election citing violence.
According to Tsvangirai, 10 of his party supporters had been killed, 500 attacked, 400 arrested, and 3,000 families displaced.
In a statement, he urged SADC, AU and the United Nations to assist Zimbabwe “restore the rule of law, peace, and conditions for a free and fair election.”
“The militia, war veterans and even Mugabe himself have made it clear that anyone that votes for me in the forthcoming election faces the very real possibility of being killed… we in the MDC, cannot ask them to cast their vote on June 27th when that vote could cost them their lives,” said Tsvangirai.
Following the withdrawal, Ban called for a postponement of the elections, adding that “people of Zimbabwe have the right to choose their own leader.”
Undeterred, Mugabe went ahead and won, what has been termed ‘a one horse race’ on June 27.
Sadc, the African Union (AU), the UN and the rest of the international community immediately condemned the outcome of the election.
Sadc and the AU said the election “did not represent the will of the people of Zimbabwe” and “the prevailing environment impinged on the credibility of the electoral
In search of compromise amid mayhem
Faced with a widely condemned election victory, a parliament without two-thirds majority of his Zanu PF, and a broadly recognized first round result in which Tsvangirai was leading, Mugabe found himself with no choice but to accept the regional and international community’s suggestions for a negotiated political settlement.
The initial inter-party talks began on July 10, with the facilitation of the then South African President Thabo Mbeki.
An agreement was reached on September 15, 2008, through a document that has become known as the Global Political Agreement (GPA).
Under the GPA, the three parties were to share power for a transitional period.
Despite the signing of the document, discrepancies continued to prevent the establishment of the unity government and negotiations dragged on amid reports of continued systematic harassment of opposition officials.
The country’s economy virtually collapsed, leaving the country’s key sectors- health, education and service provisions- in the intensive care.
While negotiators haggled over government positions, Zimbabwe faced a cholera crisis that only ended after two years.
Dubbed the worst cholera outbreak in Africa in 15 years, it later spread to Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia and about 100,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths were recorded
A unity government took office on February 2009.
The spectacle and relief brought by the swearing in of the new government was blighted by the continued incarceration of human rights activists including Jestina Mukoko, the arrest of MDC-T treasurer Roy Bennett among many other incidences.
There was also a protracted tussle over ministerial responsibilities.
Despite this, a general peaceful environment eventually ensued and Tsvangirai and Mugabe showed- for the first time- tolerance for each other.
The economic situation generally improved, as the Finance Ministry under the MDC-T’s Tendai Biti, encouraged the teachers and health professionals to get back to work as the country had adopted the use of foreign currency.
One of the tasks of the unity government was to formulate a new constitution that was to be the basis of a free, fair and credible election.
The process was to be handled by a parliamentary committee, which drew the ire of civil society organizations that wanted to be part of the process.
The formulation of the Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee ended in chaos as the political parties haggled over positions.
Check out for the next instalment, focusing on the course of the unity government from 2009, when the constitution making process started, up to the recent acceptance of the final draft.