Friday, June 27, 2008

A Leader Lost to Despair

Morgan Tsvangirai once embodied his nation's soaring hopes. Boisterous and bold in his trademark cowboy hat, the longtime opposition leader would predict the defeat of President Robert Mugabe and wave a red card -- like a soccer referee ejecting an unruly player -- to the joyous howls of overflowing crowds.

That was three months ago, ahead of the March 29 presidential election. Now, the crowds are gone, along with the cowboy hat, the red cards and the boasts. Several of Tsvangirai's closest aides are dead, in hiding or in jail, and his party structures are all but destroyed. Meanwhile, he is holed up in the Dutch Embassy, with no plans to appear in public on election day.

"I'll do nothing," Tsvangirai, who is boycotting the election despite outpolling Mugabe in the first round in March, said in a telephone interview from the embassy that has been his home since Sunday. "I'll come out for sunshine, nothing more."

As global support mounts for Tsvangirai, even among African leaders long uncertain about him, he is a beaten man in his own country. The hopes of his supporters -- of a Zimbabwe unshackled from the ruinous misrule of Mugabe and his ruthless gang of lieutenants -- have collapsed as well, crushed by a campaign of calculated political brutality not seen here since the Matabeleland massacres two decades ago.

Gangs of ruling party youths, the lethal enforcers of Mugabe's political comeback, celebrated their presumed victory Thursday night in the dense Mbare neighborhood of Harare, the capital. As they sang, "ZANU-PF is back in charge!" they held aloft a coffin covered with the opposition's open-hand insignia and the words "Morgan Tsvangirai."

So weakened is the opposition that Tsvangirai said relief can come only from
some unprecedented initiative from the countries that have complained about Mugabe, but never moved decisively to remove him, for nearly a decade. There is nothing more that Zimbabweans themselves can do, he said.

"They can't confront this regime. The regime is brutal," Tsvangirai said. "The fear is endemic in this country."

The change from March is palpable. Then, a wave of optimism coursed through this once-bountiful nation, powering the opposition's historic gains against Mugabe. Not only did a majority of voters cast ballots for change -- Tsvangirai and an independent candidate shared 57 percent of the vote to Mugabe's 43 percent -- the opposition also captured control of parliament.

It was the first time since Zimbabwe was born from the former Rhodesia in 1980 that a party other than Mugabe's had won any branch of government. Two days after the vote, one of Mugabe's cabinet ministers opened talks with the opposition, and numerous sources close to the president said that, at 84, he was considering stepping aside.

A younger -- and many here say more vicious -- generation of government officials objected, many party officials have said. Negotiations abruptly ended. Arrests began. The army deployed across the countryside, along with the youth militias.

Zimbabweans soon faced a stark choice: attend midnight indoctrination sessions, where ruling party supporters chanted slogans and opposition activists were whipped and clubbed, or face similar treatment themselves.

A poster captured the tenor of the runoff campaign. Beside a smiling Mugabe, sporting his trademark tailored suit and a strip of facial hair stretching from his nose to upper lip, a block of boldface letters carried the slogan: "The Final Battle for Total Control."

2 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

In Africa the gun rules. Reason is just for sissies.

Anonymous said...

Jirre..maar hy was dik gemoer ne!