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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 09:57 GMT
Zimbabwe: Can there ever be free and fair elections?
Zimbabwe's main opposition leader says he is to face charges of high treason - an offence punishable by death - over an alleged plot to assassinate President Robert Mugabe.

Morgan Tsvangirai's lawyer, Innocent Chajonda, said his client was released after being questioned at central Harare police station for two hours and told he would be summoned at a later date.

Mr Tsvangirai, who heads the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), denies the accusations against him, which are based on a mysterious videotape broadcast on Australian television.

What is your reaction to the allegations made against Mr Tsvangirai? Do these latest developments represent a setback for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe?

We discussed Zimbabwe during our live phone-in programme from the Commonwealth summit in Brisbane.

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This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

Your reaction:

These are the two selfish rivals fighting in Zimbabwe today, and neither of them is right

M. Mwanshi, Zambia
In Zimbabwe's case Mugabe wants to selfishly defend and serve himself just as much as the west wants to. These are the two selfish rivals fighting in Zimbabwe today, and neither of them is right. This kind of campaign by the West against an individual could have been more helpful had it been used in Angola and Congo. Today everyone knows about the Zimbabwean conflict more than they knew about the Rwandan genocide because of the western media propaganda. When it comes to the western interests on the African continent, we see all kinds of imperialist fascistic sanctions. The only way elections can be fair Zimbabwe is when the west stops fighting Mugabe and Mugabe stops fighting the west.
M. Mwanshi, Zambia

Well the observers that are from the SADC countries have noticed that there is violence from both ZANU PF and MDC camps. After at least two years of intimidation, beatings etc instigated by ZANU PF against followers of an opposition party, wouldn't one start fighting back?!
C. Sellick, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Why does G. Lamptey think that the issue of elections in Zimbabwe should be left to just the black Africans? What an absolutely racist thing to say! Imagine if I got up in the UK and said that only the native British people could vote (i.e. white people), there would be hell to pay. This is what will hold Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole back. Get over the colonial scapegoating and move on! The potential is there for everyone to be winners; if you keep perpetrating this 'positive discrimination' then a whole new generation will be affected by racial conflict.
GEE, London

Mugabe's principles are a beacon of light that many Africans share

G Lamptey, UK
Yes, they can be free and fair elections and this does not mean that European observers need to be in the country. Zimbabwe should be left alone for the African people of Zimbabwe (not the settlers) to sort out the situation. Mugabe's principles are a beacon of light that many Africans share. It is time for the "international" community (the West and US) to stop meddling.
G Lamptey, UK

I am wondering if there have ever been free and fair elections in my beloved home country. It is really tragic and a little ridiculous how a little old man is grasping to any last bits of straw. If Mugabe wins this election, all hell is going to break loose, and if he does not, all hell is going to break loose as well. International intervention is required this time. The situation has been left to fester too long and a perfectly good country and a pathetic "beacon of light" is sacrificing people.
Jane Banderas, Zimbabwean in UK

What's happening in Zimbabwe is not fair. The rule of law should be put implemented. The Zimbabweans are suffering! The legal system should see to it that justice and fairness be put to practice, especially during the elections. A new government must takeover and make the Zimbabwean way of life better.
Bruce Bastiyawo Zimbabwe

There are no basic commodities such as mealie-meal, cooking oil and sugar in the store shelves. I hear that even a soft drink is hard to come by

Liz, USA/Zimbabwe
Will people like Austin Amadasun from Nigeria and Nduwayo Ali from Burundi keep quiet about what is going on in Zimbabwe? You do not know first- hand what is going on. Let us Zimbabweans talk regardless of the fact that we are living abroad. It is not the West that sent our troops to fight a never-ending war in DRC. Why do you think did not South Africa send any troops? Because they new that the DRC conflict would plunder the South African economy, just like it did to the Zimbabwean. The West did not give about 30 000 War Vets $50.000 each, paid in one lump sum. Where do you think the money was coming from? The West did not invade commercial farms and put landless, ignorant peasants, with no farming knowledge whatsoever, onto farms that provide the nation's food. It's no wonder there is a shortage of maize in the country right now. There are no basic commodities such as mealie-meal, cooking oil and sugar in the store shelves. I hear that even a soft drink is hard to come by. Although I am not against land reform, it was supposed to be done in an organised and systematic fashion. People were supposed to be taught the necessary farming skills and provided with tools and financial support and expertise BEFORE they moved on to these farms. One can see that this was all a political gimmick to lure people to vote for Mugabe. We are sick and tired of having to buy foreign currency on the black market because there is none in the bank. Who caused all these and other sufferings in Zimbabwe? Not the West but a corrupt government with an old dictator as its leader. Mugabe must go, after all "no-one is born a president and being president is not a career, it's a job" So he should make way for younger people with new ideas.
Liz, USA/Zimbabwe

