By Stella Mapenzauswa
ESIGODINI, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party has consolidated its gains this year, but a renewed crackdown on critics shows panic within its ranks in the face of a deepening econ
omic crisis, analysts say.
Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party recommended on Saturday that the government act against hostile rights groups and asked security forces to draw up a list of people whose passports should be seized under new laws seen aimed at muzzling critics.
The call at the end of a two day party conference came shortly after security agents seized the passports of the opposition party’s spokesman and a leading Zimbabwe publisher whose papers have carried stories critical of the government.
Analysts said the crackdown was a sign the ruling party and government were devoid of ideas on how to tackle chronic shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency, as well as triple-digit inflation.
“If anything this is an indication of frustration and panic on the part of the government. The crackdown might worsen but I do not think it will stop people from making constructive criticism,” Heneri Dzinotyiwei, a political analyst from the University of Zimbabwe, told Reuters.
“This is just some hot air from the ruling party in order to keep themselves agreeing on something because even among their own followers there are deep concerns about the worsening hardships facing the country,” he added.
Threats of further reprisals against rights groups and individuals critical of the government are unlikely to silence voices that have spoken out even in the face of repressive security and media laws enacted three years ago, analysts said.
CRITICISM FROM WITHIN
In an unusually tough editorial at the weekend, the state-owned Chronicle newspaper urged the government to come up with concrete programmes to pull millions of Zimbabweans out of poverty, saying the welfare of ZANU-PF hinged on this.
“The failure of the government is the failure of the party. It is as simple as that,” the paper said bluntly. “The long-suffering nation is now impatient for solutions to the country’s economic challenges. Time for action has come.”
Despite the euphoria at ZANU-PF’s annual conference after November’s sweeping Senate poll win, it still faced the daunting tasks of pulling the economy out of crisis and resolving internal squabbles over Mugabe’s successor, analysts said.
Analysts say tensions still simmer within the party after Mugabe cowed members to endorse Joyce Mujuru as second vice-president both in ZANU-PF and government last year.
In the process he purged some senior officials who had lobbied for a rival candidate for the post, seen as a stepping stone to the top job.
The dispute nearly split the party in two a few months before crucial parliamentary elections in November 2004, which ZANU-PF went on to win amid charges of vote-rigging by the opposition.
CALL FOR UNITY
In his closing address to the ZANU-PF meeting in the south-western district of Esigodini, Mugabe — who is 81 and expected to retire in 2008 at the end of his current term of office — called for unity among his party faithful.
“Only a strong party yields a strong government and we need to be strong to defeat the machinations of imperialists,” he said.
In power since independence from Britain in 1980, Mugabe routinely accuses the former colonial ruler of spearheading a Western campaign to sabotage Zimbabwe’s economy and unseat him over the government’s seizure of white-owned farms for blacks.
The weekend convention adopted a recommendation to take stern action against non-governmental organisations and rights groups it said were sponsored by Britain, the United Sates and the European Union.
“To me statements like that show that this is a party that knows it is still in trouble because you do not talk about enemies unless you are in deep trouble,” said lawyer and political commentator Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of pressure group National Constitutional Assembly.
“It’s all stemming from a clear sense of realisation within the party that things are definitely not well but they do not succeed by trying to silence critics,” said Madhuku, whose NCA was listed among organisations to be acted against. — Reuter