17.01.2008 Politics

Hopes for change in Mugabe's Zimbabwe

17.01.2008 LISTEN

President Mugabe has survived in power for nearly 28 years and in Zimbabwe, everyone is a millionaire.

You have to be, since a loaf of bread at present costs 1,000,000 Zimbabwe dollars (Mugabe dollars, as they are known disparagingly) and a newspaper costs twice that. And the price of many necessities doubles every few days.

Yet Zimbabweans have found ways to survive. Because it is still basically a rich country and because the aid agencies do an excellent job - there is little malnutrition.

There are even traffic jams, even though you almost invariably need dollars - American ones, not Mugabe ones - to buy petrol.

But so many Zimbabweans have left the country and send money back to help their families, that even this is possible.

The BBC who have been banned from Zimbabwe, fortunately had a great deal of help from local people, who often saw it as their patriotic duty to show the outside world how bad things have become in Zimbabwe.

"During our week in Harare we met slum-dwellers, Aids victims, lawyers, shopkeepers, journalists, academics, political activists, and a senior member of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party", a BBC reporter said.

Every one of them seemed to think that things would come to a head in Zimbabwe this year.

"2008 will be the year of the machete inside Zanu-PF," said one well-placed observer.

Will it?

Our senior party figure was able to confirm that Simba Makoni, the former finance minister who fell out with Mr Mugabe over the economy, was planning to stand against him for the presidency.

Mr Makoni has some strong backing. The civil service, the police, the army, and Zimbabwe's much-feared secret police, the Central Intelligence Organisation, are all starting to split along factional lines.

Mugabe's 'Hague fears'

President Mugabe has faced splits and rivalry before. His method of holding on to power has often been to whip up feeling against Britain and America. There will be no popular uprising in Zimbabwe. The big opposition movement, the MDC, has no stomach for it, and the recent violence in Kenya... worries many Zimbabweans.

Eight years ago, he encouraged the invasions of white-run farms. That is how the catastrophic collapse of the Zimbabwean economy started.

No doubt this time, too, he will accuse Mr Makoni and others of being agents of British imperialism.

But a lot of people felt this was an increasingly tired tactic, which might not work so well again.

There will be no popular uprising in Zimbabwe. The big opposition movement, the MDC, has no stomach for it, and the recent violence in Kenya over a disputed election worries many Zimbabweans.

But they hope that the probable new president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, will take a much tougher line with Robert Mugabe than Thabo Mbeki has done. South African pressure would certainly force Mr Mugabe to step aside.

One political analyst we spoke to thought Mr Mugabe was terrified of being sent to The Hague to face charges of gross abuses of human rights over the years - in particular, the mass killings of people in Matabeleland in the 1980s.

The temptation would be to stay in office and fight, as he has done so many times before. But a promise that he would be allowed to retire in peace might work.

Mr Mugabe is an exceptionally intelligent man, who has survived in power for nearly 28 years. But every reign comes to an end - and a large number of Zimbabweans think it could happen this year….the year of new beginnings.