In its report on the March 29th 2008 Harmonised Election the Solidarity Peace Trust recorded the widespread state-led violence that followed the Zanu PF’s electoral loss in that plebiscite, in the context of the SADC led mediation that failed to break the political deadlock in the country. The lack of an outright winner in the Presidential election, and the controversy surrounding the long delay in the announcement of result of this election, resulted in the Presidential run-off on the 27th June 2008 and after as this report shows. Whereas the period preceding the March elections was relatively peaceful the horrendous violence that marred the period leading up to the June election, completely undermined the conditions for a free and fair election. With little pretence at creating conditions for Zimbabweans to practice their democratic right to vote for a candidate of their choice, Zimbabwe’s ruling party rolled out a campaign of violence, the degree of which has not been witnessed in the country since the Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland and the Midlands in the mid 1980s. Through a combination of over 100 extra judicial murders, systematic use of torture, widespread displacements, and a general campaign of terror, the Zimbabwean state targeted the structures and supporters of the MDC, including those who had formerly given their support to the ruling party. The country’s citizens were left in little doubt that Robert Mugabe and the military cabal in control of the Zimbabwean state had no intention of losing power through the vote, stressing on several occasions the supremacy of the gun in Zanu PF’s statecraft.
As the electoral crisis deepened, the broader regional and international aspects of the Zimbabwean impasse were brought into greater relief, indicating the complexity of the situation and the broad array of political players involved in the Zimbabwe crisis. Even as the Mugabe regime evoked more critical voices in SADC and the AU, the longstanding binary between the West and Africa on the Zimbabwe problem re-asserted itself, proving once again the importance of carefully negotiating the relations between the national, regional and international dimensions of the situation. As the country finally looks set to enter discussions for a negotiated settlement, there are likely to be many obstacles ahead in finding a solution to Zimbabwe’s problems. Moreover SADC and the AU must confront the longer-term problem of dealing with incumbent regimes that continue to disrespect the electoral process and use their control of state power to ‘negotiate’ their way out of electoral losses, in the name of sovereignty and liberation legacies. The enormous controversy surrounding President Mbeki’s mediation, and the challenges of presenting an alternative to it, has raised more questions about conflict resolution mechanisms on the continent. As much as any recent political challenge in Southern Africa, the Zimbabwean crisis has asked very serious questions about SADC, and the future of democratic challenges in the region. The future of Zimbabwe is delicately balanced and it is hoped that whatever political settlement emerges from the SADC mediation, will lay the basis for long-term transformation of the country’s authoritarian political structures. However the mere fact that major political parties have agreed to hold talks, is an indicator that the combination of political and economic pressures on the Mugabe regime, and the lack of an alternative route to power for the MDC has necessitated the need for negotiation.