Current Crisis

Zimbabwe police today cancelled an opposition rally set for the weekend and arrested a cabinet minister, deepening antagonism between the president and the prime minister’s party ahead of a possible election.

President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) are supposed to be partners in a unity government but it is coming apart at the seams.

MDC secretary general Tendai Biti told a news conference that police had for third time this month cancelled a major rally called by his party for Sunday, saying Mr Mugabe’s party had organised a football tournament at the same venue.

“Democracy is under siege because of toxic activities of our (Zanu-PF) colleagues whose intention is (the) collapse of the global political agreement and parliament and to force through an election this year,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from the police or Zanu-PF.

The MDC said energy and power development minister Elton Mangoma, who was on bail on a graft charge over a fuel import deal, was arrested on Friday for the second time in two weeks.

Mr Mangoma, a Tsvangirai ally and deputy treasurer of the MDC, is accused of forcing officials to cancel a tender contract for a power supply pre-payment system. Mangoma’s lawyer Selby Hwacha said the minister would plead not guilty.

“As far as we are concerned this is part of a harassment campaign that ZANU-PF has embarked on against our structures, and it is the type of campaign that we have suffered before every general election,” an MDC official told Reuters.

Mr Tsvangirai urged regional leaders last week to intervene to save Zimbabwe’s unity government from threats posed by a spate of political violence against MDC supporters.

Mr Tsvangirai and Mr Mugabe were forced into a coalition two years ago after a disputed poll in 2008, which led to mass violence and a flood of refugees into neighbouring South Africa.

Relations between the coalition rivals have worsened in the past two weeks since police first arrested Mangoma and the Supreme Court nullified the election of another Tsvangirai ally as speaker of parliament.

Police have also arrested dozens of activists accused of plotting protests against Mugabe similar to those that toppled long-serving leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

Critics say Mr Mugabe (87) and in power since independence in 1980, has used brutal policing and vote rigging to keep his grip on power despite a deep economic crisis.

Mr Mugabe denies the charges, and accuses Western media of waging a hate campaign against him over his seizures of white-owned farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans.

Mr Mugabe is pressing for fresh elections this year, which analysts say will favour his Zanu-PF party if no major political reforms are put in place, including a new constitution and improved voter registration.


Zimbabwe rights groups accused President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday of using the army and police to intimidate the opposition and other activists ahead of elections expected later this year.

“We are bracing ourselves for a difficult time in Zimbabwe. Every time there are elections there is violence,” Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesman Dewa Muvhinga told journalists.

“Those we expect to uphold the rule of law are not independent, they are partisan to Mugabe,” he said.

He said Mugabe used military and police to arrest a cabinet minister and lawmakers, to intimidate civil society and to jail journalists.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s partner in a shaky unity government, earlier this month called for the country to hold polls under a roadmap by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the regional bloc that brokered the power-sharing deal.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai formed the unity government two years ago in a bid to end political violence and to ensure basic rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly.

But this month Tsvangirai’s Energy Minister Elton Mangoma was charged with abuse of office over a fuel purchase, while the Supreme Court nullified the election of his party’s chairman as parliamentary speaker.

Lawmakers aligned with Tsvangirai, independent journalists and political activists have been jailed since December, when Mugabe hinted at polls for 2011. An upsurge in political violence in rural areas has also been reported.

A SADC security summit will meet next week to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe.

“The current political environment is not conducive for a free, fair and credible elections,” Muvhinga said.

“Human rights in Zimbabwe is rapidly deteriorating, Mugabe continues to use the state machinery to violate people’s rights.”

Tiseke Kasambala, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the SADC should be involved in Zimbabwe to avoid conflicts like in Libya and Ivory Coast.


The outcome of the elections that President Robert Mugabe wants for later this year is crucial to the future of the country and of the entire southern African region, political analysts warned this week.

Zimbabwe stands on the brink of a catastrophe and the international community must act to prevent the total collapse of the rule of law and avert a humanitarian crisis in the region.

Mugabe has threatened to dissolve Parliament and call a fresh poll even before the writing of the new constitution is complete, alleging his GNU partners are dithering and attempting to derail the polls this year by denying funding to COPAC, the commission spearheading the drafting of the new governance charter.

A volatile mix of factors renders the current situation in Zimbabwe highly dangerous. Should Mugabe forge ahead with his plan and subsequently declare himself the winner of that presidential election in the face of clear evidence of vote rigging and subversion of the electoral process, these elements risk causing an explosion with devastating consequences.

