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2008-06-23

Zimbabwe in Crisis: Opposition Leader Morgan Tsvangirai Withdraws from Run-Off Against Robert Mugabe

Guests

Grace Kwinjeh, Journalist and political activist. She is one of the founders of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and a member of its National Executive Committee. She was arrested and beaten up multiple times in Zimbabwe and now lives in South Africa. On March 11 of last year, she was beaten nearly to death, along with Morgan Tsvangirai.

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"We in the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) have resolved that we will no longer participate in this violent, illegitimate sham of an election process," Tsvangirai said. At least eighty-six supporters of the MDC have been killed, and thousands more have been injured. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In Zimbabwe, election officials have said a June 27th runoff presidential vote will go ahead despite the withdrawal of the opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, pulled out of the presidential election second round runoff on Sunday, saying increasing violence had made a free and fair election impossible.

    MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: We in the MDC have resolved that we will no longer participate in this violent, illegitimate sham of an election process. The courageous people of Zimbabwe, of this country, and the people of the MDC have done everything humanely and democratically possible to deliver a new Zimbabwe under a new government. This violent, retributive agenda has seen over 200,000 internally displaced, over 86,000 MDC supporters killed, over 20,000 homes have been destroyed, and over 10,000 people have been injured and maimed in this orgy of violence.

AMY GOODMAN: Tsvangirai beat President Robert Mugabe in a March 29 vote but failed to win the absolute majority needed to avoid a second ballot. He has called on the United Nations and the African Union to intervene to stop the violence.

The United States and Britain said they are prepared to bring Zimbabwe before the UN Security Council this week, while South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is mediating in the crisis, called for further dialogue between the two parties.

Grace Kwinjeh is one of the founders of Tsvangirai’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change. She’s a member of its National Executive Committee. She was arrested and beaten up multiple times in Zimbabwe. She now lives in South Africa, where she joins us on the phone.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Grace. Hello, Grace.

GRACE KWINJEH: Hello?

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about what’s happening now, the significance of Tsvangirai pulling out of the presidential runoff?

GRACE KWINJEH: Well, basically, the Movement for Democratic Change has taken the hard decision to pull out of what has really become a big charade. And the violence is increasing, because we are seeing right now the MDC offices are being raided by armed police. The rank and file of the MDC is being targeted. The secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change is in police custody right now, being charged with treason, which carries a death penalty. So the situation is [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: Grace, we’re having trouble — Grace, we’re having trouble hearing you. If you could — are you driving, or are you on the street? We can hardly hear you.

GRACE KWINJEH: Hello?

AMY GOODMAN: Hi. That’s better. Could you say what you were saying —

GRACE KWINJEH: [inaudible]

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, could you what you were just saying again? We had trouble hearing you. Grace, we’re going to call you right back. We’ll go to a music break, and then we’re going to go right back to you.

Grace Kwinjeh is in Johannesburg. She’s a journalist and political activist. She’s one of the founders of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, a member of its National Executive Committee. She has been beaten up many times in Zimbabwe, now living in South Africa. We’ll come back to Grace Kwinjeh in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We attempt now to reach Grace Kwinjeh and get a clearer line. She is in South Africa. She’s one of the founders of the Zimbabwean main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. Morgan Tsvangirai, the presidential candidate of this party, has just pulled out of the presidential runoff.

Grace Kwinjeh, we’re going to try it again. Explain the significance of this weekend’s pullout by Tsvangirai.

GRACE KWINJEH: Well, basically, I think it was a tough decision for the MDC leadership to make, given that, you know, the MDC won the March elections at the presidential, at the parliamentary and at local government level. But the election was increasingly becoming a charade, in the sense that [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: Grace, have you moved? Because we no longer can understand what you’re saying. If you could keep the phone right on your ear; don’t have it on speaker phone. We’re just having some trouble.

GRACE KWINJEH: OK, it’s on my ear. Basically, right now, as I speak, there are over thirty military trucks at the MDC headquarters in Harare. They are raiding [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: Grace Kwinjeh, I’m sorry, but we just cannot understand you. I guess there’s some kind of movement, or there’s just trouble on the phone, but you’re breaking up.

GRACE KWINJEH: No, I can hear you clearly.

AMY GOODMAN: OK, try it one more time.

GRACE KWINJEH: OK. Well, I just think that it has been a very tough position for the MDC leadership to take. But then they had the option of being part of a big election charade or actually not legitimizing it.

AMY GOODMAN: What will happen now that Tsvangirai has pulled out? Mugabe has vowed to continue with this election, although he’s the only candidate.

