Four wasted years as Zanu PF goes it alone

IT is now one year since President Thabo Mbeki assured the international community there would be a solution to the Zimbabwe crisis within a year. His officials underlined the June deadline in subsequent st


That deadline has now arrived and Zimbabwe’s crisis is deepening by the week. There has been no progress on dialogue and no movement by government to reform the lopsided electoral architecture.

President Mugabe’s remarks during his recent Sky News interview should have removed any doubts as to his indifference both to the situation on the ground and to dialogue with the MDC.

When Mbeki visited Harare in December it was hoped that he had made some progress towards engineering talks between the two political parties. There was an assumption, which he fed in a number of statements, that a consensus was emerging on the need for talks.

When German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder visited South Africa in January he was told talks were about to begin. Speaking in Pietermaritzburg during the recent South African election campaign, Mbeki said he envisaged parliamentary and presidential polls in Zimbabwe taking place simultaneously.

Meanwhile, Zanu PF and the MDC are worlds apart. Any hope of dialogue has been eclipsed by the ruling party’s preoccupation with winning the March election. There can be little doubt that it will get its wish. Everything that was defective and biased in the ruling party’s favour in 2000 and 2002 is still in place. If anything its in-built advantage has increased.

Skewed electoral laws are being tightened to confine voter education to the Mugabe-appointed Electoral Supervisory Commission. The voters’ roll remains a closely guarded secret. And Posa, which Mbeki assured the world would be repealed, is still very much in evidence preventing opposition rallies and making their spokesmen liable to prosecution for statements that would be considered normal discourse in an election context. That will not of course deter Mugabe and his spokesmen from saying what they like about the opposition!
Voters will be unable to make an informed choice given the state’s monopoly of broadcasting and its closure of popular newspapers.

A court case this week revealed how individuals implicated in political murders in Buhera in 2000 had been protected from prosecution for four years.

It is now over four years since Mbeki became involved in the search for a solution to Zimbabwe’s problems at the Victoria Falls mini-summit in April 2000. It needs patience, South African officials tell us. How much patience? Five years or ten? Because what we have here, whatever the best intentions of Mbeki and his officials, is a monumental failure of South African diplomacy. Other presidents such as Bakili Muluzi of Malawi and Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, who have been drawn in, have little to show except privately expressed exasperation.

Perhaps most disappointing for Zimbabweans has been South Africa’s abandonment of its regional commitment to human rights, good governance and the rule of law. Mbeki’s spokesmen have often appeared to endorse misrule by claiming they were not going to “shout from the rooftops”. A simple statement of principle appears to be beyond them.

But what will Pretoria say of the March election: that it was legitimate or free and fair when they know perfectly well it can’t be when the Sadc parliamentary forum’s electoral standards are being studiously ignored?

Mbeki has said democratic elections are fundamental to development. Mozambican leaders have said their new electoral law must be acceptable to Renamo and not passed by a 51% Frelimo majority in parliament. It is called consensus and it drives all successful societies.

But it is wholly absent in Zimbabwe where an obdurate leader and his squabbling subordinates are placing their own selfish needs above those of the nation. The intention may be, 1980-style, to assert the electoral superiority of Zanu PF and then seek to absorb what is left of the opposition. But having deterred voters from exercising their democratic right and hijacked the election there will be no national mood for that sort of “unity”.

Zanu PF had a chance to mend the gaping fissures in the fabric of the nation and chose instead to bludgeon the country into submission. If South Africa endorses that, it should not be surprised when Zimbabwe’s crisis becomes its own.

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