Claim Victory

Promise Mkwananzi, a former president of the students union, ZINASU, and a political commentator said: “I have argued repeatedly that a post-election mass uprising is the only way to transfer power in Zimbabwe – but that must be preceded by one vital pre-condition. The MDC must and can, despite the electoral environment, win the 2011 elections overwhelmingly, while making it clear to the people that the responsibility to claim victory lies squarely and solely with Zimbabweans.”

Over recent months, Mugabe has erected a highly repressive system of governance in Zimbabwe.

Using mob violence, he has created an atmosphere of fear throughout the country.

Mkwananzi believes old methods will not bring any new results in this election. He says the MDC should stop wasting time campaigning to the urban electorate, what he calls “preaching to the converted.” The party should rather find creative ways to disable Zanu (PF) violence, particularly in the rural areas.

“The MDC-T top leadership must be seen to be in Tamandayi, Chendambuya, Donkwedonkwe, Ngindoma, Munyazani, Mpandawana, Mbembesi, inspiring the people with their visibility,” Mkwananzi said.

All available indicators demonstrate that popular support for Mugabe is low, even though he is on the rebound. Recent polling shows that the vast majority of Zimbabweans do not wish him in office for another term. In spite of increasing political violence, there is still a high expectation that peaceful change can occur in the country, through the democratic process.

If the outcome of the election is perceived as unfair, there is likely to be deep frustration among the population and this frustration may be expressed through a mass uprising, Egypt style. Protests and expressions of dissatisfaction are also likely to be met with increased government-sponsored violence.

Egypt Moment

University of Zimbabwe political science professor John Makumbe says Mugabe knows that the subversion of democracy in Zimbabwe will likely influence an “Egypt moment”.

“I guess he is having serious nightmares these days,” Makumbe says.

Zimbabwe’s economy has been stagnant because Mugabe’s indigenisation bombast has spooked investors. Western countries with the resources to help have demanded more political reforms before pumping money into the economy. Most of them want Mugabe off the political stage.

Mkwananzi says the international community must recognize that this combination of factors threatens the entire region because instability in Zimbabwe will spark another mass exodus as witnessed in the last elections.

Hundreds of thousands fled to neighbouring South Africa, leading to a migrant crisis that has given Pretoria headaches. In addition, destabilization will have extremely negative consequences for investment in southern Africa, damaging the economies of many states.

Vote Rigging

Very real fears are already being expressed about vote-rigging and subversion of the electoral process. If the election is seriously flawed, it is imperative that the entire international community respond immediately and all states refuse to recognize the results, says political commentator Ronald Shumba.

“SADC states must take the lead in speaking out clearly to condemn any failure by the Zimbabwean government to afford its people the right to choose their leader through free and fair elections in accordance with national, regional and international norms and standards,” he said.

“The United States must use its power and influence in Africa and with its allies around the world to assist the Zimbabwean population in averting a human rights and humanitarian calamity through observance of the democratic process and restoration of the rule of law.”

South Africa has said Zimbabwe will have to complete the constitution reform process before any election is held, but it was unclear on Saturday that the public pronouncement by SADC’s official mediator would affect an election now just months away.

Sabre Rattling

South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Marius Fransman, said in a strongly worded statement reflecting growing frustration with Zanu (PF)’s election sabre rattling, that any election held before the completion of the constitutional reform process would be illegal.

But analysts said South Africa’s ruling may make little difference since Mugabe is hell bent on an election now. It suggested that the president could even force an election anyway under his own powers, notwithstanding provisions of the GPA.

“The South African position and that of SADC is to ensure that the next elections as envisaged in the GPA are held under a new constitution that would have been the product of the constitution-making process supported by the Zimbabwean electorate through a referendum,” said Fransman.

“Any calls for elections without the finalisation of the constitution-making process are in breach of the GPA as well as the Constitution, which gives legitimacy to the inclusive government.”

Police have banned all MDC meetings and rallies as the country edges warily toward an August vote in which Tsvangirai poses the strongest challenge of Mugabe’s 31 years in power.

The deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, where Mugabe is accused of using violence to rig the vote, is expected to dominate the forthcoming SADC Troika summit. President Jacob Zuma, who has dispatched his facilitation team to Zimbabwe over the past few weeks, must surely know there is a general state of fear. The MDC has condemned the police, who stand accused of turning a blind eye to atrocities committed by mobs loyal to Mugabe. The police accuse the MDC of causing all the violence.

