Zimbabweans will risk lives for change

By  Bronwen Dachs, Catholic News Service
  • April 7, 2008

{mosimage}CAPE TOWN, South Africa - Zimbabweans will risk their lives for change if they need to, a church official said nearly a week after the presidential election, when results still had not been announced.

Even if President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party uses violent intimidation in a possible second-round runoff, "I think people will say enough is enough, whatever happens to us, let us vote for change," Alouis Chaumba, head of Zimbabwe's Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, said in an April 4 telephone interview from the nation's capital, Harare.

"People are now prepared to sacrifice their lives for the future of their children and the future of Zimbabwe," Chaumba said. "They won't abandon their hopes for a new chance."

Zimbabwe's combined opposition has won a majority in parliament, defeating ZANU-PF, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said April 2. No official numbers were released in the presidential vote, in which a candidate needs 50 per cent plus one vote to avoid a runoff. Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, says that its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has won presidential elections outright with 50.3 per cent of the vote.

Mugabe, 84, who is seeking a sixth consecutive term in office, was challenged by Tsvangirai and former finance minister Simba Makoni, who ran as an independent.

"Our main worry is that they (ZANU-PF) might go back to violent tactics" to stay in power, Chaumba said.

Agence France-Presse reported that ZANU-PF has indicated it is gearing up for a runoff.

Chaumba said the March 29 presidential and parliamentary elections were largely peaceful and free, in a break from past elections marked by intimidation. He said he was "overwhelmed by the response of Zimbabweans" to the elections.

"Even in no-go areas that are strongholds of the ruling party, people went out in large numbers to vote for change," he said.

In a post-election crackdown, the Movement for Democratic Change's offices in central Harare were raided by police April 3 and two journalists, including a New York Times correspondent, were arrested for operating without accreditation.

The arrests are "not a surprise," Chaumba said, noting that Mugabe's government is "very hostile to foreign press." Zimbabwean authorities barred most foreign media from covering the elections. Zimbabwe has strict rules on media, and no independent radio or television stations are authorized to operate.

"We want a free press, in a country that takes its obligations seriously and adheres to international norms," Chaumba said. Waiting for the outcome of the elections is causing "a lot of anxiety," Chaumba said, noting that "we want to plan for tomorrow and everything hangs in the balance."

"Whatever route those in power take, they should put the interests of Zimbabwe above their personal interests," he said, noting that "it will be very costly to have a rerun."

"The results show that Zimbabweans are fed up with a system that enriches a few at the expense of the majority," he said. Fr. Brian Enright, secretary to Archbishop Robert Ndlovu of Harare, said a runoff will just "prolong the period of anxiety" of waiting for results.

Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation rate — more than 100,000 per cent — an unemployment rate of more than 80 per cent and severe shortages of basic foods and fuel. With the poverty in the country, "church relief services are full to capacity and beyond," Enright said in an April 4 telephone interview from Harare.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.