By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
02 May 2014
Skepticism has greeted news that ZANU PF will be overseeing South Africa’s general elections next week, with concern raised about the ‘erosion’ of democratic values in the region.
Robert Mugabe’s party announced this week that it is sending an observer mission to monitor the voting process in South Africa, after an invitation by the ANC government. In a statement, ZANU PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said the delegation left on Thursday and will be in South Africa for two weeks. Gumbo said the invitation demonstrates “confidence” in ZANU PF.
“ZANU PF and the ANC have a lengthy history of working together and both are part of the national liberation movements which helped bring freedom to the continent after decades of political and economic subjugation,” he said.
It is this history between the two parties that is widely believed to be the reason why South Africa never took a hard line with the Mugabe regime, while it was the regional mediator in Zimbabwe’s political crisis. It was under former President Thabo Mbeki’s mediation that ZANU PF was handed a lifeline in the way of the unity government, which allowed the party to cling to power despite losing elections in 2008.
It was then under current President Jacob Zuma’s watch that Zimbabwe’s general elections were held in 2013, despite a lack of reform that Zuma’s team had originally stipulated were necessary. Zuma and other regional SADC leaders then went on to endorse the Zimbabwe elections, despite widespread reports of irregularities and vote manipulation.
Tiseke Kasambala, the Southern Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, said the situation indicates how ‘problematic’ SADC’s position is.
“If you’re looking at SADC procedure, there’s nothing wrong with ZANU PF coming, because SADC endorsed the elections in Zimbabwe. But it says a lot about how SADC runs elections in the region. There are principles and guidelines that govern democratic elections, but it seems it (SADC) doesn’t hold itself to its own principles,” Kasambala told SW Radio Africa.
Botswana’s President Ian Khama is the only African leader to isolate himself from the endorsement of Zimbabwe’s polls, saying there is enough concern about the process to warrant an audit of the results. He has also said that Botswana will no longer take part in regional election observer missions, because the principles governing democratic polls had been violated in Zimbabwe’s case.
Kasambala said that Botswana’s position signals a wider loss of faith in the SADC leadership, which needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
“They are simply undermining their own principles in governing elections, and citizens have no faith in SADC endorsing elections as a result,” Kasambala said.
She added: “It is problematic that South Africa and SADC have lowered the bar when it comes to standards of democratic elections across the region. When they lower the bar for elections, it lowers democracy across the region.”