Whether Mr. Tsvangirai is charged or not, at the end of the day the people of Zimbabwe are the ones to suffer. Zimbabweans need a leader other than Mugabe.
Ben K, USA

Mugabe will use any means to cling on to power. The sooner he is dealt with the better for the whole of Zimbabwe.
Craig Ritchie, UK

I can't see Robert Mugabe allowing a genuinely free democratic process in Zimbabwe, since he will be signing his own death warrant. I can't think of anything he has achieved that has benefited anyone in the long term, apart from himself and his accomplices. The sooner he goes, the sooner the people of Zimbabwe will be free.
Rob Holman, Chislehurst, England

By us running to Zimbabwe and feeding all the poor, starving, illiterate, people we are supporting Mugabe

Marco Schubert, London, UK
Mr Mugabe does not feel the sanctions imposed on him, mainly because Western 'humanitarian' aid undermines their effect. Zimbabwe's problem is that the masses have no choice BUT to support their 'leader'. That said, by us running to Zimbabwe and feeding all the poor, starving, illiterate, people (are their conditions OUR fault? NO! Mugabe's fault!!!) we are supporting Mugabe. So to resolve the problems, one has to put the responsibility of feeding and supporting the masses on the shoulders of the person leading the country. People in Zimbabwe are laughing at us - because, although we realise Mugabe is destroying the country, we are feeding them, and keeping him in power because their perception is that the support is coming from him.
Marco Schubert, London, UK

How could anyone even consider the probability of a free and fair election in Zimbabwe under the control of such a corrupt regime? When last did the ZANU PF government do anything above board? Since their inception in 1980 corruption, intimidation, murder, food shortages etc. have become the norm. Free and fair is a dream Zimbabweans may never know until Mugabe is gone! Let's hope this becomes a reality for the sake of all her peoples.
Dave, Reading UK

The West always makes mistakes which are hard to conceal. Recall what they did in Zambia when Chiluba came to power? Remember what happened during the last election in Zambia? How can a reasonable organisation conclude that one candidate won before the votes were all counted? Is it not a shame to them to be so biased? How then can they be used as a yardstick for free and fair election in Zimbabwe? Why is it that they don't want to be a joint team with ACP? Its time they consider others as human able to perform their own duties without being monitored by EU or US.
Nicholas M. Ngoma, Harare

I would like to both disagree and agree with many of the sentiments that have been expressed here, but I must first remind people of the complexity of this case. This is not just a simple case of a megalomaniac trying to stay in power by any means possible; thanks to the active intervention of the foreign organisations i.e. EU; Commonwealth and SADC, it has been scaled to a white vs. black scenario. What the EU and the US do not realize is that through their intervention they are helping Mugabe and making a mockery of themselves. History will remember them as being instrumental to the removal of Mugabe and his "corrupt regime" and yet they propped up and supported more despotic regimes like that of the former Dictator of Zaire Mobutu Sese Seko, Jonas Savimbi of the rebel movement UNITA and many other regimes that have ravaged the African Continent.
Langa, Tokyo, Japan (Formerly Harare)

I shudder to think that Zimbabwe, a leading nation, might be forced down the same gutter of shame to which infamous dictators have plunged much of the continent

Mugarra Adyeeri, Southend UK
What's wrong, Africa? I shudder to think that Zimbabwe, a leading nation, might be forced down the same gutter of shame to which infamous dictators have plunged much of the continent.
Mugarra Adyeeri, Southend UK

To G Lamptey: I live in Zimbabwe. Because one of my parents was born in the UK I have been denied a Zimbabwean passport. I cannot have a British passport. I have been assaulted because I am white: another person I know was attacked because he didn't have a party card (he is 72!!). My business has closed because we cannot get any inputs and I do not own any land. So please if you love Mugabe so much, come here and swap places with me.
A Smith, Harare

