A DAMNING report by international pressure group Human Rights Watch, launched in Johannesburg on Thursday, paints a bleak picture of Zimbabwe’s chances of holding free, fair and peaceful elections this year.

South Africa has a role in ensuring national elections in the country are fair and transparent, with President Jacob Zuma a facilitator of the polls. A new constitution drafted last year is due for referendum and parliamentary review in the coming weeks.

But Human Rights Watch’s African Advocacy director Tiseke Kasambala warned that a provision for the Zimbabwean diaspora to vote was flawed as few of the millions of Zimbabweans abroad — for security and financial reasons — could make the required trip home to vote. "I don’t think it’s realistic to expect Zimbabweans to travel (back) to vote because many of them … are struggling and cannot afford to go back.

"It’s important to note in the past Zimbabwean armed forces and Zanu (PF) members abroad have been allowed to vote," Ms Kasambala said.

Dual citizenship remains contentious. In an exclusive interview with Business Day this week Zimbabwe’s Minister of State Enterprises and Parastatals and MDC member Gorden Moyo said that while the terms of dual citizenship were not ideal for diaspora Zimbabweans, he was confident the country could hold free and fair elections this year.

Human Rights Watch’s South Africa director Cameron Lee Jacobs said Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma, in her capacity as African Union (AU) commission chairwoman, should push South Africa for a more forthright and less erratic position on human rights in Zimbabwe.