Can Khampepe change how elections are monitored?

The release of the Khampepe report is a victory for Zimbabweans who have been trying to tell the world that they are ruled by a government they don’t deserve, the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum said on Saturday.

But it will be a hollow victory if independent organisations do not change the way they monitor African elections in the future.

“This is a victory for all the Zimbabweans who have always been struggling under a dictatorship and have been telling the world that they have a government that they don’t deserve – a government that has imposed its will forcibly on the population,” forum chairperson Gabrielle Shumba told the Mail & Guardian after the long-fought for Khampepe report, released on Friday, revealed that the 2002 Zimbabwe elections were not “free and fair”.

“What we can hope for is that intergovernmental bodies such as the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum, the African Union Election Observation Mission and other missions that will come from outside the continent should ensure that future elections in Africa are monitored a long time before they commence and also monitored longer after they [finish],” Shumba said.

The findings of the Khampepe report were made public following a Constitutional Court judgment handed down on Friday that terminated government’s lengthy attempts to keep the report under wraps.

Former South African presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe and President Jacob Zuma have spent more than six years fighting the M&G‘s attempts to have the report released, stating, among other reasons, that the contents of the report would be used to inform government policy.

Withheld information
Right to Know spokesperson Murray Hunter said the suppression of the report’s release was a “classic example of information being withheld to protect those in power from embarrassing revelations”.

“The information reveals that international diplomacy is full of disregard for basic human rights.”

He said this case was a reminder to the public that “massive amounts of money are being used to block information and that the public pays twice for this”.

“The South African public pays once in terms of the millions [of rands spent on] legal fees, and it pays a second time when it is denied access to information.

“If the public had known then what we now know, it would have changed the way South Africa either supported or engaged with the Zimbabwean government.”

The report, commissioned by Mbeki, was written by then Pretoria high court judge Dikgang Moseneke and Johannesburg high court judge Sisi Khampepe.

Mbeki had tasked the two judges, now serving on the Constitutional Court bench, with leading the Judicial Observer Mission to cover the March 8 to 10 Zimbabwe presidential elections and drawing up a report on their observations.

‘Double standards’
Shumba said the report exposed the “double standards of South African leadership”.

“This is leadership that claims to have democratic concerns for the continent and has told the world that African problems need African solutions but … [who] don’t care much about democracy. If they did, they would have condemned the previous elections, all elections that [Zimbabwean President Robert] Mugabe has held, [and the irregularities] that the South African government has covered up,” he said.

The 27-page document found the running of the three-day voting process, excluding delays in urban areas Harare and Chitungwiza, to have complied with the legislative requirements and to have been free of violence and/or apparent ballot tampering.

But the judges weighed this finding against pre-election activities such as intimidation and the deaths of 107 mainly opposition members and lengthy legal battles to change laws in favour of Zanu-PF, largely around citizenship and the reduction of polling stations in urban areas, where the strongest opposition party Movement for Democratic change had its largest support base.

Despite claims from some observers that Mugabe’s Zanu-PF had used violence and changing of citizenship rules to sway the vote in his favour, the Khampepe report, as it became known, was never released to the South African public and Mbeki continued to endorse the elections and its results.

Civil society
Right to Know and the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum agreed that the struggle for the release of the report showed that civil society needed to be supported in holding presidents to account.

Shumba said ordinary citizens usually are “not empowered by regional institutions to be able to hold presidents to account – that can only be done by civil society at a regional level”.

Hunter said it is “through perseverance and dedication and doggedness that important information like this can be accessed and then we can begin to assert our rights”.

“It’s a long and tiresome process, sometimes, but civil society needs to be supported in this.”

But using the Promotion of Access to Information Act is not the only way.

“We need to take a range of other steps to make sure access to information is gained, like campaigning in the streets, engaging parliament, door to door campaigning … by doing this, you show that access is a political right and not just a legal process.”

Turning point
The report pointed out that the 2002 elections were a turning point in Zimbabwean electoral history, with Zanu-PF going from a 93% majority in the 1996 presidential elections to just 51.9% in 2002.

It was principally the pre-polling and other environment that informed our assessment of the conduct of elections. We recognise that the opposition parties fully participated in the electoral process up to the end. We acknowledge that on polling days, no significant irregularities have in Harare and Chitungwisa occurred, the report said.

“However,” the judges concluded, “having regard to all the circumstances, and in particular the cumulative substantial departures from international standards of free and fair elections found in Zimbabwe during the pre-election period, these elections, in our view, cannot be considered free and fair.”

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