Tasting Good Life, Opposition in Zimbabwe Slips Off Pedestal

from The New York Times..


April 12, 2013

HARARE, Zimbabwe — The guests arrived in Bentleys, Benzes and BMWs. At a plush, riverside wedding in an upscale suburb, the wine and spirits flowed and tables groaned with the ample buffet. Politicians, celebrities, diplomats and business leaders mingled to the strains of Oliver Mtukudzi, a Zimbabwean music star, serenading the happy couple with his famous love song “Svovi Yangu.”

This was not the wedding of some stalwart of the dominant party that has ruled this mineral-rich nation for decades. Instead, the 60-year-old groom was a one-time labor organizer, Morgan Tsvangirai, the longstanding opposition leader and now prime minister in a once uneasy but increasingly comfortable unity government with President Robert Mugabe.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said Misheck Shoko, a member of Parliament for Mr. Tsvangirai’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change. “It must have cost a fortune. We cannot help but wonder: who paid the bill?”

As Zimbabwe prepares to choose a new president this year in long-awaited elections, voters are increasingly questioning the erstwhile opposition, the only serious challenger to the tight grip Mr. Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF, have held on this nation for decades.

Mr. Tsvangirai’s underdog movement has long been the vessel of millions of Zimbabweans’ hopes for a more democratic, peaceful and prosperous future in what was once one of Africa’s most stable and wealthy nations. But four years of governing alongside Mr. Mugabe — and in some ways, analysts say, being co-opted by him and his allies — has taken a toll on its reputation.

The disenchantment was evident in a survey last year conducted for Freedom House, a watchdog group based in the United States, that found support for Mr. Tsvangirai’s party had fallen to 20 percent from 38 percent two years earlier among voters who declared a preference. By contrast, support for ZANU-PF — the party that clung to power by beating, torturing and intimidating thousands in the last election in 2008 — grew to 31 percent last year from 17 percent in 2010, the survey found, though some analysts noted that an unusually high number of people declined to respond, probably out of fear.

Mr. Tsvangirai rocketed to fame as the courageous leader of a party that dared to challenge the rule of Mr. Mugabe, who has led this country since independence in 1980. Photographs of him beaten and bleeding from the head in 2007 galvanized global opinion against Mr. Mugabe’s brutal reign.

But these days, Mr. Tsvangirai’s lifestyle has been the talk of a nation where millions live on $2 a day. He has taken to traveling abroad with a sizable entourage, officials and analysts say, honeymooning in London and spending holidays in Monaco. He recently moved into a government residence that cost about $3 million to build.

His party entered the power-sharing government in 2009, after disastrous elections in which Mr. Tsvangirai won the most votes but withdrew from a runoff because of the violence meted out against his followers. Hundreds of people were killed in the crackdown. In a deal hammered out with Zimbabwe’s neighbors, Mr. Tsvangiriai became prime minister, and the two parties agreed to share power.

In practice, Mr. Tsvangirai’s party has had almost no authority to change the fundamental structure of Zimbabwe. The army and police forces remained under Mr. Mugabe’s control. Mr. Tsvangirai’s party held ministries controlling the economy and social services, both of which have improved, but it has struggled to transform the architecture of Mr. Mugabe’s security state.


Link to the entire article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/13/world/africa/dismay-grows-in-zimbabwe-as-underdog-party-tastes-good-life.html?ref=africa&_r=0


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