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The Minister for Finance threatened and intimidated, clashes between supporters of Mugabe’s party and political infighting: tension mounts in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, manoeuvring has already begun over the succession of president Robert Mugabe and is resulting in further unrest in a nation that has lived under shadow of political crisis for years now.

The latest and very worrying episode occurred on Saturday night when a low-powered explosive device was thrown at the home of Finance Minister Tendai Biti. It is unknown who was behind the attack. Although the explosion caused little damage, it was very frightening. The intimidatory nature of the gesture also struck a deep chord.

It is well known that there is ongoing conflict between Mugabe and Biti, a leading member of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, headed by prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, with whom the president formed the now-struggling Government of National Unity.

Of late, however, the ill-feeling has grown so strong that it has breached the well-protected walls around the rooms of power and spilled into the public arena. The elderly president claims the minister has usurped certain presidential functions and has publicly lambasted him. He accuses Biti of being a tyrant, of having cut finance to black farmers and failing to help businesses in the Bulawayo district.

Biti has actually been engaged in a bitter battle against the president’s hangers-on, resulting in the blocking of a 250 million dollar loan to the country by the IMF which had been proving very enticing to certain friends of Mugabe. Now the leader, who is grappling with widespread discontent in the country, has ordered the minister to find the funds to increase the wages of public servants.

Biti’s supporters, however, have hit back that the state could only manage this if the cliques close to Mugabe allow the proceeds from the sales of diamonds from the controversial Chadzwa mine to flow into the public coffers.

However, the clashes between Mugabe and Tsvangirai’s men is only the start of the problem as there is also infighting within the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (Zanu-Pf) with high-ranking members manoeuvring to ensure that a successor more favourable to their stance is elected. Mugabe has already been informed of his impending pensioning off, but it is not as yet clear who will succeed him and how the balances within the system as a whole will change as a result.

So, in a climate of enormous tension and also aggression towards supporters of the opposition parties by the teams organised by Zanu-Pf, there is now also dissent amongst the various factions within the party itself. Eleven activists close to deputy Washington Musvaire went on trial on June 7th for an attack on the night of April 12th on supporters of his same-party rival, Kenneth Mutiwekuziva. The primaries are fast approaching and tensions are heightening, in part at least because there is a growing feeling that the winds of the Arab Spring may well blow into Zimbabwe, particularly now that Mugabe is a lame duck president. 

The result is that power now has to be defended at all costs and by all means. No date has yet been set for the elections but is likely that Zimbabweans will go to the polls in June 2012.  However, there are already worrying shadows hanging over the voting: a South African Institute for Race Relations analyst compared the electoral registers drawn up in 2010 with those of 2008, and discovered that a staggering 366,000 new voters had appeared out of nowhere in the intervening two years. Is it possible that these are all simply young people who’ve reached voting age? Hardly: the new “voters” have turned out to have the names and dates of birth of dead people, have no addresses and, sometimes, no recorded sex.

In fact, no less than 41,000 are over one hundred years of age and 16,000 of those were born on the same day, January 1st 1901. That latter detail seems to confirm suspicions that someone somewhere is preparing to rig the vote by altering the registers. That said, all eyes are also on South Africa and the stance that it will take on repeated human rights violations in Zimbabwe, a burning issue already tackled by the SADC (Southern African Development Community) at the last meeting in Zambia when a hard-line document, known as the Livingston Position, was signed by the troika that heads the organisation which meets in Johannesburg on Friday.

Rumour has it that regional leaders are eager to rid of Mugabe and his regime, and that pressure on South African president Jacob Zuma, a mediator in the political crisis, is mounting. Many analysts maintain that the less than brilliant performance of his African National Congress in recent local elections in South Africa was due partly to support given to the old strong man of Harare who is becoming increasingly less presentable and defendable. 

Alberto Tundo

Translated by Mary Hegarty