NEW Zealand Foreign minister Winston Peters, recently visiting South Africa, had some pertinent remarks on Zimbabwe’s electoral process. Peters, whose government has imposed a series of sanctions against Robert Mugabe after he allegedly rigged his 2002 re-election, said New Zealand would only have “positive thoughts for Zimbabwe” if the elections were fully democratic.

Getting the message,missing the point

“Unless an election is free and fair it is not an election,” he said. “It is a jack up. It is a construction… It is organised deceit,” he told reporters.

His remarks came as the state media in Zimbabwe farcically announced Zanu PF had taken “an early lead” in the polls because it didn’t face a challenge in two parliamentary constituencies.

Speaking with Peters at a Pretoria press conference, South African Foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said Zimbabwe’s elections next month would be free and fair only so long as new laws on security and the media are fully implemented.

Dlamini-Zuma said it was vital that legislation which was agreed on between the Zimbabwean opposition and the ruling party in talks mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki is put into practice.

“If the Zimbabweans implement everything that they have agreed upon during their negotiations on matters that had kept them apart — if they implement the laws passed by parliament around security, information, media and all those laws — the prospects for free and fair elections should be good,” she said. “The important thing is all those things should be implemented now in the run-up to elections and during the elections.”

But did Zanu PF get the message? It is becoming increasingly clear that this is once again a flawed election and that agreements reached in the inter-party talks are meaningless.

The police continue to deny the opposition the right to demonstrate and even lecture the opposition on the futility of marches while letting those organised by the ruling party proceed.

Worse still, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission which claims to be an independent body, has written to the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network telling them that they should not proceed with their voter education campaign without the commission’s approval.

Nothing could be more calculated to thwart democratic rights and prevent voters from making an informed choice at the polls. Warning: This is about to become another pointless election.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights have written to the Zimbabwe Independent to correct remarks made in this column last week. We lamented the failure of civic organisations such as Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights to stand up for the rights of unpopular state targets such as Simon Mann and Sobusa Gula-Ndebele.

“Nobody in Zimbabwe’s self-satisfied civil society said anything,” we commented on Mann’s extradition. “Very simply they didn’t want to be identified with a mercenary leader and thought it prudent to keep quiet. This reflects the immaturity of our civic and paralegal watchdogs. Outfits like Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights need to speak out for all victims of the regime, not just the politically correct.”

ZLHR responded: “ZLHR released press statements, which were widely circulated, relating to both the extradition of Simon Mann (dated 5 February 2008) and the current events around the suspended Attorney-General (dated 21 December 2007).

“In addition, ZLHR lawyers from our Human Rights Defenders Unit and our Public Interest Litigation Unit attended the tribunal hearing for the suspended Attorney-General when it first commenced and was postponed on 28 January 2008.

“We released an information alert on the same day in relation thereto. Our lawyers attempted to observe the hearing, but were barred after being advised that the proceedings were being held in camera.

Due to the fact the proceedings are ongoing, we will not comment further until the matter is finalised and we have verifiable facts, or else we subject ourselves to contempt of court proceedings. Do not take this to mean that we are not monitoring the developments and compiling evidence of violations in the interim.

“ZLHR, since 2003, has continuously issued press releases condemning the harassment of judicial officers, including magistrates and judges, as well as law officers within the AG’s office, and I refer you in this regard to a 2004 publication of attacks on the judiciary and legal profession in which all the attacks are documented and commented upon, as well as the 2007 publication of ZLHR and the Law Society of Zimbabwe entitled Self-Regulation at a Crossroads: Attacks on lawyers and the independence of the legal profession, both of which have again been widely circulated.”

ZLHR also responded to accusations that it did not stand up for the rights of commercial farmers.

“In relation to what I presume is the Campbell matter, I wish to inform you that ZLHR filed a communication with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights challenging the ouster of the jurisdiction of the court in matters relating to land acquisition brought about by CA 17 and the matter is pending before the Commission.

“We were the first organisation to take action in this manner following the passage of CA 17. We cannot comment on the outcome of the constitutional challenge, or any related cases, as this will form the basis of our further submissions to the commission on the exhaustion of domestic remedies, and public comment again could be seen as contempt of the commission’s procedures.

“Whilst we appreciate that Muckraker is usually a necessary satirical commentary on the state of affairs in Zimbabwe and further afield, it would be appreciated if the commentary is not false or misleading and does not denigrate the efforts of human rights organisations in Zimbabwe working in an extremely oppressive operating environment.

