18 May 2001

ZIMBABWE: Opposition wins first mayoral seat

Despite a campaign of violence that saw Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party bring in its big guns, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) claimed a mayoral election victory last week in the southern city of Masvingo. The win gives the MDC control of its first municipality.

The new mayor, retired engineer Alois Chaimiti, won 4.532 votes — more than double Zanu-PF’s 2.188 — in the poll, which saw just 27% of the electorate cast its vote. Chaimiti blamed the low voter turnout on Zanu-PF’s terror campaign.

The MDC win comes against severe odds. Forced to go into hiding for fear of violent reprisals, opposition leaders conducted a quiet campaign in stark contrast to the violence and intimidation meted out by Zanu-PF thugs.

Self-styled war veterans ran amok through the city, forcing businesses and workers to attend Zanu-PF rallies. The campaign of terror was orchestrated by Zimbabwe’s infamous duo, Chenjerai Hitler Hunzvi and self-appointed “invasions leader” Joseph Chinotimba. More than a dozen people were injured in pre-poll violence, with half of the victims coming from the opposition. The state-controlled media predictably blamed the violence on the MDC, reporting that police had arrested 26 opposition youths.

While Zimbabwe’s riot police stepped in to disperse revellers outside Masvingo’s civic hall on Monday, fearing the celebrations would “become violent”, the significance of the victory wasn’t lost on opposition leaders. “It’s been an unhappy few weeks for Zanu-PF,” said David Coltart, MDC shadow minister for legal affairs. Last week the government saw its case against MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai referred to the Supreme Court.

Ruling party heavyweights were visibly shocked by the election result, believing that their violent campaign tactics, largely successful until now, had worked again. The announcement that declared Chaimiti Zimbabwe’s first opposition mayor saw Zanu-PF’s old guard skulk out of the counting room. Eye-witnesses said they “appeared stunned”. Immediately after the results, a piqued ruling party reacted by saying that its legal committee would investigate whether “MDC propelled the violence”, and whether “the massive stayaway of registered voters” had influenced the outcome.

The news did not disrupt MDC celebrations. “It’s a wonderful result, proving that violence doesn’t work,” said Roy Bennett, MDC MP for the rural constituency of Chimanimani.

Zimbabwe’s next municipal elections will be held on June 24 and 25 in Bulawayo, an MDC stronghold.

The Mail&Guardian

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