Zimbabwe’s national army chiefs are at “loggerheads”, it was reported this week, as they argue over public funds to be paid to them through various shell companies.
This unconfirmed report is the work of a “deep throat”, who claims to be revealing the murky dealings of the Mugabe regime.
With four days to go until the troubled southern African nation stages elections, hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans are following the Facebook updates of an anonymous figure who writes under the moniker “Baba Jukwa”. The latest account concluded: “All soldiers be informed and take heed that there is no Zanu-PF [ruling party] leader who is not corrupt.” He then included the name and telephone number of the army’s head of public relations with the suggestion that readers call him “and ask him why are they being evil”.
The alleged insider has built a following of 280,000 in four months on the social media site. His updates blend plausible accusations of corruption with salacious gossip and tub-thumping opposition to Robert Mugabe, the country’s leader since independence in 1980. Baba Jukwa names and shames the shadowy cabal of politicians and securocrats in Mr Mugabe’s inner circle as well as their alleged local lackeys and thugs doing the grassroots intimidation of opposition activists. Clearly spooked, the state-controlled media has issued increasingly shrill denouncements that have merely encouraged more people to go online and see what all the fuss is about.
“Baba Jukwa’s thunder is waning as the stories become more and more ridiculous,” the government’s daily mouthpiece The Herald wrote recently after Baba Jukwa alleged that the country’s police chief, Augustine Chihuri, was secretly printing additional ballot papers. The paper continued by asserting that Zanu-PF would win the social media battle and “mere gossip ... can never translate into electoral victory”. What is left of Zimbabwe’s independent media is taking Baba Jukwa seriously. Newsday, a daily, wrote that “it will be naive to ignore what this Facebook character says as we go towards watershed elections”.
For all the online revelations and apocalyptic language on both sides, there is little sign that the vote on 31 July will deliver meaningful change. The five years since Zimbabwe’s last election delivered the country into a political crisis, eventually resolved with an unwieldy power-sharing government, have disappointed most observers.
In 2008 the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, defeated Mr Mugabe in the first round only to withdraw before the run-off, citing intimidation of his supporters by the state security apparatus. Since securing a role as Prime Minister, the former union leader has appeared to be outmanoeuvred at every turn by the older man. After Mr Mugabe broke constitutional rules to announce a snap election, Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was powerless to stop him. Zimbabwe’s neighbours in the regional political bloc, SADC, appealed to the 89-year-old President to delay the vote. In a trademark empty concession he appealed to his own supreme court to consider a delay and they regretfully declined.
The opposition approaches the elections more divided than at either of the last two outings. There are two iterations of the MDC with the smaller faction led by Welshman Ncube, a politician who has a relationship with Mr Tsvangirai that rivals his enmity with Mr Mugabe.
Mr Mugabe, who has measured his appearances on the campaign trail in an apparent concession to his age, has been nakedly populist when he has spoken. He told supporters at a rally earlier this week that it was his stand against homosexuality, rather than human rights abuses, corruption and the destruction of the economy, that had drawn criticism from Western powers. Denouncing homosexuals as “worse than goats, pigs and birds”, the former schoolteacher promised to uphold what he called African culture.
Any hopes the opposition may have of international help in the event of wholesale rigging look forlorn. Much will depend on regional power broker South Africa, where President Jacob Zuma responded to some public reservations about the conduct of the polls by his foreign policy adviser Lindiwe Zulu by firing her last week.