David Coltart is a senator with the Zimbabwean opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. He first spoke to Crikey on 8 April, a week after the election. Three weeks on, Mugabe clings to power, with an announcement expected this week on the result of the crucial Presidential vote.
News reports suggest that there will be announcement this week on the result of the presidential election. Is Zimbabwe likely to learn who won, or will it be a result that demands a run-off election?
I think it’s more likely that a run-off election will be called. As far back as Wednesday 2 April, the Herald newspaper, which is the Harare-based government controlled daily, ran a story saying that there would be a run-off. They knew the figures as far back as then. The government line ever since then has been that there would be a run-off. So it will be very surprising if we get anything but a run-off. The electoral act says that a run-off must occur within 21 days from the conclusion of the previous election, which we as lawyers believe means from the time of the declaration of the results. The moment the result is announced in the presidential election, which might be this week, then the re-run has to be held within 21 days.
There has been some disturbing imagery flowing out of Zimbabwe in recent weeks. According to the reports accompanying it, voters who supported the opposition in the election are being intimidated by Mugabe supporters to change their vote in any follow-up poll. Does that accord with the information you have?
Yes, it’s happening primarily in the rural areas and the north and east. There have been very few reports from the south west of the country where I live. It’s clearly a military campaign, very well coordinated, very well organised. In the course of the last week, I’ve spoken to doctors, I’ve spoken to journalists, to diplomats and to political colleagues who all report the same thing – a systematic campaign targeting villages and areas that voted for Morgan Tsvangirai in the first election. Burning houses, breaking bones, torturing people – I’m receiving credible reports of all these activities.
How widespread is the campaign? How many people are in the firing line, so to speak?
Certainly hundreds, possibly thousands of people are in danger. They are being targeted very specifically. Terrifyingly, Zanu-PF knows from the results of the last election exactly how each village voted. The votes were counted at polling stations and in rural areas we have only a few villages voting at each polling station. So Zanu-PF knows with incredible accuracy how each of these villages voted. They seem to have targeted villages that have never voted against Mugabe and his party before.
What sort of impact did the raids last week on the opposition party’s offices have on you and the opposition more broadly?
Well, first of all, I’m from the smaller MDC faction. There’s a dreadful split in the opposition which we are trying to resolve. The party I represent has not been raided, but of course I have many friends and colleagues in the MDC under Morgan Tsvangirai and we are very distressed by what has happened to them. The raid was obviously designed to intimidate. I understand from friends in the MDC that they not only raided the premises, they broke doors down, they took computers and passports away. They’ve taken confidential minutes and memoranda, and of course they arrested people who had come into Harare to seek refuge. It’s highly intimidatory. It undercuts the MDC’s ability to mobilise and organise in preparation for a re-run. There’s absolutely no justification for it. They’ve given us a pretext that they were trying to find information regarding the rigging of the election. If it wasn’t so serious it would be hilarious. Zanu are the masters of rigging, and for them to accuse the MDC of rigging an electoral process which they control from beginning to end is ludicrous. So in one sense, it is depressing, but in another sense it shows how desperate they are.
It seems courageous of you to have a conversation like this with a foreign journalist. How closely does Zanu-PF monitor their opponents’ communications with the world beyond Zimbabwe’s borders?
On this particular phone line I’m more confident that it’s very difficult for them track the conversation. My landline, my office phone and my home phone are monitored so I am more cautious about what I say on those lines. But even on those phones, my experience is that the best protection we have is profile. When one gives an interview like this and it’s on the record and one’s name is used, it does act, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, as protection. They know the international community is watching them. People who are most at risk are people without any profile whatsoever, people who are activists in the field.
Do you feel personally in danger?
Everyone in the opposition is in danger because we are dealing with a regime that is now paranoid, a regime that is desperate and senses that it’s in its final days. As with all dictatorships down through the ages, the closer they get to their end, the more irrational and vicious they become. No-one is immune from their depredations.