Since 2008 the Mail & Guardian has been trying to have the report released, amid widespread speculation that it contained evidence showing that Zimbabwe’s 2002 disputed election was not free or fair.
Judge Sisi Khampepe and Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke were at the time commissioned by then president Thabo Mbeki to visit Zimbabwe and report back on the state of the election.
The report was handed to Mbeki but never made public, although the former president insisted the electoral process in Zimbabwe was completely democratic.
Zimbabwe’s Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede said President Robert Mugabe had received about 54% of the vote cast with his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC getting 40%. Three minor candidates received 6% among themselves.
Tsvangirai said the presidential election was rigged and described Mugabe’s win as “daylight robbery”.
The Mail & Guardian’s efforts to access the details of the report were repeatedly denied, leaving it with little choice but to seek the intervention of the High Court. The government, now under President Jacob Zuma’s leadership, was given seven days to release the report to the Mail & Guardian, after the High Court ruled in the newspaper’s favour last Friday.
The government can appeal in that time, but its plan of action was not yet known.
Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes on Monday said that he was “extremely pleased” with the outcome of the court challenge, calling it a victory for “freedom of information in South Africa”.
He said there was a “sense” that the report “will say something very different to what Mbeki was saying about the elections in Zimbabwe”.
The government has argued that the report was “confidential” and a “record of the cabinet and its committee”.
They said it contained information “supplied in confidence by or on behalf of another state, for the purpose of assessing or formulating a policy”, and that the content of the report was not in the public interest.
The government has also argued that the report would lead to a deterioration of relations between the two countries, as South Africa is the facilitator in Zimbabwe’s political crisis.
The newspaper has in turn argued that the report is of enormous public interest, as the 2002 elections were marred by vote-rigging, intimidation, violence and fraud by Mugabe’s government, despite South Africa’s contention that the election was free and fair.
Dawes said the report was never handed to cabinet despite being described as a “document of cabinet” and instead remained within the office of the president, arousing more suspicions of its content.
He described the court’s decision as an important one for South Africans who he said were left “injured” by the government’s abysmal handling of the Zimbabwe crisis.
Mbeki faced international criticism for his policy of “quiet diplomacy” towards Zimbabwe, a policy that many say has damaged South Africa’s own reputation.
Dawes said that it was a “painful and difficult period” for South Africa, because “it seemed to jar with our own democratic values”.
“The truth of the report might be a way to address some of the hurt and frustration by reasserting our democratic values,” Dawes said, expressing hope that the Zuma administration would not fight the court’s ruling “too hard”.
“The Zuma administration has taken a more robust and assertive approach than Mbeki, and appealing this ruling and hiding this report will be very damaging,” he said. — SW Radio Africa and Staff Writer.