On March 30th, I was at a dinner in Washington DC. Seated near me was a woman I’d just met, a Zimbabwean, and we spent much of the meal glued to my iPhone as election results came in from Zimbabwe. Early reports indicated that the impossible just might be happening – Morgan Tsvangarai was leading the polling, and it seemed possible that Mugabe’s ZANU-PF would go down to defeat, opening a new era in Zimbabwe. My new friend said, “I’m not sure I believe this is really happening. I’m not sure I believe this can happen.”
Unfortunately, she was right. Tsvanagarai isn’t going to become president of Zimbabwe this year. As of this afternoon, he’s pulled out of the race.
It’s been clear for some time now that Friday’s polls would be far from free and fair. But those of us who’d clung to some hope were encouraged that, despite widespread intimidation and attempts to rig the first rounds, Tsvangarai received the largest plurality of votes. Perhaps voters would defy obvious intimidation and be willing to face violence to vote for political change.
This left Tsvangarai and his MDC colleagues with a painful choice. The situation in Zimbabwe has grown so volatile that 86 MDC activists are confirmed killed, and more than 200,000 are reported as being displaced from their homes due to political violence. The final straw may have occurred today as MDC supporters were attacked as they attempted to come to a rally. Sokwanele, reporting via twitter, warned “Avoid Samora Machel Avenue & Borrowdale Road in Harare. Riot police with tear gas. Army are present. Zanu thugs stoning cars. Pls pass on.” The New York Times reports, “Mr. Tsvangirai’s decision came on a day when governing party youth militia armed with iron bars, sticks and other weapons beat his supporters as they sought to attend a rally for him in Harare.”
Part of me wants to criticize Tsvangarai for standing down. But there’s a good chance he wouldn’t have survived the next few days. More importantly, he and his party officials must have been trying to figure out whether it was worth more deaths of MDC voters if – as they surely believe – their votes wouldn’t be allowed to count anyway.
I’m not really in a position to offer insight or analysis at the moment – Rachel leaves for Israel tonight and we’re packing her stuff into the car. In the meantime, I leave you with a link to Tsvangarai’s statement about his decision to pull out and a parting quote from Mugabe, uttered at a rally in Bulawayo on Friday:
“‘Only God who appointed me will remove me — not the M.D.C., not the British,’ Mr. Mugabe vowed in the city of Bulawayo on Friday. ‘Only God will remove me!'”
Are you listening, God?
In an Apple Store, trying to repair Rachel’s crashed MacBook. But watching the Zim headlines go by in the meantime. Some links that are worth your time:
A timeline from the International Herald Tribune on recent events, with details on political violence leading up to the June 27 runoff.
Analysis from Peter Greste from the BBC, who believes Tsvangarai’s withdrawal may make it harder for SADC to challenge a Mugabe election.
An unnamed (i.e., a reporter in Harare) correspondent to Christian Science Monitor suggests that Tsvangarai’s withdrawal will save lives, but worsen the economic situation in Zimbabwe.
Interviews on Voice of America’s Studio 7 suggest broad support for Tsvangarai’s decision to pull out of the election.