That South Africa has spoken out in this way reveals a new strength of feeling and a determination not to be misled by propaganda.


The Chinese are building a multimillion dollar military base at Chitamba Farm in Mazowe Valley. Touted as an intelligence academy, the new facility is the largest investment in a military base here in a decade, and the biggest spend on military infrastructure in decades.

The so-called Robert Mugabe National School of Intelligence, named after the veteran President, is being bankrolled by the Chinese.

“The important role of defending our country cannot be left to mediocre officers incapable of comprehending and analytically evaluating the operational environment to ensure that the sovereignty of our state is not only preserved, but enhanced,” Mugabe said at the launch of the building of the academy in October 2007.

Military sources described it as “a techno-spy and communication base”. The imposing intelligence facility is conspicuous from the Mazowe Road and is adjacent to a massive farming operation.

The facility is the largest such complex in the country, and will be operated by the Chinese and its foreign intelligence service in conjunction with Zimbabwe’s spy organ, the CIO and local military intelligence.

The facility covers several square miles. Chinese engineers, technicians, and military personnel are working at the base. Our source claimed the base has multiple groups of tracking dishes and its own satellite system, with some groups used to intercept telephone calls, faxes, and computer communications in general, and other groups used to cover targeted telephones and devices.

He said the facility will also monitor diplomatic, domestic, commercial and military communications, but we could not independently verify these claims.

However, China does have a strong presence in many sectors in Zimbabwe, and Chinese companies ZTE and Huawei have supplied most of the country’s internet equipment.

The academy is expected to train members of the Zimbabwean army, CIO and police, as well as operatives from other southern African countries. A local farmer said: “It’s scary to have your area just taken over by the military. It’s a game changer in this place.”

Ties between the two countries date back to the 1960s – when the Chinese supported ZANLA, the military wing of ZANU, with training and equipment – have deepened since Zimbabwe’s political isolation from the West more than a decade ago.

China has been described as the “only major international supporter” of Zimbabwe, due to its willingness to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses. Zimbabwe’s “Look East” policy has expanded bilateral and trade relations and China is now the biggest buyer of Zimbabwean tobacco.

It is also especially interested in our platinum and diamond deposits.

(Source: email)

South African youth members of the mainstream MDC have called on Zimbabweans to stop relying on African leaders for their country’s emancipation from Zanu (PF).

Addressing hundreds of MDC youth members in Johannesburg this week, Giyani Dube, the party’s youth chairman for Johannesburg district, called on Zimbabweans, especially the youth, to take up the fight to put the country on its rightful path to democracy and economic prosperity, both destroyed by President Robert Mugabe during his 30 years of misrule.

“For long we have relied on African leaders to solve Zimbabwe’s problems, but African have always let the people of Zimbabwe down and it is now time we did this for ourselves,” said Dube.

“African leaders have shown us that they will always side with Mugabe and Zanu (PF) because they regard these as fellow revolutionaries and want them to continue ruling Zimbabwe, but we have said that we are tired of Mugabe’s misrule and we have a right to choose who should govern us.”

“It is high time we united, not only as MDC members or MDC youths, but as Zimbabweans, especially the Zimbabwean youth, to demand the leadership we want and that is a leadership that will listen to and follow the will of the people,” said Dube.

Dube called on Zimbabwean youths, especially those within his party, to mobilise towards the country’s impending elections, which Mugabe insists should be held this year, adding that the 87-year-old leader should realise that he is not the only person capable of leading the country and pave way for new brains.

“The writing is on the wall for Mugabe and his killers, who must know that they will not kill us all and the winds of change that have swept through Zimbabwe will sweep them out of both office and political existence.”


Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is unlikely to be forced out by a popular uprising like those in Egypt and Tunisia and plans to entrench his 31-year rule through elections later this year, analysts said.

His election plans have angered impoverished Zimbabweans and led to clashes between supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party and those of the MDC, formerly the main opposition, now his uneasy coalition partner.

The protests which toppled Hosni Mubarak and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Egypt and Tunisia have not gone unnoticed in Zimbabwe but Mugabe’s supporters have vowed to keep their elderly leader in power.

Political analysts say that while conditions are ripe for mass anti-government protests, and Zimbabweans follow events in the Arab world on satellite television, the ruling party’s tight control of the security forces and state institutions mean protests are unlikely to succeed.

