Celebrating Zimbabwe’s own goaERE were celebrations in the state media after government barred Cosatu from entering Zimbabwe “without following procedures” last week. It was the second such phoney achievement after the October debacle.

Never mind the mythical “procedures” that should have been followed. The Cosatu delegation said they wanted to meet their counterparts in the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. It dropped its earlier request to meet civil society in deference to concerns by its alliance partner, the ANC.

All would have been fine had Cosatu not included in its itinerary the phrase “fact-finding mission”. That rekindled the paranoia that has become the hallmark of the Zanu PF government since the illegal seizure of white commercial farms and the “daylight robbery” of the 2000 and 2002 elections.

The maladroit action against Cosatu just ahead of the election ominously reminded us of another self-inflicted wound — the expulsion of a European Union observer mission led by Pierre Schori before the 2002 presidential poll. That was the beginning of the major fallout with the international community that haunts Zimbabwe to this day. More importantly, that action marked the start of the violence that characterised President Mugabe’s controversial re-election and intensified Zimbabwe’s isolation.

The consequences of government’s actions in the Schori and Cosatu cases are similar — bad publicity that could easily have been avoided and a lot of sympathy for those fighting for human rights and free elections in Zimbabwe.

Recently government courted the same unsavoury publicity by trying to bar British journalists who wanted to cover Zanu PF’s so-called National People’s Congress. Once they were allowed into the country they shamed all those who had lied about their intentions when their feared arrival turned out to be a low-key media event.

We are repeating the same error with Cosatu and the country is manifestly not benefiting from the latest spat as people ask what Zimbabwe has got to hide? Zimbabwe is going into the election with its image sullied by its new tag as an “outpost of tyranny” and government is apparently spoiling to prove that it deserves the label despite its protestations to the contrary.

The spectre of Schori is refusing to go away. By refusing Cosatu entry into the country, the government has already set benchmarks for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission on who not to invite to monitor elections. It is now doubtful whether the commission will be independent enough to stand its ground when it comes to inviting election observers.

The trouble is, whatever the dictates of propaganda to put on a brave face and scoff at the whole world about sovereignty, Cosatu is in no mood for plea bargaining and is getting all the limelight while Zimbabwe gets the mud. South Africans who had been inclined to give President Mugabe’s regime the benefit of the doubt have been shamed into silence.

Needless to say, we didn’t hear the same nonsense about “procedures” from Pretoria when a ZCTU delegation decided to meet their Cosatu counterparts in the South African town of Musina.

The question that now needs to be asked is whether after the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa in 1994 Zimbabwe has become the new bastion of repression in the region calling for another grouping of Frontline States to deal with a rogue neighbour? Has the region moved forward or regressed since the advent of democracy in South Africa, or alternatively, since Zimbabwe embarked on its lawless land reform programme five years ago?

Attempts by the state media to tar Cosatu by linking it to the United States will not help redeem the country’s image. Cosatu’s progressive credentials are too well established for all but the most gullible consumers of state propaganda to swallow the line that it serves as a Trojan Horse of Western imperialism.

It is significant to note that it is not only the perceived imperialists and neo-colonial forces who have spoken out against the democratic deficit in Zimbabwe. The African Union has now adopted a damning report on Zimbabwe produced by the African Commission for Human and People’s rights. We now await the AU’s verdict on the Zimbabwean election — if the continental body is invited to monitor the polls.

The plain truth is there is an evident democratic shortfall that needs to be addressed before the region can fully realise its potential. Army and intelligence officers will be supervising polling, the voters’ roll is a mess, the public media is partisan while vast swathes of the country remain no-go areas for the opposition.

Celebrating the expulsion of Cosatu is like celebrating an own goal. Yes, Zimbabwe scored. But it was the wrong net!

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