Connect to share and comment

Opinion: "Old fox" Mugabe outwits others

Power-sharing government achieves some improvements but Mugabe still rules with iron fist.

It is hard to outfox Robert Mugabe, according to polticial analysts. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

NEW YORK — The phone line to my parents’ game farm in eastern Zimbabwe is working again, and their backpacker lodge, void of guests for many years, is being re-thatched in preparation for a hoped-for tourist invasion during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

There’s food in the shops in their home town Mutare, once more, and, most importantly, no sign of the local “war vets,” 25 thugs who terrorized them and their lodge workers during the violent 2008 presidential election, when Zimbabwe seemed on the brink of war.

And yet, when I call my father from my base in New York to ask him how things are progressing back home, I’m a little disturbed by his response.

“Of course it’s better than it was a year ago,” he says, “but if I look behind me I see a giant animal with huge tusks just biding his time to smash up all the furniture.”

The elephant in the room needs no introduction. It’s 12 months now since President Robert Mugabe, under pressure from his political enablers in South Africa, agreed to share power with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change which had defeated his ruling Zanu-PF party in the 2008 general election.

In February 2009, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister of what is called the "government of national unity," and the two parties began to divvy up the ministries. Foreign currency was made legal tender, wiping out Zimbabwe’s surreal hyper-inflation at a stroke, and civil servants began to get paid again, meaning schools and hospitals re-opened. My parents even had friends in the new MDC-led parliament, including a dynamic young black MP from their area named Pishai Muchauraya. The country appeared to be righting itself.

But, for my father, the optimism of those days is slowly disappearing.

“We all thought that was the beginning of the end, that the old bugger was finally going to go. Now we realize he’s not going anywhere. This is still going to be a long road.”

On Oct. 15, senior MDC member Roy Bennett was arrested in Mutare, my parent’s home town, and is set to stand trial on “terrorism” charges. In protest, the MDC have withdrawn from participating in the government of national unity cabinet and council of ministers meetings, and the power sharing agreement is frozen, quite possibly on the brink of collapse. Perhaps it should not have come as a surprise. Bennett has been the MDC’s Deputy Agriculture Minister designate since the start of national unity government, but Mugabe adamantly refused to swear him in.

But even before Bennett's arrest, my parents were getting unpleasant reminders of what lies ahead. Since 2007 they have earned a living running a small coffee roasting business, buying beans from friends who had somehow kept hold of their farm in the surrounding Vumba mountains. In October, however, those friends lost most of the remainder of their farm to Mugabe’s land invaders, and the roasting business is on the verge of collapse.