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A tipping-point in Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe’s troubles continue. Opposition figures have been attacked and the images of their suffering have been broadcast on the web. Morgan Tsvangirai, beaten by police, has said that the situation has reached a ‘tipping point’ and a recent web-log on this site has asked if we are watching the start of regime destabilization and change. Has a tipping-point really been reached?

There is no doubt that Zimbabwe is facing economic and political problems. The rate of inflation is the highest in the world, shortages are causing problems with power and energy supply and significant members of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have been subject to sustained violence. Ordinary people are finding it tough to make ends meet as services contract, as basic food stuffs, in short supply, disappear unpredictably from the stores and factories close. The economic slide has been a long, slow one that is now accelerating. Many Zimbabweans are once again seeking refuge in the UK or in South Africa.

That there is unrest is not in doubt. The Opposition is being targeted though in the Government’s eyes, the MDC has also a record of violence which its spokesperson claims is ignored by the BBC and other western media. Zimbabwe’s leadership is keen on playing the easy and old ‘double-standards’ charge against western media sources and the BBC is banned from entering the country. The BBC still manages to keep itself highly informed of events on the ground. Mugabe’s regime controls the internal media. Morgan Tsvangirai’s treatment and that of his colleagues has been deplorable though they will be painted as violent trouble makers in official news sources. Tsvangirai has said that ‘this crisis has reached the tipping point and we could see the beginning of the end to this dictatorship’.

There are many people who would rejoice at the fall of Mugabe but he is unlikely to fall because of western protest or because there is unrest in the streets or because of a few sanctions. The MDC and other groups will be subjected to continued abuse. South Africa benefits to some extent from the unrest. Investment in South Africa looks more attractive than investment in Zimbabwe. South Africa’s approach has been one of ‘quiet diplomacy’ but this has yielded little in the way of change. Mugabe’s struggle against the forces of UDI and the help extended to the ANC in exile, still count for something amongst his leadership peers in Southern Africa. China is sniffing around and its foreign policy stance is not motivated by human rights issues.

The western press will continue to protest but the people who call the tune in Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s ZANU PF Party supporters, including the hard-men from the war of liberation, are the people who count. If Mugabe can keep control of the army and police and if he is backed by the Party, no amount of street unrest orchestrated by the MDC is going to lead to change. In survival terms, he is a skillful politician, however much we may dislike his methods. If the Party panics, and there are now distinct splits, then the scenario will be a different one. Removing Mugabe would not necessarily lead to radical changes in Government policy. It would at least allow for a new and more realistic approach to the mainly self-inflicted economic problems of the country. The restoration of the rule of law along liberal democratic lines is probably key to significant change but this is even more problematic and only the restoration of full liberal-democratic practices will solve this one.

If we are looking for a means of determining a tipping point in Zimbabwe then we need to look to the mood of the Party rather than at the views of the Opposition, however well meaning these are or however abused they may be. The outcome of any 'tipping point' will itself be an uncomfortable experience for everyone concerned.


I don't think South Africa is benefiting from the Zimbabwe situation. This is because they have to deal with the refugees from Zimbabwe some of whom are political refugees and others are economic migrants.