Mugabe's Zimbabwe election victory a 'mandate' to grab foreign banks: minister

After a watershed election backed by the African Union, the Mugabe government seems ready to expand controversial policies. Zimbabwean state media says no Arab Spring here.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
Residents of Mbare are seen outside Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's ZANU PF offices in Harare, Monday Aug. 5, 2013.

Zimbabweans returned to work today in this subdued and overcast capital city as the row over Robert Mugabe's big win in last week's elections continued to simmer – and amid assertions by some in Mr. Mugabe's inner circle that the elections are a mandate to take over foreign-owned banks and businesses. 

Mugabe was returned to power for his seventh term with 61 percent of the vote, while his ZANU PF party won two-thirds of parliamentary seats.

Their rivals, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), have called for a rematch, claiming the vote was rigged to deny as many as 1 million people of the chance to participate, and claimed that others were intimidated into backing ZANU PF.

At a press conference this weekend, Morgan Tsvangirai, the chief challenger, said his MDC party refused to have any dealings with the new dispensation and called for regional leaders to step in to resolve what he described as a "constitutional, political, and economic crisis."

But Mr. Tsvangirai is looking increasingly isolated as Jacob Zuma, the South African president and most powerful leader in the region, offered "profound" congratulations to Mugabe, who is 89 and has essentially ruled Zimbabwe for 33 years.

Mr. Zuma said all parties in Zimbabwe should accept the result. He was joined by China, which has a large and growing presence in Africa and also validated the win.

Although Western governments including the United States, Britain, and Australia, have backed Tsvangirai's claim that the election was unfair, there is little they can do. Regional bodies that officially observed the poll raised some concerns about the poll's conduct in interim reports but have suggested that they will rubber-stamp it regardless.

A senior MDC source said Zuma's refusal to intervene was "a disaster for Zimbabwe."

"He is obviously thinking about his own election next year," he said. "He is abandoning the people of Zimbabwe. How can he say it was fine? He saw the reports."

Tsvangirai's party is expected to lodge a case with Zimbabwe's newly created supreme court for the result to be overturned. But since the court is run by an ally of the president and recently ruled in his favor in a protest over the July 31 election date brought by the opposition, the case is regarded as not likely to have a fair hearing.

In an interview with South Africa's eNCA news television channel, Tsvangirai, a former trade union leader, said Zimbabweans shared the responsibility with his party for charting a way forward.

"Revolutions are not called by leaders," Tsvangirai said. "Revolutions are something that is inside, and if you've got something inside and it drives you to do something, then nothing can stop you," he said, adding, "In this case, there's no strategy for the leadership of the MDC. We've told people there's been a subversion in 2002, a subversion in 2008, there's a subversion now. The power is in your hands. It cannot be a revolution by the leadership."

An editorial in the state-owned and ZANU PF-supporting Sunday Mail newspaper dismissed any suggestion of a popular uprising of this type: "There will be no Tahrir or Freedom Square here," it said.

At Mugabe party headquarters, the jostling has begun for key positions in the government vacated by members of the MDC, which has been in a fractious coalition with the ruling party for the past five years as part of a deal brokered after violent and disputed elections in 2008.

A senior minister in Mugabe's government said they would be pressing ahead with plans to take control of foreign-owned firms in the country, including banks and mining houses, in the wake of their massive election win. 
Saviour Kasukuwere, the youth development, indigenization, and empowerment minister, said the takeover of government by those in Mugabe circles was a "focused response" to Western sanctions that remain on Mugabe and his coterie, and which have blocked Harare from accessing international bank loans.

With the Western powers now lining up to condemn the conduct of the elections, there is scant indication that these sanctions will be lifted anytime soon.

"We will not do it as a response to what people are saying about our elections but have decided on this [takeover] policy because it's the only way forward regardless of any move on sanctions," Mr. Kasukuwere said.

"We have a new mandate given to our party by the people. We are creating the capacity for people to do things for themselves and creating jobs. Taking a majority share in foreign companies will create those jobs."

He dismissed suggestions that having led its campaign with "indigenization," a practice of redistribution of land, mostly infamous as a takeover of white- owned farms, as a key pledge during the elections – that ZANU PF would now ease off on its plans to expand the policy for the sake of economic stability.

"We are not implementing indigenization to destablize our economy but to grow our economy and develop our nation. Whatever critics say about it doesn't bother us – we now must work hard to develop our country, create jobs, and help our people," he said.

Asked about reports that he was previously warned off taking over foreign banks by the head of Zimbabwe's reserve bank, Gideon Gono, he said: "Our manifesto clearly states that this policy covers all the sectors of our economy. There will be no exceptions."

Given the brutal backlash against opposition supporters in past elections, some analysts are saying that a mere threat is now sufficient to dampen any revolutionary fervor.

There is evidence that retribution against those who backed the MDC has begun. At the MDC's downtown headquarters on Sunday night, some 15 party activists gathered for safety after allegedly being driven out of one of the city's oldest townships by ZANU PF supporters.

Outside Harvest House, the MDC headquarters, riot police with helmets, shields, and batons sat in a flatbed truck monitoring the situation.

"The ZANU PF guys came to our houses chanting their slogans and said we should all go or they would kill us," said Steven Mutsipa, a party worker. 

"They have guns, machetes and sticks," said his friend, who gave his name only as Simon. "The police won't help us because they're ZANU PF. We've been beaten so many times before, so we just go."

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