David Coltart is a senator with the Zimbabwean opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. He was first elected to office in 2000, before which he worked as a human rights lawyer. He spoke to Crikey from Zimbabwe late yesterday.
Following Mugabe’s corruption of the first vote, if Zimbabweans are asked to vote again, are they more or less likely to vote for him?
I don’t think that we know the answer to that question. I think that people will vote in a fashion consistent with the first round. People are at the ends of their tethers. They are desperate for Mugabe to go. I think the risk for Mugabe is that people may vote even more strongly against him this time.
What’s the mood on the street in Zimbabwe at the moment? Is it one of hope or of despair?
There’s an underlying spirit of despair because of the economy, because of the sense that this man will do anything to retain power. But there is also hope. Despite the rigging we’ve got control of the House of Assembly. We’ve shared the seats in the Senate, and, really, all we need to do now is guard this resolve and win the presidential vote. There is certainly no sense of jubilation in the streets. Life is so tough that people know this is going to be a battle royal. But underlying that, I think that there’s quiet determination and hope, but it’s not spilling out onto the street.
Given the very immediate problems faced by Zimbabweans voters, where does Mugabe’s support come from? Who votes for him?
If you analyse the results, you’ll find that he got virtually all of his support from the rural areas, about four or five of the ten provinces. He lost dismally in the two urban provinces of Harare and Bulawayo, and the two south western provinces. But his support is mostly in those rural provinces where he has handed out a lot of land. More importantly, he controls the flow of information to those areas. He has been successful in conveying to people in those areas that, while there is economic collapse, that collapse is due to western sanctions which have been brought by the Opposition. And finally, he also controls the flow of food to those areas. They know that if they vote against him he won’t supply any more food to them. So it’s through a combination of controlling the information and food that people continue to vote for him.
If a second vote is called, how hard will Mr Mugabe fight to hold onto power? History would suggest he’s not going to be merciful in the pursuit that goal.
In the past he’s used virtually any means to stay in power and there is no indication that he is going to change. The negative signs here are that he has called out war veterans and sent them straight to Harare. He’s said that he wants a recount of 16 seats, which is absolutely absurd given the amount of rigging Zanu PF has employed in the past. Accusing the Opposition of tampering with results is absurd. Also, we’ve seen some of his lieutenants say that they only put 25% effort into the last election and they are now going to “unleash the remaining 75%”, and we all know what that means.
But on the positive, Mugabe is 84 and has been humiliated already just by losing this round. He does have a divided party and he may well come up against a united Opposition. He was 7% down in the vote last time round, which is a considerable amount to make up. In fact, not just 7%. If those who voted for [Zanu PF candidate Simba] Makoni, the third contestant in the presidential election, now vote for Tsvangirai, Mugabe has a deficit of 15% to make up. The only way Mugabe can win the election is if he literally tears up the rule book, uses violence, and declares himself the winner; he will have no legitimacy left. In those circumstances, he will even find that the Southern African Development Community will baulk at endorsing the result.