Africa And Aboriginal Tuesdays: Out of the Commonwealth by Eddie Cross

The furor over the position of Zimbabwe in the Commonwealth is now over.
Zimbabwe was suspended indefinitely and Mugabe promptly and predictably took
Zimbabwe out of the organisation.

But what I felt this morning is that people needed to be reminded of why
Zimbabwe was suspended in the first instance. We tend to forget what went on
at that time and the fact that the suspension of the country for
misbehavior - violation of basic Commonwealth rules and values - was
consensual at the time.

In the year 2000, Zimbabweans were taken to a referendum by the Mugabe
government and asked to approve a new constitution which would have
entrenched the power and position of the State President, endorsed his
desire the nationalise land without compensation and marginalise the
political opposition. Despite extensive rigging of the vote (a post
referendum study revealed that the vote in favour had been inflated by 15
per cent), the government lost the vote 55 to 45 per cent.

Mugabe accepted the result in public but immediately instituted a campaign
of violence and intimidation against the opposition and civil society. The
violent land occupations started - orchestrated by the State and managed by
State organs such as the Central Intelligence Organisation.

The Parliamentary elections that followed in June 2000 were characterised by
widespread violence, intimidation and electoral manipulation. Constituency
boundaries were changed, the number of rural constituencies increased and
the voting procedures and qualifications amended to favour the ruling party.
Despite all this and the massive dislocation of the vote on commercial farms
now in the middle of a violent campaign to dispossess the farmers and
displace their workforce and families (2 million people who held the balance
of electoral power between the urban (MDC) and the subsistence sector (Zanu)
vote), the opposition took 52 per cent of the national vote and 48 per cent
of all Parliamentary seats.

Again post election studies showed quite clearly that the vote had been
rigged to the extent of about 15 per cent. Despite this and the use of
violence and intimidation as an electoral tool together with the use of the
State controlled media for propaganda purposes, the MDC accepted the result
and took up its role as a "loyal" opposition.

There was no let up in the political campaign against the MDC and its
allies. Zanu PF knew that they were in deep trouble with the electorate and
that they had to do some radical things to stop the tide of change.

The next electoral challenge for Zanu PF and Mugabe was the March 2002
presidential elections. Under the current Constitution, crafted by Zanu PF
over the previous 23 years, the State President has huge personal powers -
he appoints 30 members of Parliament, the Cabinet and can suspend Parliament
at any time he chooses. A loss of the parliamentary majority in 2000 to the
MDC would not have meant a change of government - the appointed MP's would
see to that. But a loss of the presidential elections in 2002 would see a
change of government - even with a narrow Zanu majority in the House. So the
battle lines were drawn.

The campaign drew unprecedented violence and intimidation, the farm
invasions were intensified and the dislocation of the 2 million people on
the farms completed before voting. The control over the State media was
tightened and no information about the MDC and its leadership was permitted.
This was critical as the State controlled 7 newspapers, all television and
all radio broadcasting internally.

The military were brought in to control the electoral process itself and the
voters roll was further manipulated to restrict voting by known opposition
groups. Activity by the MDC in the field was strongly contested, activists
were arrested and held in jails in their thousands, torture and violence
were used extensively. There were numerous political killings. The number
and distribution of polling stations were again manipulated to encourage
rural voting and to discourage or limit the urban vote. The numbers of
mobile polling stations were increased dramatically.

All voters outside the country were denied the vote except for the army in
the Congo who voted under supervision. Any citizens who were deemed to have
dual citizenship (if one of your parents was born outside the country) you
were denied the vote. This affected thousands of voters who held citizenship
either by birth or naturalization.

Finally, immediately before the election was held, new regulations were
promulgated and the rules of the election changed. A Military team was
drafted in on an emergency basis and took control of a secret exercise to
rig the vote.

During the election itself, hundreds of thousands of urban voters were
denied the right to vote by administrative congestion at urban voting
stations. Hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes were cast in rural areas
by the military units tasked with this responsibility and when the dust had
settled we were told that Mugabe had won by a margin of 400 000 votes.

When it was all over, studies of the election itself revealed that up to 800
000 fraudulent votes had been cast and some 300 000 urban voters denied the
vote by simple congestion at polling stations. It is probable that 200 000
other voters were denied the right to vote by means of manipulation of their
citizenship/voting rights.

It was against this background that the Commonwealth appointed a troika of
leaders - Howard, Mbeki and Obasanjo - to look at the election and decide
what to do in the light of an unfavorable report by a Commonwealth Observer
Mission to the elections. In the end it was a confidential report,
circulated to all leading countries and the troika itself that closed the
door on Mugabe. This report was based on intelligence information gleaned in
Zimbabwe over several months and a careful analysis of the final vote. Mbeki
and Obasanjo had no choice, faced with this plethora of information and
data, they voted to suspend Zimbabwe.

African leaders believe that it is better to have Mugabe in the club rather
than outside and throwing mud at those still in! They believe that there is
little to gain by isolating the delinquent on the basis of his behavior.
Others think that the Commonwealth must stick to its principles and demand
changes before the black ball can be lifted. Both are right in their own
way - the key to the correct decision is whether or not Mugabe would respond
to pressure. In our view, no, therefore the majority in the Commonwealth,
who voted to keep the black ball on the table, are right.

What it does not do is solve our problem, which is how do the people of
Zimbabwe get a chance to vote in a free and fair election for leadership
which will put the country back on its feet?

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 8th December 2003

Eddie Cross is a Secretary for Economic Affairs, and executive member of the Zimbabwe opposition political party, Movement For Democratic Change, (MDC). Mr. Cross can be contacted via e-mail at:

Tuesday, December 9, 2003