Zimbabwe: If This is Not A Crisis, What Is?

Dark days in Zimbabwe; South Africa caught up in the drama, too

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The question I posed in this space before the Zimbabwe election on March 19th was whether the election would bring Democracy or Disaster? What comes to mind now, with no results announced after almost three weeks, is that old saying: 'It's always darkest just before it gets pitch black.'

Despite the pronouncements of friendly observers that Zimbabwe's election was credible, the ruling ZANU-PF party is now contesting the results, and the nation's High Court has denied a petition by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to force the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to release the results. This has led to charges that the courts are packed with ruling party supporters, if not their people. There have been occasions when judges have acted independently, but not often.

Meanwhile, harsh words from a variety of quarters, including much of the South African media, are being thrown at South African President Thabo Mbeki, who insists there is no crisis in Zimbabwe, despite reports by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights of what they say are 130 documented cases of political violence, 29 with serious injuries and two deaths so far; and despite U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazier calling it just what Mbeki said it was not.

The issue has put into stark relief the widening chasm (or is it a crisis?) between South Africa's two centers of power: the President and government on the one hand, and the African National Congress –the ruling party—on the other. The ANC Party leadership has come down hard on the ZEC, calling on it to release the results immediately, and calling the situation in Zimbabwe a "case of democracy gone wrong."

The Party also accused the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a organization of regional African leaders, of a lack of leadership when it convened an extraordinary summit this past weekend in Lusaka, Zambia, after Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa described Zimbabwe as a house on fire.

And then there was opposition leader Morgan Tsvengirai, who claims he won the poll, asking this question during media briefings in Johannesburg: "If there was no crisis, then why would Mbeki have to go to Zimbabwe not only once but several times in the last few months? If there was no crisis in Zimbabwe, then why would SADC have to convene an extraordinary summit on Zimbabwe?"

But Tsvengirai gave SADC a pass on its statement that echoed the world's call for the verification and release of the poll results; the SADC said that if the results require a runoff, then SADC is fine with that. Tsvengirai has said he won outright and that the only reason ZANU wants a run-off is so that it can, by hook or crook or both, fix the run-off results in its favor. He has said he will not participate in a run-off, but as of Tuesday, he says he will only participate if international observers, including the SADC, are there to witness it.

Meanwhile, ZANU is saying it has uncovered evidence of the MDC bribing election officials to cook the results in its favor, and that such "evidence" justifies a rerun of the election in the areas where these alleged acts occurred.

Late Tuesday, Sidney Mufumadi, part of Mbeki's negotiating team, conceded this much: "The anxiety about the delay is certainly legitimate. It's a shared anxiety." But he also allowed that there was "no need to panic yet. There is no leadership vacuum." He said there are existing avenues for redress and repeated the now infamous words of Mbeki: "It's not a crisis."

And while there are daily reports of rising anger and anxiety in Zimbabwe, the MDC call for a mass stay-a-way on Tuesday fizzled.