by Garth Cilliers

Zimbabwe elections

South African loan might help ensure free and fair process

Zimbabwe coat of arms.JPG

There is R1.2 billion needed to conduct the long-awaited harmonised elections to restore Zimbabwe’s credibility as a true and fully fledged democratic country. But the country has spent money needed for it on the recent referendum to approve a new constitution. Is South Africa helping out?

To hold the elections, Zimbabwe will have to borrow the money. The obvious first port of call was the United Nations (UN) and an official request was made. But, after a promising start, talks broke down.

In response to the Zimbabwe government’s request the UN said a Needs Assessment Mission would have to visit the country, it was here that the talks became turbulent. In the eyes of President Mugabe’s ZANU–PF party the UN appeal went too far and withdrew the funding request.

Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa, a hard line ZANU-PF stalwart, said, “It was clear that the UN team wanted a broader mandate ... They kept talking about the security sector and media reforms, all sorts of euphemisms... and that we reject,” implying that the UN was attempting to “manipulate, infiltrate and interfere with” Zimbabwe’s internal processes.

This brought South Africa into the picture as an option and many South Africans were surprised when Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister, Tendai Biti, publicly informed the world that South Africa had agreed to provide a US $100 million (around R900 million) loan for Zimbabwe’s election.

Coming hot on the heels of the controversy of South Africa’s military presence in the Central African Republic, which damaged its image internationally and the government’s credibility locally, concerns about this controversial announcement was to be expected. 

That South Africa must help its northern neighbour to conduct free and fair elections goes without saying. Not only is it the leader in Southern Africa but President Zuma is also entrusted with the responsibility to oversee the full implementation of the power-sharing agreement brokered by his predecessor Thabo Mbeki following the disputed elections in 2008.

This responsibility also demands South Africa’s full commitment to set the stage for an election free of intimidation, fear, and deceit allowing Zimbabwe to return to a state of normality under a government truly representing the majority of Zimbabweans. 

South Africa also needs to free itself from the burden of an endless flow of Zimbabweans across its border as a result of 33 years of turmoil.

The reaction to the news about the loan is not so much on the amount mentioned, although it does raise the question about possible more worthy causes at home, but rather concerns that it will be granted without any or only soft conditions.

There is ample reason to demand a strict set of conditions. 

The Johannesburg-based research institution, Good Governance Africa (GGA) argues that “South Africa should not lend any money to a government that is largely run by a cabal of crooks. The chances for Zimbabwe of conducting free and fair elections with this money are very slim. 

It has not harnessed its security forces which continue to harass civic groups. ZANU-PF continues to dominate the electoral commission, making it impossible for it to hold free and fair elections.”

That Zimbabwe’s government cancelled the request for UN financial assistance based on the argument that to many questions were asked and to many unacceptable conditions attached, poses the question whether Harare believes the South African government will be more accommodating.

The historical closeness between the ANC and ZANU-PF has also surfaced. Not so long ago ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza had high praise for ZANU-PF declaring, “we feel they have gained the necessary experience and wealth of knowledge ... to benefit the people of that country and govern again … 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.”

In late 2011, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe also told a ZANU-PF national conference in Bulawayo that his party would support ZANU-PF in its mission to retain power at the next national election. The ANC, he said, was “willing to assist in coming up with election messages and strategies that would deliver victory.”

One commentator wrote: “It is simply incredible that the ANC should indicate official support for a political party headed by an 89 year-old who has held absolute power for over thirty years.”

Tony Bennett from the MDC reacted that “... aside from massive human rights abuses, every economic indicator in Zimbabwe shows Khoza’s claim to be absurd. ZANU-PF has reduced the country from a bread basket to a basket case in ten short years.”

Khoza did try to explain that ANC's support would by no means translate into the South African government providing support to Mugabe or his party but as Brian Cibane wrote in “Thought Leader” in the Mail and Guardian, “The ANC retorts to criticism by drawing a farcical distinction between the party and the government. In South Africa the executive, which speaks on behalf of and represents the state, is represented almost exclusively by members of the ruling party, thus the distinction between the state, the government and the party is artificial. ANC policies invariably become government policy.” 

There is also the outstanding matter of the reluctance of the Office of the Presidency to make public the findings of a government report on Zimbabwe’s disputed 2002 elections. Compiled by two respected South African judges, it is common knowledge that the findings of the report will shame South Africa and add more pressure on possible South African financial assistance for an election in Zimbabwe.

The Mugabe government’s land reform policies, which saw many South African farmers lose their livelihoods and South African companies having their investments damaged by indigenisation, adds further emotion to the debate.

So does the successful application by civil rights group AfriForum for an urgent interdict in the North Gauteng High Court to prevent the donation of spare parts and helicopter frames to Zimbabwe. Neither those in the ZANU-PF controlled security forces nor others responsible for torture and killings during the 2008 election have been brought to justice and there is fear this could be repeated.

The South African government has been markedly reserved in its reaction since the news broke on the loan. There are hints that Pretoria is somewhat annoyed with Biti’s going public. Response thus far has been restricted to acknowledgement that talks are on-going and that an official announcement will be forthcoming soon.

Financial assistance with the elections is an undisputed a necessity and also provides South Africa with two distinct positive opportunities:

1.To use the loan wisely and effectively to ensure that everyone in Zimbabwe adheres to the rules of a free and fair election, 

2. And to use the opportunity to play open cards, explain to the South African public with full exposure of all the facts, the reasons for the decision because that is what they deserve

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