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Address crisis first before new election

By Dewa Mavhinga

The recent Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit held in Windhoek appears to be yet another damp squib. There was much talk but little action to address southern Africa’s multiple crises.

For instance, expectations that SADC would decisively deal with the perennial political crisis in Zimbabwe were dashed. President Jacob Zuma presented an overly positive report on progress in Zimbabwe which the leaders swiftly swept under the carpet.

SADC leaders, in reality an “old boys club” failed to come up with a clear roadmap towards fresh elections in Zimbabwe. Elections that, for once, would not see citizens pay for their democratic choice with an arm and a leg.

Zimbabwe civil society groups including Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition have called for SADC leaders to be the midwife for a democratic election in the country. Far from heeding this call, the “old boys club” appears to have shown the middle finger to democracy and justice when they moved swiftly to silence the SADC Tribunal which had ruled against the Zimbabwean government in a number of land reform cases.

It appears SADC’s modus operandi in addressing serious regional problems of the democracy deficit in countries like Zimbabwe and Swaziland is to ignore the problems. It is a classical case of the ostrich burying its head in the sand. Sadly, ignoring problems will not solve or make them go away. SADC must act, and act quickly to avert a repeat of chaos and violence that characterised Zimbabwe’s 2008 elections.

Talk of 2011 elections in Zimbabwe should be matched with adequate preparations to ensure that the army remains in the barracks and does not in any way interfere with electoral processes. Three decades of Zanu PF conflating the party and the state in the quest for a de-facto one-party-state has eroded the independence and impartiality of Zimbabwe’s key institutions. Owing to superficial reforms, these institutions remain too weak and compromised to prevent state-sponsored violence or to deliver a democratic election.

To prevent another stillbirth for democracy in Zimbabwe, SADC leaders should guarantee the democratic transfer of power to an ultimate winner after a free, nonviolent poll.  This of course means SADC leaders should face Zimbabwe’s security chiefs who have in the past vowed to “go back to the bush if Zanu PF loses.” All indications are that it was the security chiefs who in 2008 defied the winds of change and carried out a coup by stealth.

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Like anyone else, security chiefs are driven by self-interest. Unfortunately, their twin interests — amnesty for horrific human rights abuses and security of ill-gotten wealth — cannot be guaranteed. To do that would be to spit in the faces of thousands of victims who have a right to justice. The only way to decisively deal with them would be for SADC to remove its protective arm around Mugabe and his inner circle and tell them in no uncertain terms that they are on their own.

It may be necessary for SADC to deploy a peace-keeping force in Zimbabwe well ahead of and after an election.

The constitutional reform exercise currently underway in Zimbabwe, which SADC is paying scant attention to, reveals a lot about what has and what has not changed in the power-politics matrix. The chaos, violence and intimidation authored predominantly by president Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party around the constitutional outreach program clearly indicates that instruments of repression remain active and that they are likely to be used again in future elections.

It would be wrong to believe that the delays to the constitutional reform process are merely due to administrative or bureaucratic bungling; they are due to a deliberate strategy to derail the process and ensure that few people present their views.

SADC leaders should deploy monitors in Zimbabwe to closely assess the ongoing constitution-making process and to investigate reports of widespread violence, intimidation and the setting up of militia bases across the country. The constitution-making process is a litmus test that shows just how committed Zimbabwe’s political leaders are to democracy. All the signs are there that any election in Zimbabwe without external assistance such as supervision by SADC would be a repeat of the 2008 sham election.

The only lasting solution to the continuing political crisis in Zimbabwe is a fresh election that is supervised by SADC and monitored by the international community to prevent violence and other electoral malpractices.

To call for elections without putting in place adequate measures to prevent violence would be to unnecessarily put the lives on Zimbabweans in danger. Democracy remains dangerous business in Zimbabwe.

Dewa Mavhinga is Regional Coordinator for Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, South Africa Office.