Zimbabwe gripped by tensions as Robert Mugabe ouster looms

President Robert Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai

HARARE – Security commanders have summoned opposition parties to a meeting in Harare tomorrow, ahead of Wednesday’s planned mega demonstrations — amid fears by panicking authorities that the spirit of resistance which swept across the country last year is once again gathering steam ahead of next year’s make-or-break national polls.

This comes as the under pressure Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), in a bid to dissuade the opposition from toyi-toying on Wednesday, has also scheduled its own meeting with all political parties on Tuesday — to discuss the increasingly contentious matter of biometric voter registration (BVR), which is the main reason for this week’s protests.

And as if to underscore the fact that this week will be a big one both politically and economically, overwhelmed banks — which were besieged by angry tobacco farmers on Friday after they failed to avail the $1 000 that the farmers had been promised by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) — are expected to remain under the cosh.

Douglas Mwonzora, the secretary general of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera), a group of 18 opposition parties agitating for electoral reforms ahead of next year’s elections, confirmed to the Daily News On Sunday yesterday that the country’s feared Joint Operations Command (JOC) — a security think tank comprising military, police, prisons and Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) bosses — had summoned them to a meeting tomorrow.

“Joc and Zec have both called for meetings on the 20th and 21st of this month respectively, but that will not in any way have a bearing on the Nera demonstration which will go ahead as planned because Zimbabweans want to stop this daylight rigging of the 2018 elections that has started.

“We are aware that the authorities are panicking and would want to intimidate us so that people don’t partake in the demonstration, but that will not work. We are ready for the consequences of our action,” a defiant Mwonzora told the Daily News On Sunday.

He also said police were yet to respond to the notification letter of the protests, which was sent to authorities a fortnight ago.

“We suspect that as usual they are delaying to give us the response because they want to tell us that we cannot go ahead at the last minute  but we are not going to accept any unjustified banning of the demonstration.

“We have put down our own security measures where we have about 500 marshals to assist law enforcement agents, because we want a peaceful process.

“We are expecting that leaders of political parties in Nera will lead over 10 000 people during the protests, although it will be up to them (party leaders) to decide at which stage of the demonstration to join,” Mwonzora added.

Zimbabwe’s quest to acquire BVR kits has caused a huge storm among opposition parties, who view the government’s involvement in the purchase of the equipment as problematic.

The controversy erupted into the open recently following the government’s sudden decision to sideline the UNDP from assisting in the procurement of the BVR kits, with unanswered questions being raised about how and where President Robert Mugabe’s stone-broke administration was able to secure funding for this, to the staggering tune of $17 million.

The opposition has alleged that the government is hijacking the process to rig next year’s eagerly-anticipated national elections.

Mwonzora, told the Daily News On Sunday that Nera was surprised that the government had “from the blue” chosen to go it alone in the procurement of the BVR kits.

“It was all along agreed that the procurement of the BVR kits would be done by Zec through the UNDP. Consequently, a joint advertisement was flighted by the UNDP and Zec calling upon all potential suppliers of the kits to place their bids.

“These bids were opened at the UNDP offices in Copenhagen and this was witnessed by both Zec and political parties. It was further agreed that once the winner of the tender was declared, political parties would second their technical experts to inspect these kits.

“But suddenly, the government announced that it was taking over the BVR kits procurement process. Among other things, this means that the government will now select the supplier of these kits.

“Crucially, political parties and other key stakeholders will thus not be able to monitor the process,” Mwonzora pointed out.

With the experience of the 2013 election results, where an Israeli company, Nikuv, allegedly manipulated the vote in favour of Zanu PF, there are palpable fears within the opposition that Zanu PF will temper with next year’s elections.

“Nera totally rejects this move because it is designed to enable the government to manipulate the procurement process. That way the government will also manipulate the 2018 election process.

“In other words, this move marks the beginning of the rigging of the 2018 elections … To this end, Nera is organising nationwide demonstrations to show the people’s outrage at this political abomination. All Zimbabweans, irrespective of their political affiliation, are called to action,” Mwonzora said.

Analysts say the Nera protests could herald the beginning of a new season of protests, following the relative calm that has prevailed in the country over the past few months, after the panicking government used brute force to crush rolling protests last year.

University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, said tensions could indeed be rising again, warning that the planned protests could also turn bloody.

“Government will react in a manner that we have all become accustomed to, that is with heavy-handedness at the slightest sign of potential trouble,” he said.

Former civic leader, McDonald Lewanika, said the planned protests were also a sign that the opposition had lost patience with the government, and was now going for broke.

“What the planned protest by Nera indicates is that all other methods of persuading the government to allow for an impartial BVR kit purchase by an impartial arbiter like the UNDP have failed, leaving these parties with no option but to communicate with their feet in the street.

“As we inch closer to elections in 2018, tensions will continue to rise, with the election itself as the climax. The planned war vets indaba may also mark a watershed moment ahead of 2018 … In that respect the outcomes of that meeting could be telling a year ahead of elections,” Lewanika said.

Last week, the High Court gave the angry war veterans the green-light to hold their indaba, which had earlier been stopped by authorities.

War veterans have been feuding with Mugabe since they served him with divorce papers, after they released a damning communiqué against the 93 year-old.

The vets are pressing Mugabe to name a successor and ditch a faction rabidly opposed to his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, from succeeding him.

Yesterday, the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) political commissar, Francis Nhando, said Mugabe and Zanu PF did not want their indaba because it was aimed at addressing the country’s worsening political and economic rot.

“The reason they don’t want us to meet is that we are the only army that after fighting colonialism did not end there, but went further to fight for economic freedom, which saw the land reform programme being undertaken.

“They also don’t like us because we realised that Morgan Tsvangirai is not as bad as he was previously portrayed. His only crime is that he is liked by the British who used to like Mugabe, but later dumped him,” Nhando said.

Analysts also say the country’s worsening cash shortages, which almost caused riots by angry tobacco farmers last week, were likely to fuel further tensions going forward.

Zimbabwe is in the grip of a debilitating economic crisis which has seen the government failing to pay its workers. – Daily News

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