GRACE KWINJEH: Well, basically, he will still lack the moral authority to [inaudible] and he’s still not the elected leader, so he will not have the moral authority to be head of state in Zimbabwe. Secondly, Zimbabwe will continue to be isolated and a pariah state internationally. There will be no reengagement with the international community; it will continue to be isolated. And thirdly, unfortunately, the only route that Mugabe will have to remain in power is through increased repression, because he knows that the people [inaudible]. He’s going to continue to [inaudible] instrument of repression [inaudible]. So it’s a sad situation. But I think that the burden is being placed on Zimbabweans to do something for themselves. And I feel that South Africa, in particular, and SADC should really be treating this as a serious emergency political matter.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, what about the Southern African Development Community, the SADC leaders, especially President Mbeki, where you are in exile now, in South Africa? What can he do?

GRACE KWINJEH: Well, Mbeki has to acknowledge that Mugabe has declared war against the people of Zimbabwe. He has to acknowledge that people are being beaten up, people are being tortured, people are being murdered with impunity. So there has to be a process of accountability. And I think it is so wrong for the South African president, even up to today, to keep quiet and operate as if everything is normal in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is at war. And unfortunately, only one side is armed. So it’s the first recognition that Mugabe has declared a war against the people.

The second position for them would then be to recognize that the MDC won the March elections. So whatever transitional authority that is going to be put in place, it has to recognize that the MDC got the majority of the votes at the presidential, at parliamentary and at local government level.

And then, thirdly, they have to work on a demilitarization program, a serious one, and South Africa can do that. The army is right now on the streets. The MDC’s chairperson for youth, Tamsanqa Mahlangu, is in hospital fighting for his life. He was brutally assaulted by the army yesterday. I will not talk of those who have been shot dead in front of SADC observers. So I think President Mbeki has to come up with a more robust and more honest diplomatic solution to the Zimbabwean crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations, what can they do? Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General, called for an immediate end to the campaign of violence and intimidation that has marred the election. There’s a meeting of the Security Council.

GRACE KWINJEH: Well, basically, one, we need the Security Council to come up with a more robust resolution, and again, at that level —- we do not in South Africa to be blocking the Security Council from taking action on what is going on in Zimbabwe. So we really need the UN and the Security Council to be involved. We have called [inaudible] for the deployment of UN peacekeepers to go to Zimbabwe. There’s no election and there’s no peace that is going to be possible in Zimbabwe without the presence of people who are trained in actually dealing with the military. And I think the evidence of the intimidation of SADC [inaudible] over the past days shows and creates a real case for the [inaudible] -—

AMY GOODMAN: Grace Kwinjeh, I want to thank you for being with us, journalist and political activist, one of the founders of the main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change. This weekend, Morgan Tsvangirai, the presidential candidate who was to participate in the presidential runoff on Friday, pulled out of the election.

Yesterday, front page of the New York Times in a piece by Barry Bearak and Celia Dugger — Barry Bearak is the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who just over two months ago was arrested when covering Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe — wrote, “Tonderai Ndira was a shrewd choice for assassination: young, courageous and admired. Kill him and fear would pulse through a thousand spines. He was an up-and-comer in Zimbabwe’s opposition party, a charismatic figure with a strong following in the Harare slums where he lived.

“There were rumors his name was on a hit list. For weeks he prudently hid out, but his wife, Plaxedess, desperately pleaded with him to come home for a night. He slipped back to his family on May 12.

“The five killers pushed through the door soon after dawn, as Mr. Ndira, [who was] 30 [years old], slept and his wife made porridge for their two children. He was wrenched from his bed, roughed up and stuffed into the back seat of a double-cab Toyota pickup. ‘They’re going to kill me,’ he cried, Plaxedess said. As the children watched from the door, two men sat on his back, a gag was shoved in his mouth and his head was yanked upward, a technique of asphyxiation later presumed in a physician’s post mortem to be the cause of [his] death.”

And the article goes on to say, “Even as hundreds of election observers from neighboring countries were deployed across Zimbabwe in the past few days, the gruesome killings and beatings of opposition figures have continued.”

Talking about the body of the wife of Harare’s newly chosen mayor found Wednesday, “her face so badly bashed in that even her own brother only recognized her by her brown corduroy skirt and plaited hair. On Thursday, the bodies of four more opposition activists turned up after they had been abducted by men shouting ruling party slogans.”

We’ll continue to cover what happens in Zimbabwe in this critical week and the weeks to come.

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