Also, the Internet and mobile phones were used extensively in Egypt and Tunisia to coordinate protests, but this would be difficult in Zimbabwe where just over half the population have mobile phones and only 12 percent have access to the Internet.

“There is so much less power and capacity to organise using technology that we have seen in North Africa. This puts people at a real disadvantage,” said Sisonke Msimang, executive director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.

The army and police have a long history of cracking down on opposition protests, and in the 1980s North Korean-trained Zimbabwean troops killed thousands when they crushed a five-year insurgency in Matabeleland province.

Elections since 2002 have also been marked by violent state crackdowns on the opposition. A disputed 2008 election was marred by violence which the MDC says was orchestrated by the military and left more than 200 of its supporters dead.

Security chiefs, many of whom have been given farms seized from white farmers, say they would not accept a president who did not fight in the 1970s independence war, a reference to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s long-time rival.

“It is not easy to get crowds onto streets in Zimbabwe, as the security apparatus is thoroughly controlled by ZANU-PF and they have not hesitated to intimidate and inflict pain on dissenters or opposition members willing to protest,” said Mark Schroeder, sub-Saharan Africa analyst at Stratfor.


Security forces arrested dozens of activists at the weekend on charges of plotting protests against Mugabe similar to those that toppled the Egyptian and Tunisian leaders.

As in Egypt, Tunisia and several Arab countries, Zimbabweans are battling high levels of poverty and unemployment, decaying infrastructure, diminishing freedoms, police brutality and corrupt elites who continue to amass wealth.

But there the similarities end.

“It is hard to imagine Zimbabweans can rise against the government. I think it is possible but then the culture of fear is just too much and not without reason,” said Martin Chimeda, who says he was brutalised by ZANU-PF members in 2008 for organising for the MDC.

Analysts say ZANU-PF’s control of key state institutions and use of state violence against defenceless citizens have crushed people’s willingness to rise against the ruling party.

Mugabe, whom critics accuse of wrecking the economy with policies such as the seizure of white-owned commercial farms, has led the country since independence from Britain in 1980.

After a decade of economic collapse and his violent re-election in 2008, Mugabe was forced into a fragile coalition with opposition leader Tsvangirai which has managed to stabilise the economy and ease political tension.

The economy last year grew for the second consecutive year, ending shortages of basic goods, fuel and foreign currency, though poverty and unemployment levels remain high.

Now hope has turned to anger as billions in foreign aid, expected after the unity government was formed in 2009, failed to arrive because Western donors and investors were still waiting for real political and economic reforms.

Mugabe has rattled foreign investors with plans to force foreign-owned firms, including banks and mines, to sell majority shares to blacks, which critics say will hurt economic recovery.

Analysts remain unsure what would drive Zimbabweans to a tipping point. Past predictions that Mugabe would fall have failed to materialise.

“There is no knowing what will cause Zimbabweans to jettison their fear and confront their oppressors. All the ingredients for a people-driven revolution are present in Zimbabwe,” wrote Trevor Ncube, a Zimbabwean who publishes South Africa’s influential Mail & Guardian weekly newspaper.

Shunned by the West over charges of election rigging and human rights abuses, Mugabe has increasingly looked to China to prop up the resource-rich economy and says the West has imposed sanctions on him to punish him for his land seizures.

Mugabe marks his 87th birthday with a traditional private family dinner on Monday. A lavish rally will be held on Feb. 26, which he may use to give a timetable for the next elections.

Revered by fanatical supporters who say he is a champion of black empowerment and stands up to the West, Mugabe is equally hated by opponents who label him a ruthless dictator.

“Comrade Mugabe is the only leader who can rule and we are willing to defend the country so that we will not have a repeat of what happened in Egypt,” said Job Nhekairo, a father of four who operates a electrical shop in Harare.


MDC-T activists staying in the so-called safe houses are behind the spate of violence and petrol-bombings that have rocked Harare, police have said.

Chief police spokesman Senior Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena said investigations so far reveal that the terror acts were being organised from the so-called MDC-T safe houses.

“We believe that some of the attacks and petrol bombings are being launched from these so-called safe houses,” said Asst Comm Bvudzijena.

There have been reports that some MDC-T members were now living in safe houses for fear or after being “attacked” by Zanu-PF members in and around Harare.

“There is no issue of safe houses because according to our intelligence all these attacks and violence, are being launched from these places,” Snr Asst Comm Bvudzijena said.

He said the force would certainly go all out to investigate all these cases without fear or favour.

