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Cabinet on Zim election: Successful? Yes. Free and fair? Meh

What does a "successful harmonised" election mean?

Is it the same as a free and fair election?

And on what is President Jacob Zuma's Cabinet basing its pronouncement that the recently held Zimbabwe elections were successful?

These are questions that put a senior government spokesperson and a Cabinet minister into a spin during a post-Cabinet briefing on Monday morning.

A prepared media statement, following last Wednesday's Cabinet meeting read: "The Cabinet congratulated the people of Zimbabwe and political parties on holding successful harmonised parliamentary and local elections."

"Cabinet commended the efforts of President Jacob Zuma as the Southern African Development Community [SADC] facilitator on the Zimbabwe Dialogue in ensuring that all political parties were committed to peaceful elections," continued the statement.

Zuma has led a four year facilitation process in Zimbabwe on behalf of the SADC, which concluded with the July 31 elections.

'Anything but free and fair'
SADC is yet to meet and pronounce on the Zimbabwe elections, which many observers have claimed were anything but free and fair.

This is why journalists in Parliament questioned the Cabinet's use of the word "successful" with regards to the Zimbabwe elections and whether this was not premature considering Zuma's role in those elections.

"Given that the president's mandate comes from SADC, is it not premature for the Cabinet to declare the Zimbabwe elections successful [and also] given that the SADC meeting is yet to take place?" asked one.

Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams responded: "The Cabinet has congratulated the people of Zimbabwe on the harmonised parliamentary and local elections, it did not get to discuss what SADC's position is going to be; it didn't discuss what is going to happen thereafter. It only commended the peaceful elections that were held in Zimbabwe."

Journalists were not convinced, and more questions arose.

"Could you please explain what does "congratulating Zimbabwe on a successful election mean?" asked another.

"What is the Cabinet actually saying: do you accept the result, do you think it was free and fair?"

Decision pending
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, who attended the briefing to explain matters relating to her portfolio, jumped in.

"We didn't make any pronouncements on the state of the election. So there has [been] no pronouncement on whether the election is free or fair. We have just acknowledged that it has been successful," she said.

Joemat-Pettersson said a pronouncement on the elections would be made once the SADC has met and a decision is taken there.

"So we are in no way making a pronouncement on the elections, we are congratulating that the elections ran smoothly without violence and without any incident of severe violence."

Does the government believe that you can have a successful election without having a free and fair election?

"We have not declared whether the elections were free or fair. We do not have an opinion on that," said Joemat-Pettersson wrapping up the press conference.

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