Botswana has become the first Southern African nation to criticise the regional bloc’s endorsement of Zimbabwe’s disputed elections, with President Ian Khama moving to break rank with fellow SADC leaders over the polls.
In an interview aired on Botswana’s national television station, BTV, Khama said the Zim elections were neither free nor fair. He also announced that Botswana will no longer participate in any SADC election observer missions, because the leadership bloc appears to have let Zimbabwe “off the hook”.
SADC has faced serious criticism for endorsing Zimbabwe’s 2013 polls in the face of widespread reports of irregularities, witnessed not only by Zimbabweans, but also observer missions from across the region.
For example the main opposition party in South Africa rejected the endorsement of Zimbabwe’s elections by the SADC Parliamentary Forum observer mission, saying the polls were not free, fair or credible. The Democratic Alliance (DA)’s Masizole Mnqasela, who was part of the mission, refused to sign off on a report that moved to endorse the polls.
Another observer, Elias Bila, who was representing the Federation of Unions for South Africa (FEDUSA) as part of the Southern African Trade Union Coordination Council observer team, called the poll outcome “a fraud.” He also said the polls were not credible.
This was also the position of yet another regional observer team, the Southern Africa Regional Civil Society and Social Movements observer mission. That mission, organised by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum, said in its preliminary report that “these elections were heavily compromised and fall far short of meeting the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.”
Botswana had initially rejected claims that the poll was credible, and in early August called for an audit of the results. But a final decision was later voiced by SADC, with its main observer mission saying the polls were generally free and peaceful.
“I want to correct the word fairness… the SADC observer statement said the elections were free and peaceful, they never used the word fair… that’s why we asked for an audit of the Zimbabwe election,” Khama said on BTV.
He continued: “SADC has set itself guidelines for the conduct of free and fair elections and, therefore, it’s incumbent on all of us in SADC to conform to those set of guidelines and if there is a breach of those guidelines then we have to say, ‘Fine, we have breached these guidelines; what now happens? What do we do about it?’
“And in Zim, we sent 80 plus or so observers and almost every one of them said there were irregularities in that election, and there were. I am convinced of it…So, do we say Zimbabwe is an exception to the SADC guidelines?”
Khama has long been considered to be cut of a different cloth to that of his fellow Southern African leaders, and has previously been critical of the situation in Zimbabwe when his counterparts were prepared to ignore it.
His latest comments are now being commended as an overdue but welcome position, which should be echoed by other regional leaders. Dewa Mavhinga, a senior researcher in Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, told SW Radio Africa that Khama’s position is “fantastic.”
“At long last a key leader has come out strongly to show what a charade the SADC election observer missions have been. It is a position that is welcome and one that should be emulated by others,” Mavhinga said.
He said South Africa, the SADC appointed mediator in Zimbabwe, was the main disappointment in the Zim situation, because its position led the way for the overall endorsement of the polls.
“As the mediator they should have been forthright and upfront with Mugabe that what happened was not genuine. It had serious irregularititess that didn’t meet the SADC guidelines and principles,” Mavhinga said
Khama meanwhile, when asked if he was comfortable with alienating Botswana by being the only African nation calling for an audit of the Zim polls, said: “ I am very comfortable; I would sleep better at night knowing that I have taken that stance.”
The Botswana leader also moved to break rank with African Union (AU), stating he was against an AU resolution that sitting heads of state must not be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe government has said recent comments by President Ian Khama about the July 31, 2013 elections overwhelmingly won by Zanu-PF and President Mugabe are a ploy by the Botswana leader to get the European Union to extend its sanctions on Zimbabwe.
The EU is scheduled to meet on February 19 to decide whether or not to extend the discredited embargo first imposed in 2002.
President Khama was quoted at the weekend condemning Zimbabwe’s elections, adding that Botswana would no longer participate in Sadc and AU election observer missions.
“We are of course aware that the EU’s annual review of its illegal sanctions is scheduled for around February 19. Nobody should be surprised that the usual voices that have traditionally supported the self-indulgent and evil Anglo-Saxon sanctions about this time of the year since 2003 are at it again ahead of the February 19 EU meetings in Brussels.
“While all this is unfortunate, we are heartened not only by the fact that the progressive world has remained resolutely opposed to the illegal sanctions, which have devastated the livelihoods of ordinary Zimbabweans, but also by the fact that we are beginning to hear voices of reason against the sanctions from within the ranks of the EU itself,” he said.
Prof Moyo said the July 31, 2013 elections preoccupying president Khama were history to progressive Zimbabweans.
“As to the specific comments about Zimbabwe attributed to president Khama, we note that those comments deal with a matter that is well and truly behind us and by ‘us’ I mean everyone concerned.
“The 31 July 2013 elections are history. Not only have the people of Zimbabwe spoken in their overwhelming numbers in favour of President Mugabe and Zanu-PF, but also our Constitutional Court has spoken; as have Sadc and AU election observers.
“Everyone has heard the verdicts from these compelling voices except the politically deaf in our midst or those with hidden agendas with nefarious objectives.
“So if anyone is politically deaf and has not heard the very loud and resounding verdict of the people and of progressive forces around the world, then that is surely not our problem,” he emphasised.
Prof Moyo said while Zimbabwe had its own opinions about the conduct of elections and other governance issues in Botswana, it had chosen to reserve its comments as a sign of respect of its neighbour’s sovereignty.
“It is common cause that Zimbabweans have their own opinions about Botswana and its governance issues including whether Botswana holds free, fair and credible elections; whether Botswana’s economy provides equal opportunities to all its citizens, especially among the indigenous communities.
“By and large Zimbabweans keep their opinions on these and other related issues to themselves and never grandstand about them in the media. I am sure that will continue to be the position of the generality of Zimbabweans because we believe in being our brother’s keeper. “To us solidarity with our neighbours means and counts for a lot,” he said.
Prof Moyo said Zimbabwe valued its relationship with Botswana given the role it played in the country’s liberation struggle.
“As a Government, we value our relationship with Botswana and respect both its people and leadership.
“This has been so since our country’s liberation struggle when Botswana, under the exemplary leadership of its founding President Sir Seretse Khama, was at the front-line and provided pivotal support for the fight for our independence.
“Therefore the history of our relationship is well-founded, well-known and very strong. Otherwise we as Government have no opinion about governance issues in Botswana because we know that these issues are entirely the sovereign responsibility of the people of Botswana to which they are fully entitled as we are to ours,” Prof Moyo said.