Five petrol bombs were thrown at the Zanu-PF district office in Mbare early Monday morning in what was suspected to be an attack by MDC-T youths.

Two people were by yesterday still in police custody as investigations into the bombings continued. This was the second time in a month that petrol-bombings have rocked Mbare, with Zanu-PF being the target in both instances.

Harare provincial police spokesperson Inspector James Sabau yesterday said the situation was calm and the force was on high alert to deal with acts of violence.

“The situation is calm and as usual there was no retaliation. We keep on advising them to maintain peace while investigations continue to account for the culprits involved,” he said.

Property and clothes were destroyed when the five petrol bombs were detonated at Zanu-PF’s Joshua Nkomo district offices in Matapi at around 1am. No one was injured.

Eight Zanu-PF members were sleeping at the offices at the time of the bombing.

Blankets, clothes, curtains, identification particulars and US$40 cash were destroyed.

MDC-T has, however, accused Zanu-PF of fomenting the violence, though police statistics show otherwise. Early this month, a suspected petrol bomb was detonated at Mbare’s Siya-So market stalls in what preliminary investigations indicate was an attack by suspected MDC-T youths. Timber worth more than US$600 000 was destroyed in the bombing, which occurred a few days after Zanu-PF’s youth chair for Harare Province – Cde Jimu Kunaka – was assaulted by MDC-T youths at a food court in the city.

Earlier, seven MDC-T youths had been arrested on allegations of stoking violence in Mbare.

There has also been violence in Budiriro and Epworth, which police suspect MDC-T has orchestrated.

The attempts at chaos follow MDC-T leader Mr Morgan Tsvangirai’s recent statements to the international media in which he appeared to try and justify use of violence as was been witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt.

Police have recovered various dangerous weapons including axes and knobkerries from those they have arrested.

President Mugabe is on record calling on his partners in the inclusive Government to organise joint meetings with the Zanu-PF leadership to encourage rival party supporters to desist from political violence.

The President’s call is still to be heeded.


Beitbridge police on Friday 11 February 2011 arrested two drivers of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and charged them with flouting the Road Traffic (Construction, Equipment and Use) Regulations.

The drivers Clifford Sanyika and Joshua Mhuruyengwe, who were arrested at the Beitbridge Border Post on their way from South Africa were charged with contravening Section 29 (1) (10) or alternatively Section 29 (3) of Statutory Instrument 154 of 2010 for allegedly driving two vehicles fitted with blue beacon lights.

Prosecutors claim that the drivers had no authority to drive vehicles fitted with beacon lights. They said only a motor vehicle used by or for the purposes of the police force or military police of the Zimbabwe National Army or used for escorting the vehicle in which the President or a person authorised by the President is travelling may be equipped with a blue beacon light.

Tsvangirai’s drivers deny the charge. The driver’s lawyer Kossam Ncube of Ncube and Partners, who is a member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said the beacon lights were not fitted on top of the cars but were placed inside the car after being collected in South Africa.

Beitbridge Magistrate Gloria Takundwa will on Tuesday 15 February 2011 deliver a ruling on a bail application which was filed by Ncube when the drivers appeared in court on Monday 14 February 2011. Meanwhile, Kadoma Magistrate only identified as Chavi on Monday 14 February 2011 granted bail to Gokwe-Kabuyuni Member of Parliament Hon. Costin Muguti and 11 Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters.

Magistrate Chavi ordered Hon. Muguti and the MDC supporters to deposit $20 with the Clerk of Court. Hon. Muguti who initially was facing charges of public violence had his charges altered to disorderly conduct. In Harare, police released from custody 51 Mabvuku residents who were arrested on Saturday 12 February 2011 for allegedly contravening Section 186 (1) (a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. The 51 residents were released on summons.

However, Councillor Munyaradzi Kufahakutizwi remained in police custody.


Grade one pupils are being punished for failing to draw President Robert Mugabe’s portrait and congratulatory massages below it.

ZimEye witnessed some grade one pupils from Admiral Tait Primary school in Harare being ordered by their teachers to draw the aging President’s portrait and inscribe: ‘21st Movement, happy birthday to you’ below the portrait.

Infants who fail to do the assignment are being delayed from their early breaking time. The teachers said the directive was coming from the Ministry Education that every grade one child should do the assignment which would be sent back to the ministry before Friday this week as Robert Mugabe’s 21st February birthday celebrations draw near.

