By Welshman Ncube
THE Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is increasingly perplexed by claims by the South African government that the elections in Zimbabwe will be free and fair and by its claims that it d
oes not see any problems in Zimbabwe’s electoral system.
The MDC does not understand the South African government’s ignorance about the situation in Zimbabwe and the basis for such optimism and believes that the position adopted by the South African government is not only misinformed, but also dangerously premature.
At present it is clear to each and every objective observer that conditions for a free and fair election do not exist in Zimbabwe. There is therefore nothing whatsoever to suggest that the elections will be free and fair, or indeed legitimate. The electoral environment is actually worse than it was during the March 2002 presidential elections.
Contrary to the view propagated by the South African government, its counterpart in Harare is not taking any meaningful steps to ensure the elections will be free and fair.
The voters’ roll is in a shambles, violence and intimidation remain prevalent, equal access to the state media is a myth and the elections will be managed and run by the same biased electoral bodies which have manipulated the electoral process to the political advantage of the ruling party in previous elections, not withstanding the existence of the so-called independent Zimbabwe Electoral Commission which so far has totally failed to impress its authority over the old institutions who are now de-facto managing elections in Zimbabwe.
The much-trumpeted new electoral commission has no direct role to play in this election. It was established far too late to have any meaningful influence on the process. More importantly, anything it does do is subject to the authority of the President Robert Mugabe-appointed Electoral Supervisory Commission. This compromises its independence.
The MDC and other progressive forces in Zimbabwe are therefore deeply concerned to hear the South African government praising the new “independent” commission and citing its establishment as proof that the Zimbabwe government is complying with the new regional election standards. Nothing could be further from the truth.
MDC meetings and rallies continue to be banned or disrupted by the police under the notorious Public Order and Security Act. Sixteen MDC candidates have already been the victims of arbitrary arrest and police harassment and scores of MDC activists have been arrested for such innocuous crimes as putting up posters. No Zanu PF supporter has yet to be arrested for this “crime”.
The complicity of members of the police and army in incidents of political violence casts a dark shadow over the legitimacy of the entire electoral process.
The MDC urges the South African government to re-think the wisdom of publicly expressing its confidence in the capacity of Mugabe and Zanu PF to host free and fair elections when there is a dearth of evidence on the ground to support such an optimistic outlook.
Positive signals from regional neighbours provide unnecessary succour to the authorities in Zimbabwe and often serve to galvanise those bent on engaging in anti-democratic activities.
To the people of Zimbabwe, the optimism expressed by the South African government is increasingly viewed as misplaced solidarity and a deliberate attempt to frustrate the new beginning they so desperately desire. This perception undermines public confidence in the objectivity and impartiality of South African and Southern African Development Community (Sadc) observer missions.
There is a growing suspicion in Zimbabwe that the sole objective of the Sadc and South Africa observer missions is not to ensure the full expression of the “one person, one vote” principle but to legitimise a Zanu PF “victory”, regardless of the manner in which this “victory” is achieved.
There is an urgent need to demonstrate that this is not the case. However, the decision by the Zimbabwe government not to invite the Sadc Parliamentary Forum — who published an adverse report on the 2002 presidential poll — to observe the elections, and the public defence of this decision by South Africa, sows further doubts in the minds of the people vis-à-vis the impartiality of the observers who have been invited.
We all fought bitter struggles to secure the right to freely elect leaders of our choice. The people of Zimbabwe want food, jobs and better living standards. They must be free to vote for the party they believe is best equipped to address these basic grievances.
Any moves to compromise the exercise of this basic and hard-earned right would severely damage the credibility of both the South African government and Sadc.
Rhetorical commitments to promoting good governance have to be followed up by concrete action if they are to be taken seriously. The elections in Zimbabwe provide the first real test of this commitment.
Finally we are again appealing to the South African government to stop aiding and abetting the Mugabe regime’s denial of the basic rights of the people of Zimbabwe to freely elect the government of their choice.
*Professor Welshman Ncube is secretary-general of the MDC.