The political mood in Zimbabwe turned ominous as the wait for voters to learn the outcome of the country's March 29 presidential elections stretched from days into weeks. Nearly two weeks after polls closed, long-time President Robert Mugabe had not announced election results. Opponents feared the leader would tamper with the outcome to retain his 28-year rule in the beleaguered nation, and warned of government-backed violence.
The country's opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), claimed victory for its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, and asked a High Court to force the publication of election results. Independent election observers in the capital city of Harare reported that Tsvangirai likely won more votes than Mugabe, but perhaps not enough to avoid a run-off with the president.
While Zimbabweans waited for official results, MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti said he fears Mugabe and his governing party, ZANU-PF, will resort to violence to maintain control. Biti asked other African nations to pressure the president to report the results: "I say to our brothers and sisters across the continent: Don't wait for dead bodies in the streets of Harare."
Reports of post-election violence surfaced early: MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said nearly 200 of the party's polling agents and supporters had been arrested, beaten, or kidnapped since the election: "People are facing serious retributive attacks."
Trevor Gifford, president of the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe, said government-backed mobs had invaded at least 60 farms in rural areas, evicting the owners and their families. "Some are being given a couple of minutes or a day to evacuate, but they have to leave what is there behind," Gifford told The Telegraph.
Government aggression toward farmers goes back nearly eight years. Beginning in 2000, Mugabe responded to threats against his power by forcing thousands of white farmers off their land, saying he would give the valuable farms to black peasants.
Instead, the president favored party leaders and cronies with little knowledge of farming. The once-fertile land languished, plunging the country into an economic freefall and severe food shortages that still plague the majority of the population. One-third of the population depends on international food aid, and another third have fled the country since 2000.
The new wave of aggression comes at a critical time: Evicted farmers say they must plant wheat within the next four weeks to produce a crop. Others say they fled during the middle of the maize harvest and warn severe food shortages will grow worse if they don't return. In Harare, long lines for basic food items already stretch far down the hot streets. Items like milk are becoming a rarity.
Mugabe hasn't targeted farmers alone. In 2005, the government destroyed the homes of hundreds of thousands of poor people sympathetic to the opposition party. Just last year, the government arrested and beat dozens of opposition leaders, including Tsvangirai. The MDC leader suffered a broken hand and wrist, and a deep cut in his head.
David Coltart, a human-rights lawyer and an MDC senator, said he fears Mugabe's party is repeating past tactics and trying to intimidate voters ahead of a possible run-off with Tsvangirai. "It is quite clear that ZANU-PF are planning something," Coltart told ABC Australia. "The silence is ominous . . . we are very concerned this is a precursor to a violent campaign."