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Mbeki rewrites his administration’s SA-Zimbabwe relations

His administration’s much-criticised “quiet diplomacy” approach to political crises in Zimbabwe had been based on an “unwavering determination to respect the right of the people of Zimbabwe to determine their own future,” former President Thabo Mbeki said this week.

South Africa had always held that Zimbabwe could only develop if it remained democratic, Mbeki wrote in the latest of a series of letters on his Facebook page on various issues, and crucial elections in that country in 2002 had been fair.

On this, he said, everyone had agreed, including two observer missions South Africa sent to monitor the 2002 elections.

“With no intervention by government, these two observer missions, like all others, determined that the declared outcome of the elections reflected the will of the people of Zimbabwe,” Mbeki wrote in a letter first published on Monday.

Robert Mugabe won 56.2% of the vote in the fiercely contested 2002 presidential elections, to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s 42%.

That election outcome, and the conditions under which the poll was conducted, set the scene for elections in Zimbabwe six years later that Mbeki on Monday described as “marked by a lot of violence”.

In his analysis of South Africa’s position on Zimbabwe, Mbeki harked back as far as 1978, but never acknowledged the concerns about the 2002 elections expressed by observers from Commonwealth nations, Ghana, Japan, Norway and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). He also fails to mention that opposition parties that formed part of South Africa’s parliamentary observer group said they could not endorse the election result, but were overruled by the ANC majority on that mission.

Crucially, Mbeki also entirely ignores South Africa’s Judicial Observer Mission to Zimbabwe in 2002, and the findings it put to him in what would later become known as the Khampepe Report. That report was made public in November 2014 after a six-year legal battle by the Mail & Guardian that was furiously opposed by first Mbeki’s administration and later by those of caretaker President Kgalema Motlanthe and President Jacob Zuma.

Choosing stability over democracy
Unacknowledged for 12 years, the report to Mbeki by then high court judges Dikgang Moseneke and Sisi Khampepe acknowledges that opposition parties had participated in the elections and had no significant counting irregularities to report.

“However,” it 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.”

Had Mbeki disclosed the contents of that report at the time, Tsvangirai told the M&G after the publication of the Khampepe report, SADC could have exerted more pressure for free conditions in subsequent elections, which would have opened up democratic space in Zimbabwe. Instead, he said, Mbeki had chosen stability over democracy.

After the publication of the report in 2014 Mbeki said he would make no apology for dismissing it.

“Given its composition and mandate, we came to the firm conclusion that it was not credibly possible for the judges’ mission to come to a conclusion about all major elements of the elections based on its own direct observations,” he wrote in a letter to the M&G.

“In any event there was no expectation or requirement that it should make such a determination.

“The concrete reality was that the judges’ mission had neither the capacity nor the mandate to carry out the observation work done by [other SA missions], and it exceeded both its capacity and its mandate.”

What Mbeki failed to mention

Zimbabwe’s 2002 elections had been free and fair, former president Thabo Mbeki again insisted this week, making no mention of a report to the contrary by two judges who now serve in the Constitutional Court. 

In their view, Dikgang Moseneke and Sisi Khampepe said at the time, the elections were marred by:  

  • The killing of at least 107 people in the pre-election period, most of them thought to be supporters of Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change; 
  • Violence and intimidation perpetrated by the youth militia of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF;
  • “Violence and threats of violence, arson and hostage taking” relating to the elections that “curtailed freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and of association of voters”; 
  • An undetermined number of people who were prevented from voting through the reduction in urban constituencies; 
  • Bias and partial treatment by police, state media and others; 
  • Drastic amendments to electoral laws, by executive decree from Mugabe, that made the voters’ roll confused, opaque and subject to manipulation by officials.

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Phillip De Wet
Guest Author

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