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