“We were just told that we should make them draw the portrait and submit the drawings to the ministry this week. They said it’s a running competition,” answered one teacher who pleaded not to be named after ZimEye had asked the reason why the minors were being delayed.

In an interview on Thursday Education Arts Sports and Culture Minister David Coltart said politicians should leave the education sector.

“I have said consistently that schools should not be political battle grounds in any form or fashion, that is why I put bans on any political party using schools for political rallies; its illegal and unwarranted for politicians to coerce teachers, headmasters and worse still school children to provide money for any political party activities.

“I have always said this contradicts our fundamental educational policy,” he said.

ZANU (PF) youths teachers in Harare are also reportedly forcing teachers through their headmasters that they should leave at least two days a week for lessons about the liberation struggle.

The teachers said most headmasters who ignored the order were being victimised by the youths who went from school to school asking whether the children were, in fact, being taught about their party instead of being educated on Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle.

The teachers were also being forced to donate cash and in kind for President Robert Mugabe’s 87th birthday bash under the banner of the “21st February Movement”.

The movement was formed by the current Minister of Information and Publicity, Webster Shamu, and is meant to honour and praise the ailing President Mugabe annually.


SO he’s back, and fighting fit, and never went near a hospital. “We were just resting,” said President Robert Mugabe on his return from Singapore.

The speculation – rampant in Harare and backed up by several well-placed sources – was that the 86-year-old had rushed back to Asia for a prostate operation, prompting a frenzy of succession plotting among the feuding factions of Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF.

“Nocturnal meetings, wheeler dealings – real fun and games. It’s a very unstable land,” one senior political insider told me.

Of course this sort of death-bed conjecture is probably as pointless as it is morbid and all fingers pointing to internal Zanu PF power struggles.

The Zimbabwe Mail can reveal that a senior Zanu PF official constantly gave us updates on President Mugabe’s health and also speculated that he would come back home declaring himself as fit and in front of State media and crawl back into bed, away from the public glare.

A heavily sedated Robert Mugabe is now believed to be under 24 hour medical surveillance by a team of Malaysian Medical doctors housed at Phillip Chiyangwa’s (his nephew) house, a stone throw from his mansion.

Of course, Zimbabweans have never known the truth about their devious President who spent his early years in office claiming that his testicles had been cut off by Ian Smith during torture and he would never bear any kids, and only to be surprised of the romping sessions with his secretary who is now the First Lady.

Depending on whom you ask, Mr Mugabe is either in perfect health, “declining steadily,” or “unlikely to bounce back.”

The only diagnoses that almost everyone agrees on are that the president takes fastidious care of himself, and that he will cling to power until his last breath.

And yet the plotting appears to be real. The lack of a clear successor to Mr Mugabe is a major headache for Zanu-PF.

The man to beat is Emmerson Mnangagwa – a hardliner with plenty of clout. Vice-President Joyce Mujuru is also well placed.

Then there are maybe half a dozen others, including Saviour Kasukuwere – “the second scariest man in Zimbabwe”, according to one of his most prominent rivals.

Intriguingly, although some western diplomats worry that the rules of succession may be murky enough to fuel instability or at least give plotters some extra wiggle-room. It looks as though the former opposition MDC may actually end up playing kingmaker in a parliamentary electoral college charged with finding a Zanu-PF replacement to complete Mr Mugabe’s term.

In that case, a senior MDC source tells me, Joyce Mujuru would probably end up with the presidency on the basis that she is “the better of the devils.”

Not that the MDC is relishing the idea of President Mugabe’s abrupt exit. There are real fears that it could trigger a new clampdown by Zanu-PF hardliners, forcing the party’s leadership to bolt to neighbouring Botswana “like lightning” – at least in the short-term.

And there are other – probably more pressing – reasons for the MDC to be worried. The movement’s secretary general, Tendai Biti has issued a warning on the elections.

So was the former opposition party right to cut a power-sharing deal with Zanu-PF back in 2008 in the first place?

The optimists point to Zimbabwe’s economic recovery, and to the possibility that free and fair elections can still be held.

The realists argue that at least the MDC has had a chance to catch its breath, lick its wounds, and get some hands-on experience of government.

But the pessimists – and in Zimbabwe that’s a big group – fear that Zanu-PF is many years away from even countenancing the possibility of relinquishing power, with or without Mr Mugabe at the helm.

They worry about the MDC’s ability to withstand another onslaught from the security forces, especially given that Prime Minister Tsvangirai appears, according to some, to be dwindling into little more than a golf-playing figurehead for the movement.


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