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Comment: Crisis? What Crisis?

IT was inevitable that the South African press would have a field day with President Thabo Mbeki’s remarks in Harare last weekend: “Crisis? What crisis?” he was reported as saying in the abridged version.

Once again he looked delusional. And, as when he denied the extent of crime in South Africa or the role of HIV in the spread of Aids, he deserved the excoriating editorials that followed.

Zimbabwe’s multi-faceted crisis is invisible only to the politically blind. And it is escalating with every passing week.

Mbeki advised Zimbabweans to wait for the ZEC’s announcement of results. But South Africans would never put up with a delay of over two weeks.

The same weekend that Mbeki and several of his Sadc colleagues were in denial, reports from Mudzi, Mutoko and Hurungwe, Zanu PF strongholds where significant numbers of people changed allegiance to vote for the MDC, revealed a pattern of retaliation and violence by ruling-party supporters.

This is clearly an orchestrated campaign to reverse the electoral outcome.

 It is perhaps the most serious example of misrule in the country. People are being denied their right to elect a government of their choice. Instead a wayward ruler is hanging on to power, not because he has answers to the country’s myriad problems but simply to exercise power for its own sake.

Yet Sadc leaders are looking the other way. Mbeki ignored the violence and coercion reported now from Zimbabwe on a daily basis but repeated his mantras about the rule of law.

 He even chuckled at Mugabe’s asinine remarks about Gordon Brown.

Thankfully, his party no longer thinks the same way. The ANC’s national working committee on Monday urged the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to immediately announce the results of the country’s presidential election. The committee said a run-off without the results of the March 29 poll would be “undemocratic”.

Even Sydney Mufamadi, one of the negotiators in the inter-party talks and an Mbeki acolyte, thinks the results should be released.

“There are parts of the elections whose results are outstanding, and Sadc, as you know, met on Saturday and Sunday,” he told SABC. “At the end of that meeting Sadc asked the electoral authorities to release the outstanding results.

 That’s all Sadc can do.”

Not entirely. It can condemn political violence. It can condemn electoral chicanery. It can stop being supine when one of its members unashamedly violates Sadc’s Mauritius guidelines on electoral conduct.

That protocol requires member states to establish independent electoral supervisory agencies, not outfits suborned by the executive.

The withholding of presidential election results so Zanu PF can manipulate the outcome is an egregious breach of both the regional guidelines and Zimbabwean law. We are currently all prisoners of the losing party.

Then there is that dossier. The ruling party appears to have manufactured a dossier said to have been authored by the secretary-general of the MDC and used the transparently false claims in this document to justify holding on to power.

Totalitarian states have down the ages used similar techniques to warrant their grip on power. But rarely have they been so clumsy or so obvious. And the government media, knowing the document was false, dutifully carried it.

Zimbabwe is a state in which democracy has been suffocated. On March 29 voters tried to make a difference. But given the resources of the state and the determination of a ruthless dictator to remain in office despite his record of failure, the odds were against them.

But the difference between this year and 2005 is that the people of Zimbabwe know there has been a concerted attempt to steal the election. Previously that was only an assumption. And we have the performance of the ZEC to thank for this clarity. Nobody doubts it now. Just ask around.

But whatever the outcome, we can be proud that the people of this country, in a democratic contest, defeated an indelibly evil regime and its dishonest claims.

Its friends in Sadc may wish it weren’t so. But judging by their 13-hour conclave last Saturday night, even they are beginning to have their doubts.

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