PRETORIA – Sadc is keeping pressure on Zimbabwe to hold free and fair elections next week despite attempts by President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party to divert the region’s attention from important issues around the polls.
The region’s organ for politics, defence and security said yesterday, after its emergency meeting in Pretoria to assess Zimbabwe’s preparedness for the elections, that it was imperative that the polls were credible and free of “problems”.
It also bemoaned the fact that Mugabe had ignored its calls to push the plebiscite to a later date than July 31.
Zimbabwe is facing major challenges ahead of the polls, including battling to raise the $132 million needed for the exercise, as well as debilitating logistical challenges such as those witnessed last week during the special voting period.
Hosted by South African President Jacob Zuma, the facilitator to the Zimbabwean crisis, the surprise four-nation special summit was also attended by President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique.
Namibia’s Foreign Minister Netumbo Ndaitwa stood in for President Hifikepunye Pohamba.
The summit — the latest in a long series of special meetings on Zimbabwe — was called after Mugabe insulted Lindiwe Zulu, Zuma’s trusted international relations adviser and his main point-person on Zimbabwe, in an unprovoked attack two weeks ago that angered the South Africans and regional leaders.
Notwithstanding this astonishing outburst by the octogenarian, Zulu told the media last week that there were worrying signs from the ground ahead of Zimbabwe’s elections, which Saturday’s meeting assessed.
“You can see the challenges they face, even the incident of early voters where half of them could not vote, partly because of the gravity of time. It will be a tough election to organise but we are prepared to work with the people of Zimbabwe to have an election that will be credible enough,” Kikwete said yesterday.
Kikwete also said Sadc would not be drawn into the disparaging comments by Mugabe on Zulu, who Mugabe called a “stupid, street woman”.
“Unfortunately, the summit did not discuss that, therefore there is no view,” Kikwete diplomatically said to questions from the media.
At the official age of 89, Mugabe — one of the world’s oldest and longest ruling leaders — is campaigning to extend his tenure in office for a further five years.
Life and health permitting, Zimbabwe’s new Constitution also allows him to seek a further five-year term after this – which potentially means that he would be a centurion by the end of his new legal terms if he wins both mandates.
Although Sadc’s official communiqué released yesterday noted the problems that arose during Zimbabwe’s special voting period, it also said that it was pleased that all political parties in the country appeared committed to a peaceful environment during the forthcoming elections.
“Summit encouraged the government, all political parties and leaders to continue with these commendable efforts which will help realise credible elections,” the communiqué said.
It commended the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) for “taking these (problems) up as challenges to be overcome on July 31, and called upon all political parties to co-operate as fully as possible with Zec in order to ensure that it is able to meet these challenges”.