“ZLHR is a non-partisan organisation and we subscribe to the fostering of a culture of human rights throughout the country, where the fundamental rights and freedoms of all people are protected and promoted.

“For an idea of the impact of our work, I would urge you to visit the website of the Zimbabwe Ministry of Home Affairs and read the publication entitled: Opposition Forces in Zimbabwe: The Naked Truth to see what our efforts have led to.”

Russia under President Putin is becoming increasingly assertive as it reclaims its place on the world stage. Viewers of CNN and the BBC will have been struck in recent documentaries by the purchasing power of the country’s new middle class which has built luxury mansions in Moscow’s suburbs and doesn’t hesitate to flaunt its new-found wealth.

But in one area Russia is still very backward. Much of its media continues to serve a public relations function rather than hold up a mirror to the regime.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the regular press conferences Putin holds which have become set-piece affairs where journalists ask him questions that would make ZTV interviewers sound aggressive.

They compete among themselves to see who can ask the most unchallenging and in some cases grovelling questions which serve only to make the Russian ruler appear omnipotent. And these are the cream of Russia’s media profession.

“How can I give you a St Valentine’s Day present?” one female reporter asked last week.

“Come here,” was the presidential response!

“How would you spend your first day out of office,” a senior official helpfully enquired ahead of Putin’s retirement.

“By spending an extra hour in bed,” Putin replied.

These and other such gems provided us with much insight as to how the press in some societies fails to perform its role as a public watchdog and allows leaders to evade accountability. The press conference lasted several hours.

ZTV interviewers may care to review the tape to pick up helpful hints.

Here are some thoughts from Muckraker ahead of the birthday interview: “Mr President, you have dug a very impressive hole for the nation. How much further do you propose to go on digging?”

“Mr President, you have had 28 years to rescue the country’s economy and provide a better life for our people. How long do you think you need to go on doing what you have failed to do over the past quarter century?”

“Mr President, you are surrounded by Class A Bootlickers like Emmerson Mnangagwa, Didymus Mutasa, Obert Mpofu, and Nolbert Kunonga. What quality of advice have these admirers offered to you and what tangible examples can you provide of where that advice has benefited the nation?”

Mpofu was in fine form recently urging the people of Umguza to support him. While there were no whites actually standing against him, he said, “it was imperative for the people to know that the whites had already sent their stooges”. They were making lists of farms they wanted to restore to their former white owners, Mpofu charged.

The only way to prevent reversing the gains of land reform was to vote for President Mugabe, he said.

“I assure you that as long as you give me your mandate nobody will come between us. Anyone who pokes his nose into Umguza should know that he would have entered my bedroom and should be wary of the consequences.”

Mpofu took a swipe at local rival Mark Mbayiwa who he said was not a registered party member. It was said he had been sent by the elders to stand against Mpofu. In which case, Mpofu said, the elders should come themselves to oppose him.

In a revealing remark, Mpofu claimed some members of the ruling party were using party resources to support independent candidates such as those who nominated Mbayiwa.

What is so revealing about this campaign is that the ruling party is hanging out its dirty laundry for the edification of voters. And it’s not a pretty sight!

We can imagine the gnashing of teeth and fist-waving going on at State House last weekend. There was President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, portrayed as one of Zimbabwe’s closest allies in the region, receiving President Bush amidst pomp and ceremony.

What was striking about the Bush visit was the warmth of the reception. This was a great deal more than protocol required. And the US first couple obviously felt at home.

President Mugabe has repeatedly told us that Zimbabwe’s allies have stood up for us in the councils of the world. They have provided no purchase to the Bush-Brown stance on Zimbabwe, we are told.

But last weekend Bush rebuked Mugabe as “a discredited dictator” saying he looked forward to the hour when “the nightmare is over and the people of Zimbabwe regain their freedom”.

Speaking ahead of his five-nation African tour, Bush said Zimbabweans deserved a better leader.

“In Zimbabwe a discredited dictator presides over food shortages, staggering inflation, and harsh repression,” the US president said. “The decent and talented people of that country deserve much better.”

A couple of days later he was being embraced by Tanzania’s leader. What a fitting rebuke to Zimbabwe’s state propagandists who have told us how hated Bush is in Africa.

There was no mention by his hosts on his five-nation tour of solidarity with Zimbabwe. Nobody said sanctions against the Zanu PF regime should be lifted.

So who do we listen to: the regime’s public relations officers who tell us how popular Mugabe is elsewhere in Africa; or the tens of thousands who turned out to greet Bush on his sweep through Africa?

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