THE protracted six-year legal battle between the Mail & Guardian and successive South African governments over the release of the Khampepe report on the 2002 Zimbabwe presidential elections underlines all too clearly a dichotomy that exists between the citizenry of Sadc countries and their leaders who are apparently hell-bent on protecting each other from democratic scrutiny.
The report compiled by then Pretoria High Court judge Dikgang Moseneke and Johannesburg High Court judge Sisi Khampepe at the instigation of then South African President Thabo Mbeki remained under lock and key until last week after the Mail & Guardian successfully petitioned the courts for its release, following years of Mbeki and his successors Kgalema Motlanthe and current President Jacob Zuma’s steadfast refusal to make it public.
The report noted numerous glaring irregularities before and during the polls controversially won by President Robert Mugabe including violence that led to the deaths of at least 107 mainly opposition members (the opposition puts the figure at more than 200), changes to citizenship laws and the reduction of polling stations in urban areas — traditionally MDC strongholds — before concluding that they were not “free and fair.” Most Zimbabweans bore witness to that.
This is hardly new, for Zimbabwe has a long history of controversial elections, with Mugabe — who enjoys full control of all instruments of the state — accused of repeatedly manipulating the electoral landscape and even stealing elections.
Zanu PF’s response to rigging allegations has always been that the electorate chose it for its liberation war credentials while rejecting the MDC for being “Western-sponsored” and harbouring a regime-change agenda.
But the report said: “Having regard to all the circumstances, and in particular the cumulative substantial departures from international standards of free and fair elections found in Zimbabwe during the pre-election period, these elections, in our view, cannot be considered free and fair.” Different election observer missions reached the same conclusion.
Mugabe, in power since Independence in 1980, won the hotly disputed 2002 election after garnering 1 685 212 votes (56,2%), while Morgan Tsvangirai of the then united MDC secured 1 258 401 votes (42%).
Wilson Khumbula of Zanu-Ndonga got 31 368 votes (1%), Shakespeare Maya of the National Alliance For Good Governance managed 11 906 votes (0,4%), and Paul Siwela garnered 11 871 votes (0,4%) after contesting as an independent.
Mugabe’s rivals, particularly the MDC, cried foul — as they have consistently done hence — during the election period and refused to accept the results, insisting the polls were rigged. They argued that the environment was not conducive for free and fair elections owing to widespread violence and intimidation, and the number of polling stations was reduced in opposition strongholds, especially in urban areas.
But while the report has finally come out and the MDC and civil society groups revel in the vindication, is there really anything else to celebrate? There must be lessons that can be drawn for the future, especially in light of the fact that in the 12 years since 2002, Mugabe has not only tenaciously clung on to power by hook or by crook, but also won controversial elections in 2008 and 2013 amid rigging accusations. To cap it all, he has gone on to assume the chair of Sadc.
As such the Sadc citizenry must also be wondering if they have any reason to believe that their leaders can act to protect their democratic rights expressed through an electoral process if a succession of South African presidents can fight so forcefully to supress a report of flawed elections. And what hope is there for them if Mugabe, the beneficiary of Mbeki, Zuma and other African leaders’ flagrant head-in-the-sand approach on Zimbabwe, has been rewarded with the chairship of Sadc?
On Monday, MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu told the Zimbabwe Independent that the report is an indictment on the complicity by some African leaders in the upholding and recognition of clearly flawed electoral results on the continent.
“It proves beyond a shadow of doubt that some leaders are only concerned about showing solidarity amongst themselves regardless of the consequences on the majority of the people,” he said.
“President Mbeki owes the people of Zimbabwe an unconditional and unequivocal apology for fighting tooth and nail to ensure that the Khampepe report was suppressed for all these years.
“Zuma should have done better by seeking to redress what Mbeki had resolutely fought to hide. We are very disappointed with him for aiding and abetting Mbeki’s policy of ‘hearing no evil, seeing no evil and speaking no evil’ about the severely rigged 2002 election in Zimbabwe.”
Lessons should be drawn and implemented to ensure future electoral processes yield credible outcomes, political commentator Alexander Rusero said.
“They have been exonerated even over their complaints about the last elections where Sadc was saying they did not produce compelling evidence of irregularities that would negate the outcome of the polls,” said Rusero.
He added that the conduct of Sadc leaders cast further aspersions on the credibility of subsequent elections held in 2008 and 2013.
“The most important conclusion to be drawn from the report is that election monitoring and observation cannot be left to the whims of Mugabe, Zuma and other leaders to choose who should and who should not monitor elections,” said Rusero.
“It can no longer be seriously claimed that Zimbabwe and other Sadc and African governments can choose on their own who can monitor elections. There should be a holistic process of monitoring elections including all stakeholders even those from the European Union and other international bodies.”