What is happening in Zimbabwe has, in one form or another, already occurred to the north of Zimbabwe! Those White Farmers and others are just scapegoats for a very corrupt Government who have consistently robbed the Country to the point where the masses are now starving. After all, at the height of UDI Sanctions, Zimbabwe was self-sufficient in just about everything but oil. The Farmers were only trying to stop the decline to the mayhem that now exists. Black indigenous people who now live and starve are suffering - and the British Government must bear most of the blame!
Tony Walker, Louth, Lincs., England

Its interesting to read the polarised comments: Mugabe is either a hero fighting against the imperialist/colonialist west or yet another African despot. Unless we are all being duped by the world media, which I doubt, there's no oil conspiracy theory behind this one. It looks pretty obvious to me that Mugabe must go, he's ruined what was a rich country, and turned it into another basket case. What worries me is what happens if this turns nasty and you get a Rwanda on a vaster scale - not a pleasant thought. Hope the MoD is getting its plans together, if this one goes pear shaped - looks like another job for the Para's and RMC to me.
Chris M, Edinburgh, Scotland

Mugabe is by and large a British creation with blood on his hands

Mzilikazi, Athens, USA
Question: where was this international community when 20,000 Ndebeles were murdered? Only when Mugabe starts to affect the very fabric of the white economic power in Zimbabwe do we get a response from the West. Mugabe is by and large a British creation with blood on his hands. If Milosevic can use his Serbian nationalism as his defence at The Hague, then Mugabe has something to say to account for political assassinations, ethnic cleansing and economic mismanagement. As a Zimbabwean I cannot wait to see Mugabe at The Hague.
Mzilikazi, Athens, USA

As long as the current administration is in place in Zimbabwe, there will never be free elections. Don't bother with "smart sanctions" which never work! The World needs a more effective and hands-on way of getting dictators like Mugabe out and democratic governments in. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to such people anymore. September 11 proved that in the most dramatic way.
Carl, UK

Imposing sanctions is not enough for Mugabe and his thieves. I am Zimbabwean and I feel sorry for my people. Why can't the British government intervene just like what America did in Afghanistan? Now the women in Afghanistan are enjoying their rights. Please, Mr Tony Blair, rescue the people of Zimbabwe! They are dying of hunger, poverty and physical abuse.
Israel Rugara, Guildford, Surrey.

The elections will not be free or fair. Is it not obvious? How can we be debating this question? Zanu has shown quite blatantly that they are only interested in looking after their own personal interests? The question should be: "What are we going to do about it"? Will the West sit by, again, as they imagine Zimbabwe doesn't affect them? I am pleased that Canada is committed to helping Zimbabwe (not Mugabe). Britain and America should employ "quiet diplomacy", as Scandinavia, Germany, Australia, etc. apply pressure to the Mugabe government.
David, Zimbabwe

Elections in Zimbabwe can be free and fair as long as the West stops meddling in Zimbabwe's internal affairs

Tiri Dziva, London UK
Elections in Zimbabwe can be free and fair as long as the West stops meddling in Zimbabwe's internal affairs. The EU, US, Australia and the Western Media have carried out a sustained campaign to demonise Mugabe with the hope the hope that it would influence the Zimbabwean electorate to vote for their preferred candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe is also fighting dirty, just as dirty as the West, and I want neither of the two to rule Zimbabwe.
The real dilemma is that in Zimbabwe we only have two candidates of substance. The problem most of us have with Tsvangirai is that he is very naive and will sell Zimbabwe to the West. Mugabe has been in power for too long, however, he is the only Zimbabwean who was prepared to give the land back to its rightful owners - which was the reason why more than 50 000 Zimbabweans lost their lives during the liberation struggle. Whether the West likes it or not, Mugabe will win because all the black Zimbabweans know that he is right on the land question.
Tiri Dziva, London UK

Mugabe is wrong! There is nothing more to say than that.
Dougie Lawson, Basingstoke, UK

There is no way Mugabe is going to allow a fair election. The only way to insure democracy in Zimbabwe is to level the same sanctions that worked against South Africa; these present "sanctions" are not doing anyone any good, least of all the Zimbabwean people.
Richard Murray, London, UK

The election cannot be free or fair because of the increasing intimidation. Voting regulations being changed, and so has the vote age limit in different areas.
Simon Mtizwa, Zambia

The problem is that the if the MDC wines the Whites will talk of "a free and fair election", while a ZANU-PF victory will be considered the opposite of that

