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Mugabe's endurance
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Mugabe's endurance by Rafael Broch 03/15/2007 Robert Mugabe has displayed remarkable political resilience. Economic sanctions, international protests and a crippled populace have failed to shake his dictatorial presidency. But has this week's violence prompted a welcome beginning of Mugabe's end? Members of the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change were beaten so severely by police for their outlawed street assembly that its leader Morgan Tsvangirai's skull was broken. The official story, dutifully maintained by the state-run Herald, claims that the police were breaking up illegal and violent protests. Protestors say that when Tsvangirai arrived to talk to assembled crowds, the police fired tear gas and began arresting people. Whichever story is accurate, the sight of the fifty bloody opposition politicians that gathered in court has prompted some analysts to forecast Mugabe's demise. Sydney Masamvu, a former journalist in Harare believes that we have reached "the home stretch of an open challenge to the Mugabe regime within his own party and outside from the opposition." The notable breaking of silence from Zimbabwe's neighbours suggests Mr Masamvu is correct. Having long refrained from overt condemnation of Mugabe's rule - even during 2005 Operation Murambatsvina ('Clean out filth') in which thousands were displaced – South Africa's Foreign Office finally grumbled some scripted remarks about the need for the rule of law and respect for human rights. Zambia also voiced concern. If the trade unions decide their situation is so dire that they have little to lose, a general strike might be next. Mugabe is not the only African politician to have engineered a long political career by drawing on ethnic and nationalist sentiment. Like Lassana Conte and Joseph Mobutu, he has endured by appealing to anti-colonialist and revolutionary populism. His land reforms since 2000 have given huge allotments of white-settled land to Zimbabwe's majority black population. But it has not brought the pay-off that was expected. Entrenched cronyism hinders economic growth, there is 80% unemployment and inflation is the highest anywhere at 1700%. If a basic level of political legitimacy requires the provision of conditions for economic survival, then Mugabe's regime is questionable even before human rights are even considered. Some of Zimbabwe's regional neighbours with similar pre-independence histories and comparable natural resources have fared much better, which makes the country's stagnancy even more tragic. The prospects for change? Unfortunately, in repressive Zimbabwe the regime's failings do not directly affect its ability to endure. Condemnatory statements, even very local ones, are not nearly enough to rattle the machinations of Mugabe's police state. So while some may be expecting his downfall, it may be false optimism. He has ridden travails before. At 83, Mugabe may have plenty left in him. raf@london.com

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