Two-faced Mugabe unmasked

HARARE - A rising tide of police harassment and the systematic crackdown on civic society and MDC supporters by State agents has, yet again, unmasked President Robert Mugabe as a master of double speak.

Mugabe’s political opponents and analysts who last week watched in horror as police banned seemingly harmless short wave radio sets as well as threatening to weed non-governmental organisations such as the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), say Mugabe’s true colours are unravelling.

Faced with a daunting election that might end his 33-year old reign, Mugabe who has agreed to a modicum of reforms in the past four years such as agreeing to a new constitution, is not ready to cede power peacefully, says local think tank Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) in a report released last week.

In the past few weeks, the brutally ubiquitous State agents have been arresting, beating up or harassing leaders of civic groups such as Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza) and the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), and ransacking the offices of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) at a time Mugabe has been at the forefront calling for tolerance and peace.

Mugabe is the commander-in-chief of the defence forces and commanders of the army, police, and intelligence report to him.

The ZDI report, whose views are corroborated by a number of leading analysts, states that Mugabe and military commanders who have come to dominate Zanu PF and are the real power behind the 89-year-old’s rule would never consider ceding power — whatever a new constitution may say — to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, whom they still condemn as a front for Western interests.

While on the ground, Mugabe has been pontificating about peace, the trail of destruction and the level of fear induced by his loyal police force and the dreaded State security agents is a contrast that fits his profile as a two-faced politician, analysts say.

Mugabe, who turned 89 last Thursday, has a history that confounds even his closest associates and bitter foes alike. Before the harmonised March 2008 election, the man had promised to quit but is still hanging on.

Pedzisai Ruhanya, director of ZDI, says the proposed ban on NGOs is “empirical evidence of rapidly shrinking democratic space for civil society in the face of organised and systematic State repression ahead of elections expected later in the year despite the pretences of peace calls”.

“The numerous incidents of harassment and attacks on civil society leaders are not random; they are a product of a carefully planned political strategy to decimate civil society, cow its leaders and reverse any democratic gains that may have been provided by the political truce under the inclusive government,” said Ruhanya.

True to the saying, a leopard never changes its spots, the attacks on civic leaders and some villagers is a rewind to the dark days predating the unity government formed in 2009.

However, Tsvangirai who regularly enjoys tea and snacks with his older and tested political opponent claims that he now can read Mugabe and claims that the calls for peace from a man who once called for his bashing are sincere.

But ZDI says “to focus on the so-called ‘message of peace’ from political leaders, and on the proposed new constitution, is misplaced.

These are red herrings meant to divert attention from what is happening on the ground.”

On Monday last week at yet another tea meeting, Tsvangirai begged Mugabe to control war veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda, who is on a whirlwind tour of the country in a campaign the MDC claims is aimed at pushing for violence.

“There is clear resistance, especially from the Zanu PF side of government, to accept, respect, protect and fulfil citizens’ basic rights to organise, to assemble, and to effectively participate in governance issues,” the ZDI report says.

With a reputation of indicating right and turning left, analysts say the octogenarian leader has fooled his fellow principals.

For instance, a few weeks ago co-Home Affairs minister Theresa Makone said Mugabe was disturbed by the raids on civic organisations — but with all his powers the Zanu PF leader seems to have ignored the whole drama which fits into Zanu PF’s scheme of things.

“What is happening to civil society leaders on the ground is contrary to the message of peace being preached, and is certainly not consistent with a country in transition, presumably committed to constitutionalism,” Ruhanya said.

In its report, ZDI reveals how police and Zanu PF are now executing resolutions which they both reached last year to “target civil society for attack and harassment in a systematic and sustained way.”

At its December conference last year, Zanu PF resolved it would “ensure that government enforces deregistration of errant NGOs deviating from their mandate.”

Contrary to Mugabe’s public peace proclaims, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO forum warned of a violent and volatile election period ahead.

The forum said Zimbabwe has managed to slip from the international radar as the world considers other troubled parts such as Mali.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), an organisation of human rights defenders, says despite publicly claiming to be committed to reforms, Mugabe’s government is failing to uphold regional and international norms and standards, to which it has bound itself through the African Union and the United Nations, clearly protect the rights of NGOs to associate, organise and carry out peaceful activities.

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