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TOPSHOT - A supporter of Zimbabwean opposition MDC Alliance push a barrel in front of a fire in Harare on August 1, 2018, as protests erupted over alleged fraud in the country's election. - Protests in Zimbabwe's historic elections turned bloody on August 1 as a man was shot dead during demonstrations over alleged vote fraud and the president appealed for calm. The man died after soldiers fired live ammunition during opposition protests in downtown Harare, AFP reporters saw. (Photo by Luis TATO / AFP) (Photo credit should read LUIS TATO/AFP/Getty Images)

Opinion

June 27 2008 genocidal run-off election: Background, the event and aftermath

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I wrote this on 27 June 2021. It is time for reflection. What were the reasons and build-up? What happened? What was the aftermath?

Why did Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete describe Robert Mugabe as a village thief at the African Union summit on 1 July 2008?

Why did Mugabe call a journalist “You bloody idiot!” after that crucial AU summit?

And, of course, our Government of National Unity (GNU) talks error: Opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai should have become the President of Zimbabwe and not Robert Mugabe!!

Read all about it:
(An extended excerpt from AGO Mutambara’s 2018 An Autobiography of Thought Leadership Volume II: The Path to Power)

BACK from the future, today is 28 April 2008, a full month after the 29 March 2008 presidential elections. The results have still not been announced.

Most of our activists are under violent attack, and hundreds of our supporters are in jail. Tsvangirai and I address a joint Press conference at Lanseria Airport in South Africa, where he is about to get on a flight to Tanzania.

He is on a mission to meet President Kikwete, who is the current chairman of the African Union.

As the opposition, we claim control of the Parliament of Zimbabwe for the first time in our nation’s history. The initial results (confirmed after a recount in  23constituencies) for the House of Assembly are that MDC-T obtains 99 seats (47.83%), Zanu PF wins 97 seats (46.86%), and MDC-M’s tally is 10 (4.83%).

As a consequence of the deaths of candidates in three House of Assembly constituencies, voting is postponed in Pelandaba-Mpopoma, Gwanda South and Redcliff. By-elections for the three constituencies are held on 27 June 2008, the same day as the presidential run-off.

Two seats, Gwanda South and Redcliff, are won by Zanu PF and the third, Pelandaba-Mpopoma, by MDC-T. This gives MDC-T a final total of 100 seats in the House of Assembly (47.62%), and Zanu PF 99 seats (47.14%), while MDC-M’s tally remains at 10 (4.78%).

This Monday morning of 28 April 2008, at Lanseria Airport I formally and publicly support Tsvangirai.

I am convinced that Mugabe has lost the first round of the presidential election without the need for a run-off election and that Morgan has obtained the required 50% plus one vote.

In any case, if there is a contrived and fraudulent presidential run-off election, I declare my unequivocal support for Tsvangirai in that race.

These utterances incense and enrage Zanu PF and Mugabe, in particular, their military junta which is busy rigging the outcome of the 29 March 2008 presidential elections. I must pay. I must be neutralised.

My arrest, alluded to earlier, on the Sunday morning of 1 June 2008, is quite dramatic. I am relaxing at home, 118 Gilchrist Road, in the suburb of Marlborough in Harare.

I am preparing to travel to Cape Town for the World Economic Forum on Africa which starts on 4 June 2008, ending on 6 June 2008. Suddenly my house is surrounded by riot police and the police captain through the intercom demands that I open the electric gate.

He shouts: “You are under arrest! Open the gate!” I am alone in the house. Through the same intercom, I enquire about the charge.

“We will tell you at the police station,” he retorts.

I quickly notify my lawyers and colleagues by cellphone. As I do this, the riot squad is now throwing teargas into my yard and violently banging the electric gate. Some of the officers have already jumped the fence into my property. I quickly lock up my house, open the gate, a wet towel in hand to deal with the teargas, and then confront this violent and armed militia.

They refuse to discuss anything. I am bundled into one of the three police trucks and taken to the notorious lice-infested, filthy, urine-smelling Matapi police cells in Mbare. The place lives up to its reputation, and since it is June, the jail cell is freezing cold. It is biting.

What seems to be the matter? As discussed earlier, the official reason given is that my speech published by The Standard newspaper on 20 April 2008, is highly contemptuous.

In addition to indictment for contempt of court, the Zimbabwe state prefers an additional charge of criminal defamation against me.

I later learn that the editor of The Standard, Davison Maruziva, has also been arrested for publishing the offending document. He shares the defamation indictment with me.