M Moyo, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
The problem is that the if the MDC wines the Whites will talk of "a free and fair election", while a ZANU-PF victory will be considered the opposite of that. We Zimbabweans love President Mugabe because he is a visionary.
M Moyo, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

I don't know why the EU is fighting so hard against the Mugabe who has guts, intellectual clarity, a sense of historical mission and/or moral strength to stand up against colonial injustices and neo-colonialism. But remember that no African leader will be allowed in peace or lauded by the West once s/he take steps to make Africans bosses of their own destiny in their own countries. Mugabe like Nyerere before him, is attempting to come up with a home-grown solution for a foreign imposed problems and this is being taken as a cardinal sin.
Nduwayo Ali, Bujumbura Burundi

When are you people going to wake up? Mugabe is nothing more than a thug. I've been watching Zimbabwe slowly descend into the abyss of war, poverty and hopelessness for the past five years. It certainly did not take Mugabe long to ruin the country. He's no more a freedom fighter than my cat. He is only interested in maintaining his own power, no matter what. He cares nothing for his people or his country. It's all him, him, him. That goes for his little coterie of followers who are simply feeding at the trough of luxury while the average citizens of Zimbabwe starve.

I have read comments saying Robert Mugabe is sticking up for Zimbabwe and Africa against Europe. If some of you can't/ won't see through this and Mugabe's other transparent schemes you are fools. Differentiate between a thug trying to deflect criticism of his own failings and the evils of colonialism. Freedom for Zimbabwe on Zimbabwe's terms, not Mugabe's. Land reform is necessary but not murder. Oust Mugabe as soon as possible and Zimbabwe will be back on the path to freedom and economic prosperity.
John Daniel, USA

Why did the West and all their propaganda peddlers embrace the tape showing Osama Bin Laden and yet are sceptical of the Tsvangirai tape?
Mukaranga, Harare, Zimbabwe

Is this propaganda to make Mugabe unelectable because the West does not approve of him?

Austin Amadasun, Nigeria
I wonder what the great people would be saying if a tape was produced by anyone, showing IDS talking about eliminating Tony Blair? Though the timing is a bit suspect, it is nevertheless a Zimbabwean matter of vital national interest. Is this further evidence of Western double standards or continued propaganda to make Mugabe unelectable simply because the West does not approve of him? Wasn't Bin Laden pronounced guilty on similar evidence by these same people?
Austin Amadasun, Nigeria

Marcos in the Phillippens did the same thing to stay in power by any means. Mugabe has all but totally drained the economy and he is now close to doing just that. It's a sad day for Zimbabwe, but who can rebuild the nation once he is gone?
Russ, USA

Britain cannot be seen to be interfering

Chris, Cambridge, UK
Whilst we do care about our Commonwealth friends, Britain cannot be seen to be interfering. Mugabe will win and it does not really matter whether the assassination attempt allegations are true or not. Why do we huff and puff and pretend that something can be done about despots by democratic means when the despots control the instruments of democracy?
Chris, Cambridge, UK

The forthcoming elections can never be free and fair whilst the democratic process is held in such contempt by Mugabe's ZANU-PF. The only hope for Zimbabwe is that the opposition wins the forthcoming elections with such a great majority that any abuse of the electoral process is overcome. Even then, the future does not bode well, as there are serious doubts as to whether ZANU-PF would accept such a defeat.
Andy, UK ex-Zimbabwe

Which elections are ever free and fair? Florida 2000? The answer to that question has already been made: in the violence, intimidation and trickery by the ruling party, the final ballot counts will have very little significance.
Elizabeth Mupfumira, Zimbabwe/US

Why is it so difficult to recognise early signs of megalomania in African dictators?

Sue Bennett, Harare Zimbabwe
No one feels sorrier or more helpless than the Zimbabweans - black and white. Contrary to popular opinion, white Zimbabweans saw this coming way back in the 1960s but because it was easier to merely brand them irrational racists, their warnings were ignored.

