Dead become a tool for Mugabe to kill the living

THE gruesome talk is of human remains being carried to the surface from a disused mine shaft – more than 1000 bodies buried in a mass grave at the Monkey William Mine in Bembera village near Mount Darwin, 150km north of Harare, Zimbabwe.

For weeks, state-controlled television and newspapers in the country, slavishly subservient to President Robert Mugabe, have focused on little else, providing saturation coverage of every detail of the exhumations and the cause celebre they have become for his ZANU-PF party.

And in this lies evidence of the latest Machiavellian manoeuvre by the 87-year-old dictator even as he suffers from prostate cancer that is reported to have cost the Zimbabwean exchequer $12 million over four months for him to be treated by doctors in Singapore and Malaysia.

Mugabe, with the junta of military, police and security officials that surrounds him, is determined to bring about the collapse of the power-sharing arrangement concluded two years ago with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

He wants to force an early election on his own corrupt terms – an election that, he reckons, he will be able to rig through violence and intimidation and thereby ensure victory.

He wants the election held within months, before the drafting of a new constitution, a key element in the power-sharing arrangement which, if it went ahead and free and fair elections were held, would spell the demise of his odious regime.

In terms of the power-sharing arrangement – forced on a reluctant Mugabe – elections are not due until 2013. The only way he can hold them sooner is by forcing Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change to walk away from the arrangement, a farce that now exists in little more than name.

With an eye to the fate of North African despots, including his close friend and ally Muammar Gaddafi, Mugabe is cracking down hard on the opposition. Even senior MDC ministers in the power-sharing cabinet have been arrested.

There is talk of new moves against Tsvangirai, who last weekend hurried to see South African President Jacob Zuma ahead of a crucial meeting of the South African Development Community, due in a few days to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Echoing the pleas from within the opposition for help against Mugabe’s brutal crackdown, one local newspaper, referring to the force being used against Gaddafi, has pleaded for international intervention against the Zimbabwean dictator. "In Zimbabwe detainees tell stories of horrific torture while in police detention and of partisan sections of the security forces being used to do the bidding of a regime bent on retaining political power at any cost," the newspaper wrote. "Zimbabwe presents a perfect opportunity for the African Union to demonstrate its respect for human rights and for the UN Security Council to show that, even where there is no oil, gross human rights abuses are enough to trigger international intervention."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has joined the clamour. In a scarcely veiled reference to Mugabe, he has warned that repressive regimes in Africa could be targeted. "The action we have taken in Libya shows the international community does take gross violations of human rights extremely seriously," he has said. "In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe’s security forces continue to act with impunity, ramping up intimidation in order to instil fear into their opponents."

Mugabe, however, even in his dotage, appears unmoved. Hence the cynical use of the human remains being exhumed from Monkey William Mine and his attempts to stir the pot against Tsvangirai and the opposition.

The bodies, Mugabe’s henchmen insist, are those of men, women and children killed by Ian Smith’s white Rhodesian regime during the chimurenga (war of independence) 32 years ago, their bodies thrown down the mineshaft.

The aim is clear: first, it is to again stir up sentiment against the former white regime, then it is to link Tsvangirai and the MDC, which have close links to foreign governments and business interests, to the white regime and remnants loyal to the old Rhodesia.

ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo says he is not surprised that despite the huge importance being accorded the exhumations in the national psyche, the MDC has stayed away from the mine. "It’s not surprising, considering their association with the Rhodesians and the West."

So blatant is the regime’s attempt to shamelessly use the exhumations as a way of stirring up emotions against the opposition and forcing a rigged election that some wonder about the circumstances surrounding the discovery.

While the regime insists the bodies are those of freedom fighters, others suggest they are more recent – possibly victims of pro-Mugabe thugs who wrought violence and havoc during the 2008 election, or from among the 20,000 people massacred earlier in Matabeleland by his North Korean-trained 5th Brigade during the Gukurahundi genocide against his political opponents.

The reality is that such is the endless litany of human rights abuses and outrages in Zimbabwe that without proper forensic testing it is going to be difficult to properly establish the facts. By seeking to exploit the exhumations in the way he is, however, Mugabe is again demonstrating the brutality of his regime as it seeks to perpetuate his murderous rule.