It is a matter of hours to go before voting stations open for Saturday’s elections in Zimbabwe. The Mail & Guardian Online spoke to South African political parties and NGOs ahead of the controversial poll.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions’s Patrick Craven said that the will of the people of Zimbabwe should be reflected in these elections. ”We remain very sceptical as to whether the elections will be free and fair,” he said, adding that the reported intimidation of Zimbabwe’s opposition parties by the ruling Zanu-PF contributes to this scepticism.
President Robert Mugabe has dismissed talk of vote-rigging as ”lies”, portraying his opponents as puppets of his critics in the West.
”We will support any movement chosen by the workers of Zimbabwe. If it is Mugabe that they have chosen, then we will support them,” Craven said.
According to the CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission, Tseliso Thipanyane, South Africa should not underestimate how it may be affected by the Zimbabwean elections.
”Whether we like it or not, the outcome of Zimbabwe’s elections will affect the entire Southern African region, so if the elections turn out not to be free and fair, we must act against the violation of human rights. Even if it means we go to the extent of holding sanctions against Zimbabwe,” he said.
Thipanyane said that the elections should be carefully observed to ensure that Zimbabwe is, in future, governed properly — whether by Mugabe or another candidate.
”We definitely do not want another situation like that of Kenya. If Mugabe takes the reign again, it be only be because the people of Zimbabwe want him there, not for any other reason. It is important that these elections are carefully monitored so that they reflect the voice of the people,” he said.
The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) was bleakly optimistic about the elections. ”Things have already gone very wrong in Zimbabwe, and from that standpoint we do not expect the elections to be any better,” said IFP secretary general Reverend Musa Zondi, adding that it would be surprising if the elections were at all fair.
”We cannot fool ourselves by entertaining positive hopes about Zimbabwe because we are seeing the attitudes of the police, the government and the elite — and from that we can see Mugabe will stay in power.
”The truth is that in any institution the elite has the biggest influence, and if in Zimbabwe the police get salary increases a few weeks before the elections and the electoral commission can be manipulated by the ruling party, it only means that the ruling party will succeed,” said Zondi.
”Mugabe will rule again. It would be a miracle if he didn’t,” he added.
According to Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, leader of the African Christian Democratic Party, most South Africans hope that Mugabe is removed from power and charged with the abuse of human rights.
”That will probably not happen because he would much rather die in power than in jail. He will most probably stay in power, but it would be wrong to use the word ‘win’ because if he stays in power it will not be an honest victory,” he said.
Meshoe said that Mugabe’s success is thanks to the support of President Thabo Mbeki and bodies like the African Union. ”Mugabe has had these people defending him when they should have confronted him about his bad governance. I know that this might sound harsh to the president, but it is true,” he said, adding that Mugabe is taking African democracy backwards.
Citing an eve of poll survey by university researchers, Zimbabwe’s government-controlled Herald daily said on Friday that Mugabe was set to win 57% of the votes on Saturday, thrashing his nearest challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change, by 30 percentage points.
The survey ran contrary to the predictions of independent observers who believe Mugabe (84) — who has led the former British colony since independence in 1980 — will struggle to win a clear majority on Saturday and will then have to enter a run-off within three weeks.
However, South Africa’s official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), was on Friday less concerned about the identity of Zimbabwe’s new leader than about ensuring ”the election is free and fair”.
”Whether it be Simba Makoni, Morgan Tsvangirai or even Robert Mugabe, for that matter, who takes the seat of presidency, the way in which that candidate is put in power should be transparent and fair,” said the DA’s Lindiwe Mazibuko.
She said that the outcome of the election must be representative of what the people of Zimbabwe want. ”We have never hidden our contempt for Mugabe, so we obviously don’t want another Mugabe presidency, but right now this is more about who the people of Zimbabwe want in power for them to go forward.”
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s security forces were placed on full alert on Friday to head off possible violence at this weekend’s elections as Mugabe’s opponents feared the outcome had already been fixed.
In an eve-of-poll press conference, police National Commissioner Augustine Chihuri said that anyone who harboured ”evil” intentions would face the full force of the law.
”Those who have been breathing fire about the Kenyan-style violence should be warned that violence is a poor substitute for intelligence and that it is a monster that can devour its creator, as it is blind and not selective in nature,” he said in a joint statement on behalf of all the security services.
Mugabe himself has warned his opponents to not even ”dare” think about resorting to violence in the event of a victory for the incumbent and his Zanu-PF party.