Is the Political Crisis in Zimbabwe Escalating?
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
As we said, President Robert Mugabe has ruled for 27 years. State media reported Sunday that he and his ZANU-PF Party planned to hold power for another six years. For more I spoke with Peta Thornycroft. She's the Zimbabwe correspondent for British paper The Daily Telegraph. And she said the current crisis, particularly that country's financial collapse, has occurred only in the last seven years.
Ms. PETA THORNYCROFT (The Daily Telegraph): People remember acutely what they used to eat, what their children did at school, how they used to travel around the country and can no longer afford to. And so what is happening is a here-and-now situation for Zimbabweans.
CHIDEYA: So you have two political parties that helped build a revolution for independence from a colonial power. You have one man, Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF, who comes out on top of the pile. Six more years, that is what is being given to him by the party, six more years of leadership. What's the significance of that mandate for him?
Ms. THORNYCROFT: The significance is that ZANU-PF as a party has never really stood up to him, and he himself in a way is not his own man either. Zimbabwe never demobilized after the war against the Rhodesians. The Zimbabwe Army is massively in control of the country. You will find retired army generals in every fare of government business, and in some cases in quasi-government businesses.
President Mugabe himself, every Thursday, meets with something called the Joint Operational Command, which is made up of the generals of the major security service organizations. The Joint Operational Command has a long history, and it was almost seamless when it passed on through to Robert Mugabe.
And he rarely answers to the generals. We saw that specifically in 2002. The army ran the elections, the army ran the polling booths, the army did the voter registration, the army controlled it.
CHIDEYA: I want to bring up the question of the Movement for Democratic Change, the opposition party. Are they at this point pretty much neutered by the way that the government runs elections, or do they have a chance of putting themselves into the dialogue and debate?
THORNYCROFT: It's extremely hard to tell. The Movement for Democratic Change, they were more a party against ZANU-PF than a party for anything. They did well in 2000 despite it. They did even extraordinarily well in 2002 in the presidential elections. Mugabe got a fright when he nearly lost the elections in 2000, when he nearly lost the presidential election in 2002. But one has to say that the MDC has significantly and regularly failed to come up to the expectations people had of it.
CHIDEYA: What is the willingness of people who are law-abiding and law-fearing to even contemplate an overthrow?
Ms. THORNYCROFT: I think this has worried many people. Why did the people not resist when their lives have been so destroyed? And when Robert Mugabe says that he will stand for reelection - you know what? The majority of the people in Zimbabwe living in rural areas, the rest in the urban areas - I can tell you, they are more interested at the moment in finding enough calories for the day.
They're completely diverted by survival, and every day that survival gets more difficult. It's really a misconception that you'll just go to the streets and you'll overthrow a government. You can't. There is absolute misery in most of the urban areas. I mean 80 percent of the people in Zimbabwe are living below the poverty datum line. I think Mugabe would be really scared of a really free and fair election where there was a free media, easy access to radio and television and newspapers and information. I don't think he would ever win election, a free and fair election.
CHIDEYA: That said, you seem to say no change is imminent.
Ms. THORNYCROFT: There's inflation of 2,200 percent according to Zimbabwe's Central Statistical Office. The supermarket chains say that the average inflation on supermarket goods, including food, is between 11 and 14,000 percent. It's simply impossible for Mugabe to keep people alive and fed at the present rate of inflation, and he has almost no foreign currency to import food. And the famine early-warning system, they put out an alert saying that Zimbabwe has not grown more than between 40 and 50 percent of what it needs for the next 12 months. There is a humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, and it has escalated in the last perhaps six weeks, faster than at any period since the crisis began.
CHIDEYA: Well, on that note, thank you for leading us through a discussion of Zimbabwe now and perhaps its future.
Ms. THORNYCROFT: Thank you for having me on your show.
CHIDEYA: Peta Thornycroft is the Zimbabwe correspondent for the British paper The Daily Telegraph. Thornycroft asked us not to disclose her location for fear of reprisal.
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