from MARCUS MUSHONGA in Harare, Zimbabwe
HARARE, (CAJ News) – OVER the years, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc gained a reputation as a club of dictators’ club, with leaders never calling each other out over human rights violations.
The ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has been the main beneficiary of this so-called quiet diplomacy as SADC’s electoral observer mission teams endorsed a series of violent and allegedly rigged elections.
So toothless has been SADC and mother bloc, the African Union (AU), that they were complicit in the military coup that supplanted longtime leader, Robert Mugabe (now late), in 2017.
Thus, the denouncement of the latest election in Zimbabwe apparently represents a major shift of these continental bodies as for the first time, observer teams have offered a genuine assessment of the charade disguised as a poll.
While the parent body, AU, has unlike SADC been critical of some violations elsewhere, besides Zimbabwe, it has also this time waded into the crisis in the Southern African country and also expressed concern at the shambolic poll.
Already ostracised by the West for the past two decades, how Zimbabwe emerges from this criticism from its comrades-in-arms in Africa is a matter of conjecture but this is a country that does not take kindly to foreign countries commenting on its internal affairs.
If the administration led by the ZANU-PF was expecting business as usual in the form of another SADC observer mission giving another shambolic election a clean bill of health, they received a rude awakening as a mission led by a Zambian gave a damning assessment of the August 23 polls.
The SADC mission’s assessment of the elections likely to rattle ties between Zambia and Zimbabwe, suffice to say for some years, Zambia has, alongside Botswana, been in the Mugabe presidency, the two nations to call their neighbour to order over electoral fraud.
An analyst said, “Relations between Zambia and Zimbabwe will never be the same again.”
Relations between Zambia and southern neighbour Zimbabwe were stressed during the Mugabe era and the presidency of Levy Mwanawasa (also deceased) who once famously likened Zimbabwe under Mugabe as “a sinking Titanic” amid a crackdown against critics ahead of the 2008 elections.
Zambia, credited with orchestrating the fall of colonialism in Southern Africa after attaining independence in 1964, is now under the presidency of former opposition leader, Hakainde Hichilema, who is surely aware of the crackdowns against the opposition parties, having been jailed during his stint in the opposition.
Hichilema, with Zambia the incoming Chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, appointed Nevers Mumba, the former Vice-President, as the Head of Mission (HoM) of the SADC Electoral Observation.
“The election fell short of the requirements of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Electoral Act, and the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (2021),” Mumba said in Harare as the SADC mission released its report on the election.
Besides lamenting the chaos on voting day, SADC raised concern at the constitutional and legal framework for the elections, delimitation of constituencies, limited access to the voters roll, violations of the freedoms of assembly and expression, steep fees for nomination of candidates and nomination fees, questionable independence of the Judiciary, intimidation of voters and biased coverage of the parties by state-owned media.
The observer team of the AU and the Common Market of East and Southern Africa (COMESA) also raised concern.
Irregularities such as a shortage of ballot papers and the arrest of civil society officials also dominated the thumbs down.
At a hastily-arranged press conference late on Friday, ZANU-PF came out firing and singled Mumba for criticism.
“Mumba abused his role as the head of the SADC observer mission,” charged Chris Mutsvangwa, ZANU-PF spokesperson.
He recalled that the original training of combatants of the liberation struggle came from Zambia and Tanzania.
“Mumba should go and read the history of this country. It’s not your duty to be a constitutional body of Zimbabwe,” Mutsvangwa said.
“Zimbabwe is a sovereign state and can’t be challenged by those who habour Western interests. The Zimbabwe state is sacrosanct and we fear no state,” the combative spokesperson said.
“We will not be taught democracy by any foreign nation, especially those hostile to us. A certain head of delegation from a certain SADC country decided to delve into matters that don’t concern him.”
The social media platform, X, formerly Twitter, suspended the account believed to be that of presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, amid alleged threats towards Mumba.
Political commentator, Chipo Dendere, noted this fallout was momentous in the history of Zimbabwe, a founding member of the 16-member SADC, coinciding with Zimbabwe attaining independence in 1980.
“This is historical. AU and SADC have never criticized ZANU PF,” she said.
Another analyst, Hlathwayo Gladys Kudzaishe, said, “The sham is being called out for what it is.”
Saviour Kasukuwere, expelled from the ZANU-PF and barred by the courts to contest as an independent, believes new elections are the solution.
“This sham is outright fraud and is not credible,” the exiled former minister said.
How this fallout pans out remains to be seen but it leaves Zimbabwe stuck in quicksand.
The administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is seeking a second term as president, has been eager to mend relations with creditors.
The crises in Zimbabwe have sparked a regional migration crisis, hence it appears the AU and SADC have run out of patience.
The West is likely to tighten the screws on sanctions imposed on the impoverished country.
The European Union Election Observer Mission also gave a damning verdict of Zimbabwe’s electoral exercise.
It summed it up as “curtailed rights and lack of level playing field compounded by intimidation, with election day largely calm, but disorderly.”
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said it would announce the presidential election results within five days of the last polling day, which was August 24.
Unofficial results had the lead exchanging between Mnangagwa (80) and his rival, Nelson Chamisa (45), of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).
– CAJ News