A MINI-summit of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) referred to “problems” during special voting by the police and army ahead of Zimbabwe’s July 31 elections but a final communiqué avoided any comment about mounting concerns in the region.
President Jacob Zuma hosted the surprise four-nation summit, held over dinner on Saturday night. President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique were present. Namibia’s Foreign Minister Netumbo Ndaitwa was deputised to stand in for President Hifikepunye Pohamba.
The mini-summit — the latest in a long series of meetings dominated by Zimbabwe — was called after Mr Mugabe directed angry statements at Lindiwe Zulu, Mr Zuma’s international relations adviser and his main point-person on Zimbabwe. Last week she told reporters that there worrying signs from the ground ahead of the elections, which Saturday’s meeting would assess.
At the age of 89, President Robert Mugabe is campaigning to extend his rule for a further five years. He and his Zanu (PF) have led Zimbabwe without interruption since independence in 1980 and will be contested at the ballot for the third time by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and the main faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Although the final communiqué, released early on Sunday, said the “summit noted the problems that arose during the special vote on 14-15 July 2013,” Sadc said it was pleased that all political parties were committed to a peaceful environment during the elections.
“Summit encouraged the government, all political parties and leaders to continue with these commendable efforts which will help realise credible elections,” the communiqué stated.
It commended the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for “taking these up as challenges to be overcome on the 31st of July, 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.”
In the special voting last Sunday and Monday, thousands of Zimbabwean security forces could not cast their votes; polling stations opened late and many lacked indelible ink, stamps, voter rolls and ballot papers and boxes. This raised fears of similar disorganisation, but on a giant scale, on July 31.
Sadc had wanted the July 31 presidential and parliamentary elections to be postponed to allow more time to fix a host of problems, ranging from the integrity of the voters’ roll to the pro-Mugabe bias of security forces and state media. The request was turned down by Zimbabwe’s constitutional court.
So far, there have been no signs of violent intimidation against MDC supporters. As many as 200 people were killed during the last elections in 2008, human rights bodies say.
The Mugabe government has banned European Union (EU) and US election observers, meaning that several hundred monitors from the 15-nation Sadc regional bloc and a few dozen from the African Union will be the world’s eyes and ears at elections, which could either mark Zimbabwe’s return to the international fold or prolong its relative isolation, particularly by Western states.
Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, confirmed in South Africa last week that if Sadc gave the elections a clean bill of health and all parties accepted the outcome, the EU would lift its remaining sanctions on Mugabe and key members of his entourage.
“If the elections are indeed peaceful, transparent and credible we look forward to a full normalisation of relations with Zimbabwe,” Mr van Rompuy said.
On other regional issues, the mini-summit warned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo following clashes between the army and militias. It called on Madagascar’s Independent National Election Commission (CENIT) to come up with a new electoral calendar to try to break the chronic political impasse on the island.