A fierce showdown appears imminent between the Zimbabwean government and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, whose call for nationwide protests next week is being dubbed “a final push.” The government has declared it will crush the demonstrations, which a government minister called “tantamount to a coup d’état.”
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is exhorting Zimbabweans to come out “in your millions” June 2 for a week of peaceful marches against President Robert Mugabe. The Financial Times reported that this is the first time the MDC has called for mass street demonstrations. Clearly anticipating severe resistance by the government—which detained hundreds of MDC supporters in recent labor strikes around the country—Tsvangirai said, “We must be prepared to be arrested, we must be prepared to make a mark to ensure that we will never again be oppressed.”
The MDC has been stepping up pressure on Mugabe since the March 2002 election that kept him in power—an election the international community roundly condemned as flawed and the MDC deemed a fraud. Zimbabwe, which once shone as one of Africa’s most promising nations, is in economic ruin; more than half the country’s 11.3 million people depend on outside food aid.
The government, for its part, calls the MDC and its actions treasonous. The Herald reportedthat a government minister called the marches a coup attempt: “Resort to a coup d’état is unconstitutional and unlawful and thus constitutes the serious crime of high treason,” he said. He added that those participating in the marches “will meet with the full wrath of the law.”
In a later article, the Herald quoted a warning by the Zimbabwe Defense Forces: “The ZDF will not be an idle observer, instead it will bring to bear its full force upon those perpetrators of uncalled for violence.” The paper reported that the ZDF “took serious exception” to the MDC’s recent appeal to the country’s armed forces. (According to Johannesburg’s Mail & Guardian, the group ran ads in the private media “urging the armed forces not to subvert their professionalism by aligning themselves to the ruling party of President Robert Mugabe as if they were a ‘private force.’ “)
Even the opposition Daily News cautioned that it is anyone’s guess how the protests will unfold. “It must be clear to all observers that the opposition party could be betting its future and that of the entire nation on this one hand.” The paper said the chaos that could arise from violent clashes would be “disastrous”; but also disastrous, the paper said, would be if the public—cowed by government threats—stayed home. “Failure to mobilise support for the proposed action could cripple the MDC’s efforts to play a leading role in the struggle for democracy and change in Zimbabwe.”
Britain’s Guardian likewise reported that, even given widespread desperation among the Zimbabwean people, there is no guarantee the MDC will succeed in organizing a massive protest. But, the paper said, “Even if the protest does not succeed, it could pave the way for future action which could topple the regime, in the way that the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic was forced out of office in Belgrade by a popular uprising.” The Guardian story is by Andrew Meldrum, an American journalist who after 23 years in Zimbabwe was kicked out of the country May 15, despite a judge’s order that the journalist be freed pending a hearing.
The MDC’s call for action comes as the G-8 countries prepare for their summit in Evian, France, where Africa is expected to be on the agenda. Tsvangirai met recently with G-8 ambassadors, pushing for international pressure on Mugabe, and telling them that “the urgency of the international pressure being exerted to bring Mugabe to the negotiating table cannot be over-emphasised.” Mugabe has resisted negotiations with the MDC until they give up their challenge to his government’s legitimacy.
An op-ed in Johannesburg’s Business Day warned that the G-8 meeting—in focusing on African economic development—must not ignore political crises on the continent, namely in Zimbabwe. Listing a host of global issues currently preoccupying Western leaders, such as the war on terrorism, the paper said, “Solutions to the world’s woes would be incomplete unless the plight of Africa is taken into account,” the paper said. Pointing to some African conflicts that need immediate attention, said, “If the war in Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom) was about ‘liberating’ the people of Iraq from a tyrant, the people of Zimbabwe also need to be liberated from their ‘tyrant.’ “