The Botswana Foreign Minister, Phandu Skelemani, has taken the unusual step of criticising President Thabo Mbeki over his dogged insistence that there is no electoral crisis in Zimbabwe.
With the results of the presidential election not released more than two weeks after polling, Mbeki raised eyebrows worldwide by claiming, after a meeting with Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe at the weekend, that ‘there is no crisis in Zimbabweâ€.
Referring to the extraordinary SADC summit on Zimbabwe in Lusaka at the weekend, Skelemani said: ‘Everyone agreed that things are not normal, except Mbeki. Maybe Mbeki is so deeply involved that he firmly believes things are going right.
‘But now he understands that the rest of SADC feels this is a matter of urgency and we are risking lives and limbs being lost. He got that message clearly.â€
Although it was not articulated in its official communiquÃ©, the SADC summit gave the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) five days to verify and release the results of the presidential election.
Skelemani confirmed this, describing Zimbabwean attempts to compare the delay with ballot counting glitches in the past in the United States, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo as ‘nonsense … which won’t washâ€.
‘We couldn’t expect them to have it finished by Monday. So now we give them a few days to do the verification with the representatives of the opposition parties present,â€ he said.
But, he conceded that SADC could do nothing except ‘bring pressure to bear on the government and get Mugabe to ensure that the ZEC brings the resultsâ€.
Botswana is one of a minority of SADC countries that wants a tougher line on Zimbabwe — in part because it has been hard hit by the mass exodus of Zimbabean economic refugees. With Malawi and Mauritius, it sided with Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) at the SADC summit.
However, Mugabe’s heavyweight allies, principally Mozambique’s President Armando Guebuza, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila, Namibia’s Hifikepunye Pohamba and Angola’s JosÃ© Eduardo dos Santos, blocked a tougher stance.
Calling only for the results to be released, the communiquÃ© issued at the end of the summit was the slightest tap on the wrist for Mugabe.
Skelemani remarked cynically that the Zanu-PF delegation at the summit, led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, had agreed to release the results ‘because they don’t want to be seen as spoilersâ€.
Mugabe had not attended the summit because ‘he wasn’t consulted when the summit was arranged … Now it is a question of revenge — you snubbed me, now I snub you.
‘If he had come in person and heard what his counterparts had to say, he would [better] appreciate the way they think.â€
Skelemani said that in the case of a run-off in Zimbabwe’s presidential poll, the SADC would need to send a larger monitoring group to observe the elections.
‘People with more credibility need to be sent. If you send the same team you’ll not be able to cover the whole country and you have to make sure that there is an observer at every polling station. The SADC team will need to be beefed up.â€
Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said on Thursday that South African observers would travel to Harare at the weekend to watch over the vote recount in 23 constituencies. Zanu-PF is disputing the results in these constituencies.
In a telephonic interview with the Mail & Guardian the chairperson of the ZEC, George Chiweshe, said he would reject any attempt by SADC to tell it what to do.
‘I don’t know what SADC said. We are an independent commission. We don’t take orders from SADC and even if we get them, we will reject them.â€
Chiweshe said the commission was still awaiting a high court ruling on a recount of the polling in 23 constituencies. A reversal of these results would overturn the opposition’s narrow victory in the parliamentary elections.
He described as ‘erroneousâ€ widespread media reports on Monday that the Harare High Court had forbidden the ZEC to recount, as this would be grossly unreasonable before the results had been released.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said to its knowledge there is no court case pending.
Skelemani also said that Botswana would not accommodate MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who returned to Gaborone on Tuesday, after landing in Harare and feeling unsafe, for an unlimited time.
‘If he did not win the presidential election, we will say to him ‘my friend, you’ve lost, go back home’.â€
An African diplomat in Harare who attended the summit said the MDC had the wrong game plan at the summit.
‘It needed to push for specific matters that were within SADC’s reach. I would’ve expected it to go after a targeted, strong statement from SADC demanding the immediate release of results. Instead it wanted SADC to declare its leader president.â€
Reclaiming Parliament is important for Mugabe, as the legislature would have to vote in his successor.
‘He knows he will have to step down soon. Even within the party, there is consensus that we cannot carry on like this,â€ a senior member of Mugabe’s politburo said.
‘But you have to understand that Mugabe will step down only for a Zanu-PF person, not for Tsvangirai.â€