By Cris Chinaka
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe told critics of his re-election to “go hang” on Monday, making clear he would brook no questioning of his disputed victory either from the West or his main rival, who is challenging the result in court.
In his first public speech since he and his ZANU-PF party were declared overwhelming winners of the July 31 presidential and parliamentary elections, Mugabe dismissed his defeated rivals as “pathetic puppets” and “Western-sponsored stooges”.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of Mugabe’s rival Morgan Tsvangirai filed a court challenge on Friday against Mugabe’s announced landslide re-election, alleging widespread vote rigging and intimidation of electors by ZANU-PF.
The result extends by five years the 33-year rule of Mugabe over the southern African nation that was formerly known as Rhodesia. At 89, Mugabe is Africa’s oldest leader.
Pointing to multiple flaws in the vote cited by domestic observers, Western governments – especially the United States – have questioned the credibility of the election outcome and are considering whether to prolong sanctions against Mugabe.
In contrast, observers from African diplomatic groups broadly approved the Zimbabwe vote as orderly and free.
“We won so overwhelmingly that some people are hurting badly,” Mugabe told a rally in Harare to mark Heroes Day, an annual celebration of those who fought to liberate Zimbabwe from white minority rule, leading to its independence in 1980.
“If they cannot stomach it, they can go and hang,” Mugabe said, drawing cheers from thousands of ZANU-PF supporters.
Tsvangirai’s MDC, which calls the July 31 vote a “monumental fraud”, boycotted the rally at the National Heroes’ Acre shrine, saying it did not want to associate with “election thieves”.
Zimbabwe’s constitution says the country’s top court must rule within 14 days on the MDC challenge to the presidential election result. Analysts predict the challenge is unlikely to prosper because they say Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party dominates the judiciary and state institutions.
In his own separate Heroes Day message, MDC leader Tsvangirai reiterated his charge that Mugabe and ZANU-PF had rigged the election, saying Zimbabwe was “mourning over the audacity of so few to steal from so many.”
He has said he in fact won the vote, not Mugabe.
In its arguments to the Constitutional Court calling for an election re-run, the MDC alleged hundreds of thousands of voters were turned away, and that the voters’ roll was flawed, containing at least 870,000 duplicated names.
A preliminary assessment by the leading domestic observers’ body, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), called the election “seriously compromised”, saying registration flaws may have disenfranchised up to a million people out of 6.4 million registered voters.
However, observer missions from the African Union and the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC), while acknowledging some problems, have broadly endorsed the vote and called on all parties to accept it peacefully.
Some neighbouring heads of state, like South Africa’s Jacob Zuma and President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, have warmly congratulated Mugabe on his re-election.
But the government of Botswana has called for an independent audit of the Zimbabwe elections, saying evidence available so far meant they could not be considered acceptably free and fair.
Mugabe, vilified as a ruthless dictator in the West but described by some as Africa’s most educated leader because of the slew of academic degrees he earned during a decade in jail under Rhodesia’s white rulers, did not mince his words to heap scorn on his frustrated MDC election rivals.
“After their death, even dogs will not have their bodies for meat. They will sniff at their flesh, and pass on,” he said in Shona, the language of Zimbabwe’s ethnic majority. He described his victory as a “mystical thunderbolt” against his enemies.