Election Diary: Zimbabwe's tragedy

Issue 4, Volume 49, 2000

Kevin Rudd, Australian Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australian Labor Party, was an election observer in the Commonwealth Observer Group during the recent Zimbabwean elections and participated in the drafting of the Commonwealth report on the conduct of them


Bernard Makokove is the Member for Chikumba in the National Parliament of the Republic of Zimbabwe. Bernard represents Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF Party and has only been in parliament since last September when he replaced the evocatively named Chemjera Hitler Hunzi (Hitler to his friends) who also represented ZANU-PF. Chikomba is a 75 per cent ZANU-PF seat. And ZANU-PF intends to keep it that way.

I first meet Bernard the other day at a ZANU-PF rally in the district centre of Chivhu. The rally itself was unremarkable — lots of singing, lots of dancing followed by a burst of Churchillian eloquence from the honourable member himself on the evils of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC — Zimbabwe’s main opposition party.

But the person who really took my eye at Bernard’s rally was one of the local political worthies sitting behind him to his left. Resplendent in the green and gold of the ZANU-PF party colours, Mr Gambo is very much part of the Makokove political machine. Perfectly bald, perfectly rotund and the dead spit of Idi Amin, Mr Gambo serves as Bernard’s driver, adviser, and confidant-in-chief.

Mr Gambo, however, is not your garden variety political operative. He has another job as well. He is the district commander of the Central Intelligence Office or CIO — Zimbabwe’s secret police. And if you want to get any handle on the systematic nature of political violence in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, you need go no further than the guys at the CIO — an outfit that makes the old East Germany Stasi look like a bunch of funsters.

The CIO is a nation-wide organisation. That the CIO has an office in a small district centre like Chivhu is a bit like having an office of the ASIO/ASIS, the Australian intelligence services, in Wagga Wagga (no offence intended to ASIO, ASIS or the inhabitants of Wagga Wagga). The CIO operates autonomously from the police. The rule of thumb is something like this — if it is a purely criminal matter, it’s left to the police; if it is a political/criminal matter, it’s hands off as far as the police is concerned. That’s CIO territory — both in the investigation, if there is any, and from time to time in the execution.

Over the last couple of years, the CIO has been widening its scope of operations. The CIO now works actively with another recently created instrument of political intimidation — the ZANU-PF youth organisation. This neat little outfit is part of the State-funded training programme of the Ministry of Youth Affairs. They are trained in a network of "youth camps" across the country and in a short time have become a paramilitary extension of the CIO’s capacity to wage a grassroots reign of terror against any opponent of the ruling party.

Makokove’s Chikomba constituency has seen quite a lot of violence over the last several months. First there was the Headmaster of the local primary school who had joined MDC. Bad career move, as it turned out. A four-wheel drive pulled up one afternoon after school, took the Headmaster off to the bush and clubbed him to death. The finishing touch was to rip the victim’s shirt off and replace it with a ZANU-PF T-shirt carrying the party’s slogan: "The Third Chemenga" or the "Third Armed Struggle". The Headmaster had some first hand experience of the Third Chemenga. His body still lies in the local hospital morgue and the police tell me there are "no leads". Funny that.

One of the local white farmers in Chivhu also tried his hand at MDC politics. He was visited by the local lads and had a concrete block dropped on his head and crushed his skull. Then there are the bashings at any one of the three ZANU-PF youth camps in the district. I was told that the preferred technique is to bash the soles of the feet with an iron bar for days on end. This has the double benefit of crippling the victim without the evidence of external visible bruising.

The net effect, of course, of all the above is to focus the mind of the good citizens of Chikomba on where their political interests really lie. Whatever campaign organisation the MDC had built in the area collapsed. No MDC rallies are permitted. No MDC posters are allowed to be displayed. And no newspapers sold other than the pro-ZANU-PF Zimbabwe Herald. And the people you speak to have fear in their eyes.

Welcome to Robert Mugabe’s democracy where the real name of the game is organised, systematic, state-sponsored violence of a type we once associated with the old Soviet bloc. Which is why the international community must take action because if Mugabe’s election victory is in anyway legitimised, the state-sponsored violence that has underpinned that victory is equally legitimised. And it will spread.

The time has come to draw a clear and resolute line in the sand. The suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth is a welcome step in this direction. But alone it is not enough.

The action that would really hit the Mugabe regime where it hurts is targeted or smart sanctions — that is sanctions on the personal international financial transactions and international travel of individual members of the regime and their families. Far better than broad economic sanctions that hurt the local people at a time when famine is already imminent.

The political situation in Zimbabwe has worsened since the presidential elections. Only 24 hours after Zimbabwe’s suspension from the Common-wealth opposition leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, was formally charged with treason over the alleged plot to murder the President. There are continuing reports of violence.

The Commonwealth Trioka must now act to bring about Commonwealth-wide sanctions to complement those of the European Union, the United States and Switzerland. Furthermore these actions should also be calibrated against Mugabe’s handling of the MDC.

This is in keeping with the official position of the political opposition in Zimbabwe. In a statement of 19 March, Tendai Biti, the Shadow Foreign Minister for the Movement for Democratic Change said, "The decision to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth without a corresponding decision to impose sanctions, smart or comprehensive, is an apology to the Harare regime."

The time for words has passed. The time for concrete action is now. It is important that the international community unites in its action on the Mugabe regime. Who knows what Mr Gambo’s CIO has in store for the good people of Chikomba tonight. Whatever it is, it won’t be pretty.