You could probably forgive the proprietors of Nikuv for feeling slightly giddy after the final results of Zimbabwe’s election were announced this weekend.
The Israeli company’s client, President Robert G. Mugabe, romped home with 60% of the vote and his ruling ZANU-PF party grabbed more than two-thirds of the seats in the troubled southern African nation’s parliament.
Mugabe, 89, turned back a challenge from longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change party, beating the former trade union leader by about 1 million votes, according to official results.
Even better, there was none of the violence or blatant intimidation that marked past elections, like the 2008 vote that Tsvanigirai won and also led to widespread chaos and international condemnation.
So how did Nikuv, a shadowy company headquartered the Israeli town of Herzliya, play such a central role in the vote in a farflung African land?
Why did Nikuv CEO Emmanuel Antebi, and top aide Ammon Peer reportedly jet into the capital of Harare for 90 minutes of valuable face time with Mugabe on Tuesday, just hours before the polls opened?
The opposition and independent watchdogs say it’s because Nikuv was a vital cog in Mugabe’s strategy to massively rig the watershed election and maintain his grip on power.
The strategy apparently succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, with Mugabe and ZANU-PF running up never before seen vote totals in some areas. In some urban constituencies, ZANU-PF increased its vote 10 and 20-fold. In rural areas, some districts recorded more votes than the adult population.
Zimbabwe’s strongman Robert Mugabe has succeeded in staying in office for 33 years with a potent mix of populism and violence — and he may have an Israeli company to thank if he extends his rule one more time.
The 89-year-old leader faces his sternest test yet next week when he squares off in a presidential election rematch against longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai.
Few doubt that Mugabe, a former liberation war hero, would be trounced in anything close to a free or fair election — he has presided over the collapse of a once promising economy and engineered the billion-percent bout of hyperinflation that killed the Zimbabwe dollar.
That’s where a company called Nikuv comes in. It is working with the Zimbabwe government’s Registrar General, which among other things maintains the country’s famously corrupt electoral roll.
Investigative journalists and opposition leaders believe Nikuv’s real role is to help Mugabe’s loyalists rig the July 31 poll.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change party said it was “concerned about electoral fraud [by Nikuv] through manipulation of the voters’ roll, and the issuing of multiple national identity cards to individuals that would then allow them to vote twice.”
In past elections, turnout was suspiciously high in ZANU-PF’s rural strongholds. Widespread problems with the roll led to lower turnout in cities and towns, where the ruling party is wildly unpopular.
Anthony Lewis devoted his life to preserving the ideals of that exceptional and quintessential American liberty: the First Amendment. In 2009, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) honored Lewis with its annual Burton Benjamin Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his contributions to press freedom (Lewis was a founding board member of CPJ).
Lewis died this week at 85, prompting an outpouring of tributes for the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.
Who was the recipient of the award the year before Lewis?
A tenacious lawyer who has endured a police beating and imprisonment the very same week for her dogged defense of journalists and others in one of the world’s worst tyrannies: Zimbabwe.
Beatrice Mtetwa regained her freedom after a hellish week that began on March 17 when she was arrested and charged with the criminal offense of “defeating or obstructing the course of justice.”
Modreck Zvakavapano Maeresera comes from the southern African nation of Zimbabwe with a message of shared faith.
A leader of the Lemba group that claims ancient Jewish ancestry, Maeresera is on a monthlong tour of the U.S., meeting with Jewish communal leaders and giving lectures about his community.
“We are all joined together by our faith,” said Maeresera, 38, a married father of two. “That is what joins us together.”
He is hoping to build awareness about the 100,000-strong community and raise funds for a synagogue in Zimbabwe’s rural district of Mberengwa.
After appearances in New York (at the 92nd Street Y), Chicago and Texas, he will speak on Wednesday, February 20 along with Florida International University professor Tudor Parfitt at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU in Miami Beach.
The tour was organized with help from Kulanu, a group that supports isolated Jewish communities worldwide.
“We are told of our history by our oral tradition, which is handed down from generation to generation,” Maeresera said.
Scattered across six separate districts in Zimbabwe’s vast rural hinterland, the Lemba maintains kashrut dietary rules and celebrates Shabbat. They were forced to abandon newborn circumcision and instead circumcise boys at age 8, a symbolic nod to the eight-day rule that Jews worldwide observe.
Others in Zimbabwe — an overwhelmingly Christian nation of 14 million — are keenly aware of their faith and mostly respect it.
“They call us maJuda, which means the Jews,” he said.