However, as already explained, there is more to this than meets the eye. My arrest on 1 June 2008, after more than 40 days have passed since the wide media coverage of the speech, is suspicious as it occurs during the heat and height of the presidential run-off election, scheduled for 27 June 2008.

It is now a direct political fight between just two men – Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai. The stakes could not be any higher.

The military junta backing Mugabe is currently executing an extremely violent and murderous campaign throughout the country.

As a party, we have taken a bold and unequivocal position to support Tsvangirai’s candidacy. Together with members of our party, I have openly and unconditionally endorsed him, starting with that Press conference at Lanseria Airport and another media event involving the top leadership of both parties in Pretoria.

This overt endorsement is part of the beef – the basis for my arrest. Mugabe and his party are in a fit of uncontrollable rage with our party’s stance. We are the king-makers in the run-off election.

Mugabe and his military junta are not taking any chances. They are going for broke. I have to be silenced and contained. Our party must be decimated before the run-off.

Mugabe must win the run-off or re-run of the presidential elections by any means necessary – brute force, blatant rigging or pure genocide.

I am standing in their way. This is the reason they pick me up and detain me on that beautiful Sunday morning of 1 June 2008.

There is a national, regional and international outcry as I am expected to participate at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town from 4 to 8 June 2008.

I am one of the WEF Young Global Leaders (YGL). There is pressure on the government of Zimbabwe from the WEF host, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, the WEF executive director, Klaus Schwab, and the WEF YGL community.

The regime relents, and I am released on 4 June 2008. I head straight to WEF in Cape Town running from 4 to 6 June 2008, under the theme, “Capitalise on Opportunity”.

As I walk into the Cape Town International Conference Centre hall, I get a standing ovation from my fellow YGLs.

From Mugabe’s jail cell to the auspicious gathering of the World Economic Forum! It is a small but significant step indeed.

Mugabe and his party Zanu PF carry out the bloodiest election campaign in Zimbabwean history in the 27 June 2008 presidential run-off election.

The level of brutality, barbarism and callousness is entirely unprecedented. People are maimed and killed. There is the infamous choice given to victims: “Do you want short or long sleeves?”

This refers to whether a victim wants to have their hands chopped off at the wrists or the arms cut at the elbows.

More than 200 activists lose their lives throughout the country during that campaign. Zanu  PF has to win, come hell, come sunshine.

After the sham presidential run-off election, Mugabe hurriedly installs himself as President of Zimbabwe for a sixth term on Sunday, 29 June 2008.

He shamelessly does this after a widely discredited poll in which he is the only candidate. Tsvangirai dismisses the inauguration as “an exercise in self-delusion”.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announces that Mugabe has received 85% of the vote in what is, in effect, a one-horse race. What a shame!  Global condemnation of the disgraceful poll continues, while violence against the opposition activists has not stopped.

Global rejection: The case of the village thief

As soon as he has formally, but illegally, made himself President of Zimbabwe, Mugabe heads off to the 11th Ordinary Session of the African Union held from 30 June to 1 July 2008 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

The AU meeting refuses to accept his shenanigans and gives him a torrid time. Mugabe is roundly and robustly condemned by a significant number of fellow heads of state and government.

He is totally shocked. He did not expect this.

He had anticipated solidarity. In particular, he is very upset, distraught and agitated by the castigation and admonishment that he receives from Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Asres of Ethiopia.

He sits up straight and points a wagging finger at Zenawi and says, “And you too? How dare you have the nerve to accuse me of electoral fraud?” Mugabe is implying that Zenawi is also a dictator, who is said to have stolen the 2005 elections in Ethiopia. Hence, he has no moral authority to attack him.

President Kikwete of Tanzania, sensing Mugabe’s diversionary pleading towards self-serving collective guilty, which makes everyone culpable and hence no one accountable, deftly intervenes: “President Mugabe, in my village when a thief is discovered at the market and is being chased by the villagers, he or she cannot turn around and, say, ‘Hey, stop chasing me there is another thief in that corner’.

“President Mugabe, you are our village thief today. We have to concentrate on you, and you alone.” Mugabe is beside himself with anger. He is despondent. A village thief – how has it come to this for the pan-Africanist, a distinguished revolutionary, and founding father of the Zimbabwean nation?

At the end of the session, on 1 July 2008, the African leaders release the AU summit resolutions on Zimbabwe which effectively repudiate Mugabe’s presidency.

He is engulfed by unimaginable fury. While leaving the summit, he is ambushed by a British journalist who asks him, “How do feel being at this AU summit of heads of state and government?

On what basis do you still consider yourself President of Zimbabwe?” A visibly angry Mugabe retorts, “On the same basis that Mr Brown considers himself Prime Minister of Britain.”

