Good news from Zimbabwe where, despite Western media reports of political crisis, economic stagnation and widespread poverty, the electoral roll indicates the country is actually one of the healthiest on earth. The October 2010 count finds 41,100 voters in Zimbabwe aged 100 or more – four times the number of centenarians in Britain, whose population is more than five times as large. Another 132,500 Zimbabwean voters are in their 90s; 16,800 Zimbabwean voters are also 110 years old, all of them, amazingly, born on New Year’s Day in 1901.
The findings are contained in a report released today written by veteran southern African commentator RW Johnson for the South Africa Institute of Race Relations, an independent think-tank in Johannesburg. So blatant is the stuffing of the roll – Johnson also found 230 voters under the legal voting age, including a baby and several two-year-olds – that Johnson estimates it contains around 2.5 million names too many, about 50% more than there should be. At a time when Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is pushing for a new election and an end to power-sharing with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the roll lays bare Mugabe’s strategy for restoring his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) to sole power: cheat. “This phantom vote is more than enough to settle the outcome of any election,” says Johnson, who manged to obtain a copy of the roll despite despite the Zimbabwean government’s best efforts to keep news of the country’s longevity under wraps.
Even old friends are tiring of Mugabe’s attempts to stay in power after 31 years as President. On March 31, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which is trying to mediate Zimbabwe’s crisis, issued a report urging “an immediate end of violence, intimidation, hate speech, harassment,” urging Mugabe to “create a conducive environment for peace, security, and free political activity” and “complete all the steps necessary for the holding of the election including the finalization of the constitutional amendment and the referendum.” Mugabe reacted angrily, accusing the SADC team – which included the leaders of South Africa, Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique – of trying to “dictate” to him, when their role was merely to “facilitate.”
That growing antipathy could come to a head on Friday in Johannesburg, when SADC holds yet another extraordinary summit on Zimbabwe. All eyes will be on Mugabe, as much because of his physical condition as his efforts to have the March communique set aside. Now 87, Mugabe has looked frail in public for the last year or so, finding it difficult to walk and given to meandering speeches extolling revolutionary days of decades past. Perhaps reflecting Mugabe’s waning star, his regime increasingly looks cartoonishly paranoid. In February, Zimbabwean police arrested more than 40 people for watching television reports of popular revolutions in the Middle East and charged them with treason. Last month, security services arrested one of their own – a policeman guarding the President – for using the presidential toilet when Mugabe visited the southern city of Bulawayo.