Many of those 'racists' stayed on to build Zimbabwe, and today many of them are scattered to the ends of the earth, or desperately trying to survive in Zimbabwe. They are also mostly of British descent, but because the ancestry goes back to grand- or great-grandparents, they no longer qualify as British - they are Zimbabwean and forced to accept present circumstances, with no likelihood of help from Britain or anyone else. I refer to almost certain starvation, probable civil war and a complete disregard of any human rights. Why is it so difficult to recognise the early signs of megalomania in African dictators? Perhaps simply, no-one cares?
Sue Bennett, Harare Zimbabwe

The recent allegations against Mr Tsvangirai cannot be viewed as a setback from the myth of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. Tell us: how can elections be set back any further? In order to say something is set back there needs to be some benchmark from which to move away from - not sure if there has been a benchmark for free and fair elections there over the last 24 months. To claim that there has been a setback in Zimbabwe at this point is like saying the attacks of 11 September were a setback for bringing Bin Laden into comity with the international community.
Dave, USA

Mugabe is only bashing his opponent like anyone else

Chris, England (ex-Zimbabwe)
Unfortunately the Western world has set the standards for the use of the media to influence the voting public. Mugabe is only bashing his opponent like anyone else. The problem is Morgan cannot respond.

It is the ill-informed rural voters that will make the difference. Morgan has the backing of the private sector and Mugabe has the backing of the public sector (where those who think otherwise fear for their jobs and lives). This leaves the general population in the rural areas to swing the ballot and this is why Mugabe will be re-elected. None of his speeches in these areas have been broadcast outside the country so we have no idea what he is saying. My only hope is that sense will prevail, but the track record of other African countries is against democracy.
Chris, England (ex-Zimbabwe)

Even if the MDC win, they're likely to be overthrown by the army

Paul, Charlottesville, US
The chances of a fair election are small. Even if the MDC win they are likely to be overthrown by the army. If the white population have any sense they get out now. I hope the British have contingency plans to rescue the white population in a crisis. South Africa seems very hesitant to face up to Mugabe.
Paul, Charlottesville, US

It does not surprise me that Morgan Tsvangirai has been accused of treason. As a matter of fact, people in Zimbabwe were informing me that this would happen at least two weeks ago. I'm sure the president has paid enough people to ensure he wins again. I hope the Commonwealth heads will snub Mugabe at the meeting.
Beverly Sibanda, Middlesex, UK

Mr Lamptey, I am NOT a settler. I am a Zimbabwean, in spite of being white - does my colour alone make me ineligible to worry about the future of my country? I cannot simply leave them to it, the elections are not going to be free and fair and the fate of my fellow Zimbabweans, black, white or purple, is my fate as well.
Emma, UK/Zimbabwe

This is not a new development, but due to the pathetically slow response of the EU, SADC, Commonwealth and the US to Mugabe's anti-democratic policies. There seems to be no recourse available prior to the election. Were we to do it over again, threats of force (yes, military) against Mugabe and his thugs in ZANU-PF should have begun over a year ago. And by now, Mugabe would be sitting in The Hague awaiting his trial for crimes against humanity. But alas, such is the state of our weak-kneed foreign policy ministers.
Sam, Austin, USA

Personally, I feel sad for the people of Zimbabwe

John, England
It becomes increasingly clear that Mugabe will do whatever it takes to cling to power. We, as a mature democracy, are dismayed and angered, but what can we do? If we interfere, we are accused of imperialist meddling; if we do nothing, we are seen as insular and uncaring. Personally, I feel sad for the people of Zimbabwe. They deserve better.
John, England

The only way sanctions are going to work is if the same sanctions that were applied to South Africa are equally applied to Zimbabwe. Anything less is futile. In their present form, they are nothing but a badge of honour that Mugabe will wear proudly.
Dean Fonse, USA

The chance of a free and fair election is zero

John Atkins, England
Mugabe is simply a frightened man who knows that if he should lose the election, he is likely to find himself in jail, put on trial by the new government. The chance of a free and fair election is zero and I suspect that the only way to restore democracy will be through a popular uprising, which will certainly mean bloodshed.
John Atkins, England

The allegations would carry more weight if they had not come from a self-confessed intelligence agent who is well know as both a friend and colleague of President Mugabe. The videotape itself can clearly be seen to have been heavily edited (as evidenced by the time clock) and even then cannot clearly identify what was said and by whom. An additional issue is why these allegations have been made public three weeks before the election when the meeting supposedly took place in December. Coincidence - not too likely.
Sandy, Bermuda (formerly UK)

Key stories

The vote



Can elections be free and fair?



8774 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

18 Feb 02 | Africa
EU agrees Zimbabwe sanctions
01 Feb 02 | Africa
Fury at Zimbabwe media curbs
09 Jan 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe adamant on new laws
08 Jan 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe's controversial bills
08 Jan 02 | Africa
Shock defeat for Mugabe
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