After 32 years in power, will
After three years of seemingly fruitless talks about a new constitution that would loosen
Despite the pressure being applied by the
Zimbabweans are bracing themselves for the announcement of an election, to be followed by a campaign of violence and another rigged result that will entrench Mugabe's rule over this beleaguered, bankrupt country for a further five years.
Insiders say the military are in charge, and there are reports that the dreaded youth militia, who answer directly to Mugabe's Zanu PF party, have already been deployed in the countryside to intimidate the population into voting for Mugabe.
This follows a pattern established in previous elections where Zanu PF operatives have beaten, tortured and murdered perceived opponents of the regime, mainly supporters of the opposition
I have just returned from a two-week tour of the country where I grew up and last visited during the 2008 elections. On that trip I watched Mugabe's political machine turn defeat at the polls into victory under the noses of international observers.
Now, four years on, the country is limping, unproductive, unkempt and unsustainable, while the clique who rule have found untold riches in the recently discovered diamond fields in the east of the country.
According to several farmers I met,
Evidence of a country running on empty is everywhere. In Bulawayo, the second city and an MDC stronghold, the streets are so pot-holed that drivers are nervous of driving at night lest their headlights miss a crater and they rip their wheels off. The electricity supply is erratic with long daily power cuts the norm.
And the country has neither a national currency - it now trades in the US dollar - nor a national airline. Air
Meanwhile, the political partnership forced on Mugabe by SADC after the last election has been largely unproductive. Morgan Tsvangirai, former opposition leader turned prime minister to Mugabe's president, has described the coalition government as 'a mule - stubborn, sterile and stupid'. What it has given the country is three years of relative stability while the two parties wrangle over a new, more democratic constitution, a new voting roll, a referendum and then free elections, all due to be delivered by
It is this very process that Mugabe, his generals and Zanu PF hardliners are threatening to scupper. One insider told me that in a properly monitored election Zanu PF would be 'swept away and would thereafter cease to exist'.
These generals and political hardliners have calculated that the outside world is too pre-occupied with the global recession to be bothered about human rights abuses in far-away
It is a risky strategy as
This would be a high stakes gamble, but one can never underestimate Mugabe.
At the forefront of everyone's minds is the issue of Mugabe's health. He is reported widely to be suffering from prostate cancer and has been seeing doctors in
But just as rumours spread that he was on his deathbed in
Mugabe's health presents a dilemma for his supporters. If he dies in office, his vice-president, Joice Majuru, will step in for 90 days and then face an election which Tsvangirai appears bound to win and by such a majority that it would be impossible to fake a credible Majuru victory.
At a stroke, this would spell the end of the Zanu PF rulers and their grip on diamond revenues. This scenario has convinced some in
The tensions over Mugabe's future are already apparent in a power struggle inside Zanu PF. Vice-President Majuru appears to be the strongest candidate to succeed Mugabe, but being seen as the (almost) acceptable face of the party by the MDC has made her an enemy of the hardliners. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Defence Minister and a Mugabe confidant, announced in May that he was 'ready to rule' if chosen.
At his recent 88th birthday celebration, Mugabe declared: 'I have died many times. That's where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once.'
This is a man who surely will not go gentle into that good night, whatever the cost to his country.
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