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Racial profiling

"Racial profiling" Continued...

Issue: "Paying the price," Feb. 9, 2002

While the campaign showcased Mr. Mugabe as tough on white post-colonialists, it actually upset his base in the countryside. Last December his party's candidate lost a mayoral race in a city only 20 miles from Mr. Mugabe's home-a once-unthinkable defeat. Today polls show Mr. Tsvangirai with 26 percent support among the electorate to Mr. Mugabe's 28 percent. Clearly most voters are undecided or unwilling to voice their choice, but that alone is a development in the opposition's favor. In the past everyone said they would vote for Mr. Mugabe.

But the stakes for the opposition MDC only increase as elections approach, along with the danger. Last month parliament passed measures making it a crime to criticize Mr. Mugabe, along with increasing the reach of the security apparatus. Mr. Mugabe also outlawed foreign journalists and restricted all political activity.

Two weeks ago the MDC gave up trying to hand out literature or hold public meetings, Mr. Coltart told WORLD, after one MDC supporter was killed and several others were critically injured at a weekend rally Jan. 26. Mr. Coltart said ZANU-led police and youth brigades showed up to spark violence. He told a local newspaper: "We have to give four days notice to the police, and this puts our supporters at risk. We will be holding small house meetings in future for which we do not need official permission."

Physical threats go hand in hand with the political intimidation. Death threats against Mr. Coltart go back to 1994 when he began to speak out against the government. One year ago he received a warning serious enough to send him into hiding, along with his wife and three children.

Apart from the desire to silence him, Mr. Coltart believes Mr. Mugabe's party has an intermediate motive: to turn attention to the white minority and away from the black opposition. Black MDC leaders receive death threats, too, but don't get headlines for them. "It is one of the sad things of the world," said Mr. Coltart. "If I disappear, I have no doubt it would make front-page news. For most of my black colleagues that would not happen."

But the news from Zimbabwe is reaching beyond its borders. In December Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed an incentive package for Zimbabwe: sanctions if Mr. Mugabe continues to violate the rule of law, U.S. dollars for land reform and election oversight if he democratizes.

Commonwealth nations mulled sanctions against Zimbabwe after British Prime Minister Tony Blair called Mr. Mugabe "a disgrace to his own country." Mr. Blair asked that Zimbabwe be suspended from the 54-nation bloc, made up of Britain and its former colonies, and recommended that the European Union impose immediate sanctions.

Mr. Mugabe is also losing support on the continent, where he was once considered the vanguard of pan-Africanism. South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki has refused to break ties with its long-standing ally, but he noted, "Wrong things are happening in our neighborhood." South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was more blunt, telling reporters that Mr. Mugabe "has gone bonkers in a big way" and was on "the slippery slope of perdition." Ghana's foreign minister also spoke out against the president, even though the two nations have close ties; Mr. Mugabe's wife is from Ghana.

Talk of censure leaves Mr. Coltart hopeful: "There is a deep anger sweeping through the country. Now I believe that we must start thinking about the transition to democracy. What makes such a belief all the more astonishing is that it has developed in the context of the bizarre events in the last five months when the government has waged a low-intensity war against all those opposed to it."

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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