He is not done with the journalist. He charges towards the journalist as if he is going to strike him. His security details restrain him.

Completely consumed by anger, he uncontrollably shouts, “You must stop asking stupid questions. We are not a British colony.

What do the British have to do with Zimbabwe? You bloody idiot.” Mugabe is totally rattled. Clearly, he has not recovered from the barrages and onslaught from his colleagues during the summit.

He is getting a taste of his own medicine. What a pitiful tyrant – a despicable despot under siege.

Beyond the continent, the United States and the United Kingdom effectively place the Zimbabwe issue on the UN agenda.

In their spirited efforts, they are supported by the undertaking at the three-day meeting of the Group of Eight (G8) in Japan from 7 to 9 July 2008.

The G8 members agree to seek UN sanctions against Zimbabwe after the violent election that extends Robert Mugabe’s 28-year rule.

Speaking on behalf of the G8, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, says: “The need and the urgency were indicated for sanctions at the UN Security Council.

Given that even Russia decided to go ahead, it seemed to be important to join in, voting unanimously.”

Asked whether Africa and Africans took an uncharitable and dim perspective of an exclusive club of wealthy nations going on the offensive against an African leader, Robert Mugabe, the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says: “I think it’s the other way around.

Africa now sees that what’s happening in Zimbabwe is damaging the credibility of Africa as a whole.” So, the international pressure and global response are leveraging African disquiet and disapproval of Mugabe’s excesses and shenanigans. That is indeed a new dimension.

The G8 objective is to tighten sanctions against Zimbabwe’s ruling elite and to press for the appointment of a special UN envoy to Zimbabwe.

The UN Deputy Secretary General, Asha Rose Migiro, expresses a view that the situation in Zimbabwe is the “single greatest challenge in southern Africa” not only due to the deterioration of humanitarian conditions, violation of human rights and the resultant political instability but also because of the “dangerous political precedent it sets”.

On 11 July 2008, a UN Security Council measure, intended to impose sanctions against key leaders of the Mugabe government as well as to impose an arms embargo against the regime, fails.

The attempt is driven and sponsored by the United Kingdom and the United States. Two of the 15-member body’s permanent members – China and the Russian Federation – vote against the draft resolution that would also have imposed a travel ban and financial freeze against Mugabe and 13 senior government and security officials considered central and accountable for the deplorable national crisis in Zimbabwe.

The outcome of the Security Council’s vote is nine in favour (Belgium, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Italy, Panama, United Kingdom, United States), to five against (China, Libya, Russian Federation, South Africa, Vietnam), with Indonesia abstaining.

Hence, China and Russia, with strong support from South Africa and Libya, effectively veto the West’s sanctions initiative on Zimbabwe.

The US ambassador to the UN expresses his disdain and contempt of the SA position.

He feels South Africa is ungrateful, given the role that international sanctions played in the fight against apartheid.

Consequently, Mbeki becomes a target of furious attacks and a well-calculated global campaign seeking to discredit him.

Nonetheless, the dispute over the UN Security Council vote allows Mbeki to leverage on and enhance Pan-African solidarity, since most African countries confirm their support for the Sadc mediation efforts at the 11th ordinary session of the AU held from 30 June to 1 July 2008, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

The decision of that AU summit, while emphatically dismissing Mugabe’s sham one-person presidential run-off election victory, is ostensibly to back the doctrine of “African solutions to African problems” in the form of the Sadc mediation process, where South Africa facilitates negotiations among the Zimbabwean political parties.

The genocidal 27 June 2008 run-off presidential election completely delegitimised Mugabe. He could not run the country without the opposition.

The critical constituencies of SA, Sadc and AU would have none of that. We had so much bargaining power going into the GNU negotiations. Of course, with hindsight, it is clear that we neither understood nor leveraged on our strength. Indeed, we were short-changed.

The globally rejected (more significantly by South Africa, Sadc and AU) genocidal run-off presidential election meant that we went into the GNU negotiations with Tsvangirai as the leading candidate to become President of Zimbabwe.

He had won the only globally accepted first round presidential election. The run-off presidential election was a disgraceful nullity. No one recognised Mugabe’s sham victory in this pathetic and genocidal charade.

With our collective parliamentary strength of 110 seats against Zanu PF’s 99 (one MP was an independent, Jonathan Moyo) we should have come out of the GNU talks with Tsvangirai as the President of Zimbabwe!

Well, as they say, hindsight is 20-20 vision.

*About the writer: Professor Arthur Mutambara is former Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.

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