HARARE, Zimbabwe - Getting rid of President Robert G. Mugabe isn't easy, but the opposition that made unprecedented inroads in summer's parliamentary elections is trying its darndest to topple one of Africa's abiding autocrats.
They criticize him openly, calling him evil, a tyrant and a racist. They travel the world attempting to build international pressure against a government they say is lawless and corrupt. Last month, in their latest effort to push Mugabe from power, they started impeachment proceedings against the 76-year-old leader.
But their efforts have done more to embarrass Mugabe's government than threaten it. Lacking a majority in parliament, the opposition party has watched powerlessly as Mugabe has ignored a Supreme Court ruling declaring his government-sponsored land seizures illegal, pardoned dozens of his party supporters guilty of political violence and incited racial division by vowing to hunt down the nation's former white rulers "like Nazis."
Such defeats have dampened the enthusiasm that followed the opposition party's victory in June, when it won one-third of the seats in parliament. The victory marked the end of Mugabe's one-party government and ushered in a multiparty democracy for the first time since Zimbabwe's independence from white minority rule in 1980.
Frustrated with its failure to change the government, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change is planning to turn to mass demonstrations and civil disobedience to unseat Mugabe before presidential elections in 2002.
"As long as President Mugabe is there, he is a stumbling block. We cannot move to democratize the place, to even have restoration of the economic fortunes of the country and stop decline if he is there," said Morgan Tsvangirai, president of the MDC. "He can run, but he can't hide. The time is up."
Tsvangirai, a former labor leader who formed the opposition party one year ago, has predicted that Mugabe may be gone by Christmas. He envisions a mass demonstration similar to the outpouring of discontent that unseated Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia.
`Just an idle threat'
But Mugabe has shown no inclination to budge. His spokesman speaks disdainfully of the opposition campaign. "For them to organize mass action, they have to have the masses. It is just an idle threat," said George Charamba, presidential spokesman.
The opposition feels it has the forces of public despair on its side. They are emboldened by the country's growing restlessness, a feeling captured by riots in Harare's suburbs last month when demonstrators blocked streets, hurled stones and burned cars to protest the latest increase in food prices. Mugabe responded by calling out the army, which fired tear gas and arrested dozens of protesters.
A survey released last month by the Helen Suzman Foundation, a South African research group, found that 79 percent of Zimbabweans wanted Mugabe to resign.
The demand for change is coming from people like Kenneth Gutusa, who works by night as a security guard and by day as street corner bicycle repairman in Mbare, a poor Harare suburb.
He complains that it has been months since he has been able to afford to feed his wife and three children more than two meals per day. It's white bread and black tea for breakfast. For dinner, vegetables and sadza, a bland, filling porridge. No lunch.
"You drink water to fill up that gap," Gutusa, a 34-year-old with sleepy eyes, said as he fixed a broken tire rim.
Empty bellies among Zimbabwe's working population are the latest sign that this nation that once commanded one of Africa's strongest economies is teetering on collapse.
Inflation is topping 60 percent, leaving families with steady incomes like the Gutusas struggling to put food on the table. Just three years ago, Gutusa's take-home pay was equal to about $83 per week. But a limp Zimbabwe dollar, which fell by 40 percent this year, has shrunk his weekly paycheck's worth to $18.
Meanwhile, the price for bread has shot up 40 percent this year. Fruits and vegetables are up 90 percent from January. About half of the population is unemployed. Businesses have cut about 50,000 jobs this year while some factories have scaled back to three-day workweeks.
The country has so little hard currency that it can't pay its fuel and power bills. Residents who once took public transportation now walk or ride bikes to work and then return at night to dark homes. Analysts predict the nation's economy will shrink by 6 percent this year.
The economic climate worsened recently as Mugabe stepped up the invasions of white-owned farms. Started early this year, the farm occupations are used by Mugabe to shore up support as his popularity dwindles, opponents say.
About 4,500 commercial farmers, mostly white, own about one-third of the nation's best farmland - about 28 million acres - while 1 million black peasant farms are squeezed onto 40 million acres.