Tuesday, October 21, 2003

About 8 months ago I wrote a short article responding to a fellow South African who'd claimed that Robert Mugabe's theft of the Zimbabwean general election, whilst distasteful, was, ultimately, the best possible outcome. His argument was that given that Mugabe and his cronies had too much to lose from a transition, they would not allow a genuine democracy to emerge. The fear appeared to be that Mugabe might unleash a wave of repression leading to wholesale collapse as he and his henchmen attempted to cling onto power. At least if Mugabe remained in power some sort of stability would obtain. I was reminded of this article today whilst reading a report from, normally pro-Mugabe, SABC news about the emergence of a 'mafia economy' in Zimbabwe. This served to underline the fact that Zimbabwe has now ceased to operate as a normal country and is beginning the descent into anarchy. Further evidence of this was provided by a recent BBC report on the running dry of the state oil company and the disastrous effects this has had on the provision of basic services. Indeed things in Zimbabwe are so bad that they sometimes take a comical turn as occured when, as was widely reported several weeks ago, the Zimbabwean Central Bank ran out of money to print new bank notes. So, Zimbabwe has collapsed in spite of Mugabe's 'victory' and, in doing so, has made a lot of people look rather silly. Zimbabwe is still not democratic and now it doesn't even possess the dubious (if it is at the expense of democracy) virtue of being stable.

For interest's sake I'm posting my original article, unedited, in the hope that it might elicit some response:

In the last newsletter, Gareth Morgan argued that the possibility of Morgan Tsvangirai winning the recent Zimbabwean general election was, '... never an achievable goal', going onto suggest that, 'a transition of power in Zimbabwe through democratic elections was not viable at [that] time' and that, 'Mugabe's use of spoils politics had created too many people with too much to lose from an electoral defeat.' It is a measure of our low expectations that, I expect, many of us found ourselves quietly agreeing with his argument. The outlook for democracy was certainly bleak, indeed it still is, and perhaps, after all, we should take heed of Henry Kissinger's nostrum that stability is more important than justice.

Yet as the months have moved on and Mugabe has tightened his grip, hounded the opposition, threatened the press, enacted one of the largest and swiftest economic collapses on record and moved his country to the brink of mass starvation, it is time to reassess. I should add here that, contrary to the impression created by the Western media, not all of Zimbabwe's current problems are manmade. Drought has certainly played a role, but we should be aware, as history teaches us, that instability and hunger often stalk hand in hand. For this is the irony, the theft of the election was supposed to forestall collapse, instead it has hastened it and it has done so whilst making a mockery of the importance that we attach to democracy.

And so I find myself taking issue with Gareth Morgan. I accept his argument, I'm even prepared to acknowledge that things may not have been much better had Morgan Tsvangirai somehow won the popular vote and then persuaded the ruling regime to give up power. But I do not believe that it is better that he did not win. And let us be clear about this, he lost because the system was rigged, he lost because he was never even in the race. Even the governments of South Africa and Nigeria acknowledged this when they suspended Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth for a year. Mugabe's theft of the election guarantees that things will not get better for the people of Zimbabawe: their economy continues its dramatic contraction, their political system becomes ever more oppressive, their rights are systematically trampled on and worst of all, they have no hope of improvement in the near future. Which they would have if Morgan Tsvangirai had won. Even if his victory had been opposed. Perhaps worst of all though is the fact that Mugabe's actions and the lack of response from his neighbours seem to cast aspersions on the principle of democratic rule itself. If this rare bird is so important, then why was it killed so easily? If the idea of democracy is to have any real substantive value then it must be non-negotiable, no matter what the circumstances. That the will of the people can be so easily and so brazenly disregarded not only speaks badly of Mugabe but it also speaks badly of the esteem in which we in South Africa hold democracy.

The sheer indecency of Robert Mugabe's continued rule should move us to feel some sort of revulsion. This is a man who has wilfully subverted the principles of democracy, who, whilst mouthing the rhetoric of freedom and justice, has massacred his own people, who has secured his continued rule by, in some cases, making use of powers first acquired by the previous white minority government. This is a racist, homophobic, kleptocratic, autocrat, and so I say it is most definitely not a good thing that Morgan Tsvangirai did not win the election.

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