January 11, 2002

Generals threat to oppose Tsvangirai; new bill against opposition

Generals threat to oppose Tsvangirai; new bill against opposition (January 11, 2002)

On Wednesday, January 9, the Zimbabwean heads of the defence forces, the army, air force, police, secret police and prison services declared they would not recognise the victor of March's elections if he did not represent the values of the "liberation struggle" fought by guerrilla armies, one of them loyal to the now ruling ZANU(PF) party of president Robert Mugabe. "We will not accept, let alone support or salute anyone with a different agenda," said defence forces commander Vitalis Zvinavashe. The statement was seen as an implicit threat to stage a military coup if opposition presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai beat the 77-year-old Mugabe in the elections scheduled for March 9-10.

As a reaction, Tsvangirai on Friday, January 11, rebutted this threats, declaring that "the people's will shall prevail." In a brief statement, the 49-year-old leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change said that the country's 1972-1979 war against white minority rule was fought to establish the ideal of "one-man, one-vote". "The understanding was, and still is, that where the people, in the full exercise of their sovereignty have spoken, no man should seek to subvert their will," he said. He made a point of expressing the MDC's respect for the guerrillas who fell in the war against the former white minority Rhodesian government, saying, "as a nation, we are deeply indebted to them for this sacrifice." The MDC recognised the values of the liberation war, but, added Tsvangirai, it also recognised, „most importantly, the right of Zimbabweans to select their leaders and consequently be led by a government of their own choosing."

The security chiefs' announcement shocked observers, as it came after repeated assertions by the military forces that they were apolitical and would support the elected government of the day. However, the five top officers are all veterans of the guerrilla war and strong supporters of Mugabe's party.

As a reaction, South Africa on Friday, January 11, denounced the threat: "Our position as the South African government, if indeed this is true, is that this is not acceptable. You cannot have a situation where the security forces are trying to pre-empt an election outcome," Bheki Khumalo, spokesman for President Thabo Mbeki, said. South Africa's stance reflects growing international and local concern that the elections will not be free and fair.

Meanwhile, ZANU-PF party Thursday, January 10, muscled two bills through parliament aimed at frustrating attempts to unseat Mugabe in the vote. The parliament granted the government sweeping security powers, made it an offence to criticise the president, and authorised police to disperse public gatherings. Bheki Khumalo said that South Africa supported the rule of law and wanted to see democratic elections in neighbouring Zimbabwe. "What you have to have in Zimbabwe, as the president has said on numerous occasions, are free and fair elections," he said. Similarly, former South African archbishop Desmond Tutu warned that Mugabe was "on the slippery slope towards a dictatorship" because of the restrictive laws just passed. "All of what has happened recently has not only just blotted his copy book. It's really marred his whole image. "I'm deeply deeply saddened. I'm disappointed. I really feel ashamed in many ways because, as I said, he used to be such a splendid leader," Tutu said.

Meanwhile, the European Union has turned up the pressure on Zimbabwe, giving it a week to pledge in writing that it will accept international observers and news media during its elections. In doing so, it put on hold sanctions against President Robert Mugabe's regime. "At this stage, the EU is not satisfied that its concerns will be met," said Spain's permanent representative to the 15-nation bloc, Javier Conde de Saro, after a day of talks with Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge. He said the EU was asking President Robert Mugabe's government to send a letter to the Spanish EU presidency "within a week" detailing what action it would take to address Europe's concerns. In particular, the EU insisted on "two immediate actions" — "the invitation and accreditation of international election observers, including from the EU," starting six weeks before the polls, and "full access to national and international media."

In a separate press conference, Mudenge said that the Zimbabwean government „will respond ... in due time." But he indicated that Harare might accept EU election observers — reversing a position it had taken in October. "We'll be issuing invitations within the next coming week," he said. "We are now looking at requests and recommendations ... If there are any from the EU, why not? We will invite them."


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