TOPICS > Politics

Election Tension in Zimbabwe

March 30, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now, a look at what’s going on in the African nation of Zimbabwe, a country Secretary of State Rice recently called “one of the last outposts of tyranny.” With parliamentary elections set there tomorrow, we have two reports from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News. The first is about President Robert Mugabe’s campaign on behalf of his party.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The last day of campaigning, and President Mugabe’s been working the crowd just outside Harare. At 81, he’s tireless, denouncing the opposition MDC as traitors and sellouts to the white man. They’re thanking President Mugabe for bringing computers to their school.

He’s also brought his version of patriotic history, now taught in schools and colleges across Zimbabwe. Some call it Mugabe-ism, a vision of the past with Mugabe and his party ZANU PF as heroes winning the war against white rule in 1980, and now seizing the land from white farmers.

ROBERT MUGABE: There was oppression by the British settlers, and now the same British group wants to preach democracy to us. Nonsense. We’ll show them democracy. That there is need for democracy, and we brought democracy to Zimbabwe. One man. One woman. One vote in 1980.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The people listen. He tells them there’s no money for fertilizer, so they must go back to using cow dung. He went barefoot as a child, he says, but today’s children complain if they have no shoes. You wouldn’t think going backwards would be a vote-winner, but it seems to work with some.

WOMAN (Translated): We love our president because he has respect for black people. He doesn’t want us to remain as slaves. We want to get our inheritance because this is our place and we should be the masters.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Every night before the TV news they show scenes from the colonial past. It’s the campaign of an old man preparing his legacy. Zimbabwe is still enthralled with Robert Mugabe as he stamps his final imprint on the country’s history.

JIM LEHRER: Lindsey Hilsum’s second report is about the role of food shortages and overseas aid in the Zimbabwe elections.

LINDSEY HILSUM: This is a dry land, and the rains have failed again. Rural Matabeleland, one of the poorest provinces. But drought has withered the maize in other parts of Zimbabwe, too. Last year, President Mugabe said Zimbabweans would choke on foreign food aid. Today his ministers admit they might need it.

NATHAN SHAMUYARIRA: If we are short of food, we will ask the international community for food aid. There is no one who has worked harder to see that there is food at every table than President Mugabe.

PIUS NCUBE: They want to control all the food. All the food must be in their hands. And they do not tolerate any other body keeping food all because they want to politicize food.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Martha Ncube pumps water for her goats. She’s an admirer of the archbishop and a big supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

She shows me her compound, built with the money she earned as a schoolteacher before retirement. To buy food, the people here have to register with the local headman. In this part of Matabeleland, she says, the headman refuses to sell food to opposition supporters, however hungry they are.

MARTHA NCUBE: Sometimes we are told that there is no food to eat. Only that the food is for the ZANU PF members. You are an MDC member.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Martha attends an MDC rally. In this constituency, the opposition candidate is expected to retain his seat. I was told that ZANU PF uses food to attract voters to its rallies.

MAN: You’ll find that they always say they are registering food, handouts or whatever. But eventually when you read it and find out, it’s a political meeting, so there food is there to attract more people.

LINDSEY HILSUM: “Mugabe is blaming Tony Blair for everything,” the MDC official tells the crowd, “but we say Mr. Mugabe, we are hungry, we need food aid.” It’s a popular message and unlike in the last two elections, the MDC can say it without interference from the police or violent ZANU PF youths.

This time the opposition is being allowed to hold their rallies freely and they say they’re attracting good crowds like this across the country. But even if that translates into votes, they still can’t win this election. They’re contesting all 120 seats but afterwards President Mugabe can appoint another 30 MP’s so that will ensure that his party, ZANU PF remains in power.

This is Chitungwiza, where the MDC M.P. Job Sikhala is defending his seat. In the 2000 elections he was badly beaten up. This time ZANU PF supporters move along his street chanting. No one takes much notice. Privately, the South African government says it persuaded President Mugabe to call off the thugs.

JOB SIKHALA: Mugabe is desperately in search of legitimacy in the eyes of the international community. That’s why they are trying to give some semblance of peace, but, however, in terms of violence, it’s not true.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The crowds at rallies for the MDC Leader Morgan Tsvangirai have been huge. But changes to constituency boundaries are likely to benefit ZANU PF, and civil society groups are concerned about potential rigging. Some now feel what’s needed is an uprising.

PIUS NCUBE: How else do you move out a government you don’t like when relation don’t work? People will have the right to make a popular uprising, but it must be peaceful and nonviolent, and they need good, convincing, charismatic leaders. Perhaps we have to pray for such. We don’t seem to have them right now.

NATHAN SHAMUYARIRA: He has been calling for insurrection. I think this is the fourth time. Of course, no insurrection will take place because no one takes this man seriously, only you people in Britain and other places take him seriously. We don’t.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Rain came to Harare today. Too late for the crops, it just fills the potholes. The election is heavily stacked against the opposition, but the people of Zimbabwe don’t look as if they’re on the brink of an uprising. The U.N. expects that after the election, the government will ask for food aid to end the worst hunger.