By Alex Bell
19 March 2013
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is being urged to intervene in the ongoing crackdown against civic groups in Zimbabwe, in order to ensure a conducive environment for democratic elections this year.
This call was made by international rights monitor Human Rights Watch on Tuesday, which said that SADC, as the guarantors of the unity government in Zimbabwe, needed to provide the ‘democratic space’ for elections expected this year.
Human Rights Watch urged the member countries of SADC to press the Zimbabwean government to permit civil society organizations to be allowed to operate freely without government harassment as a crucial part of creating an environment conducive to holding credible, free, and fair elections.
“The systematic police campaign against civil society organizations appears designed to disrupt civil society operations and stop them from the important work of monitoring the human rights environment ahead of the elections,” said Human Rights Watch’s Africa Advocacy Director Tiseke Kasambala.
Kasambala said in a statement that, “the government of Zimbabwe should respect and protect space for unfettered civil society operations.”
“Zimbabwe’s authorities cannot expect to create a rights-respecting environment ahead of elections in the context of repression, harassment, and intimidation of civil society activists,” Kasambala said.
This call comes as South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, the SADC appointed mediator in Zimbabwe’s political crisis, has urged the inclusive government to reform the security sector ahead of the polls this year. Zuma made the recommendations at a recent meeting of the regional body’s Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, held in Pretoria.
Zuma also called for the strengthening of the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC) to deal with cases of political violence, stating in a report that his facilitation team “supplemented by the representatives of Tanzania and Zambia must be enabled to participate actively in JOMIC.”
“Without the above two points it will be difficult to ensure that there is no intimidation and that violence is not allowed to escalate, if and when it occurs,” Zuma said in his report.
Zuma is also facing criticism after his ANC party in South Africa vowed to support ZANU PF in the coming elections. ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza stated last week that ZANU PF “have gained the necessary experience and wealth of knowledge over that time to benefit the people of that country and govern again.”
He added: “The people of Zimbabwe will decide who governs them, but if called on to assist, we won’t hesitate in coming to their assistance to ensure they are successful. This is the same way in which we would consider any requests from any other liberation movement we have ties with.”
South African based political analyst Daniel Molokele said that the ANC’s support for ZANU PF was not out of the ordinary and was not something that would affect Zuma’s facilitation role. He said that it is “telling” that the comments did not come from Zuma himself.
“As a Zimbabwean who has been in South Africa for many years, I don’t believe there is cause for concern when the ANC expresses its support for ZANU PF. It will not affect how Zuma operates as the facilitator,” Molokele told SW Radio Africa.