Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Mugabe's power under threat as troops riot over pay

The writing might very well be on the wall for Robert Mugabe. The one thing which has kept him in power has been the loyalty shown towards him by the Zimbabwean army. And then we read this:

Dozens of Zimbabwean soldiers rioted in Harare yesterday, attacking banks after they were unable to withdraw their near worthless pay, in a further sign that Robert Mugabe may be losing control over the forces that have kept him in power.

The unarmed soldiers also looted shops and were backed by some civilians as they clashed with riot police who fired teargas to break up the protest. The drastic cash shortages are caused by the country's 231m percent inflation rate, which has led the government to restrict people to withdrawing the equivalent of just 18p a day - not enough to buy a loaf of bread.

The Associated Press reported that gunfire had broken out in the city centre but it was not clear who fired.

Though not large, yesterday's was the second such protest in a week and reflects a desperation within the military that will be of concern to Mugabe and his allies, who have relied on the army to suppress political opposition. Ordinary soldiers, often hungry and unable to feed their families, have grown disillusioned. If significant numbers were to turn against Mugabe, it could swiftly bring an end to his rule. The president's grip is in any case greatly weakened as Zimbabwe's collapse continues without respite.

If he loses the army then it really is all over for Mugabe. He really has led that country to disaster.

The authorities in Harare yesterday cut off water supplies to the city because there are not enough chemicals to treat the water in the midst of a cholera outbreak.

The health ministry yesterday said cholera has now spread to all but one of Zimbabwe's 10 provinces, as sanitation systems break down across the country. The World Health Organisation says about 425 people have died, but medical charities say the real figure is at least double that among the 11,000 reported cases.

The UN estimates that 5 million people, about half Zimbabwe's population, will need food aid in the coming weeks.

It simply astonishes me that Mugabe has been able to cling on for so long. Obviously he has used the army to intimidate the population and subdue opposition, but he would never have got away with this without the tacit help of South Africa and Mbeki's decision to turn a blind eye and pretend that Mugabe was a man who could be negotiated with.

Mbeki actually shares some of the blame for the crimes that Mugabe has been able to carry out on his people. Without Mbeki's support I feel Mugabe might have fallen much sooner.

We can only hope that this small rebellion amongst the army leads to a wider revulsion against Mugabe and his disgraceful rule.

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