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Mugabe era not yet over

March 18, 2013

There was a low turnout in Zimbabwe for the referendum on the new constitution. Many complained that they were not familiar with the contents of the draft charter and didn't have the opportunity to learn more about it.


Just a month elapsed between the publication of the draft constitution and the vote by the people on whether it should be accepted or rejected. Some voters said they stayed away from the poll because there wasn't enought time to study the document, others opposed it because they believed the main political parties in parliament had just drawn it up among themselves without referring to the wishes of the people.

Deutsche Welle Claus Stäcker. Multimediadirektion Regionen/Afrika. Zugeliefert von Steffen Heinze/Lisa Flanakin, Unternehmenskommunikation 01.02.2013/
Claus Stäcker says the real test will be the elections later this yearImage: DW

Civil society in Zimbabwe, which had been struggling persistently for over 15 years for a new constitution, was marginalized. The three-year process which should have sought out the opinions of the people was manipulated from the beginning by party agents, especially those belonging to President Robert Mugabe. The new constitution does not herald the start of a brighter, democratic future. It also does not significantly curb Mugabe's power.

Opposition brutally suppressed

The 89-year ruler has not changed. The last voters had hardly left the polling stations when he sent out his secret police to intimidate his nearest rivals under the flimsiest of pretexts. Security forces raided the office of his unwilling partner in government Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Five persons close to Tsvangirai were arrested, including Tsvangirai's top advisor and a prominent lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa.

Arrests are far from infrequent in Zimbabwe. Recently a civil rights activist, Jestina Mukoko of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was interrogated by the police on charges of espionage. In 2008 she was abducted and tortured, but she still refuses to be intimidated.

Zimbabweans fear elections because for more than a decade they have always been associated with violence and oppression. The state in Zimbabwe has always been synonymous with Robert Mugabe. The next step in his plan to stay in power will be to resort to the use of force, despite protestations to the contrary.

If the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which is supposed to be overseeing a peaceful transition to free and fair elections, is not vigilant Mugabe will unleash once again a wave of violence across the country.

Despite his advanced age, Mugabe believes himself to be a pillar of strength. With his policy of indigenization - the transfer of foreign firms into Zimbabwean hands - he has scored a propaganda coup.

Fair and free elections in July?

The Zimbabwean press is largely pro-Mugabe. Radio, which is the most influential medium in the country, is dominated by his supporters. Although the new constitution would trim his powers and strengthen parliament, it would at the same time allow him to serve two more terms. Robert Mugabe could be in power until the age of 99.

The real test will be the presidential and parliamentary elections in July, or maybe later. The international community has effectively been barred from the country, only SADC and regional powerhouse South Africa have a hope of keeping Zimbabwe on track. Mugabe will not change. Nobody knows this better than the Zimbabweans themselves. That's why two thirds of the electorate didn't bother to vote in the referendum.

Claus Stäcker is head of Deutsche Welle's Africa service