THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector


Back to Index

Pointers on Zimbabwe
South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA)
May 12, 2005

Read Summary of the individual interventions and discussion during the conference

On 12 May 2005, the South African Institute of International Affairs convened a half-day conference on Zimbabwe with the objective of providing a constructive platform for the exchange of viewpoints and to develop ideas about the prospects for the country in the years preceding the presidential election scheduled for 2008.

SAIIA invited a range of actors to participate in the event – ZANU-PF, the MDC, an independent MP, a Zimbabwean civil society organization, as well as South African parliamentarians from across the political spectrum who had participated as observers during the 2005 parliamentary election in Zimbabwe. Despite their acceptance to participate, no representative from ZANU-PF or the South African government attended.

A number of key observations and constructive recommendations emerged from the conference:

Role and responsibilities of observer missions
There is a lack of agreement on the role, duties and responsibilities of electoral observers. Furthermore, the training and briefings observers undergo in preparation for the missions do not necessarily conform to any agreed standard. It is also unclear what qualifies a particular body to conduct briefings and training for observers. This may to some degree account for some of the anomalous findings of respective observers and their missions. There is thus a need for agreed upon training and mission definition from credible electoral institutes as well as that of a regional body such as the SADC Parliamentary Forum or that of the Commonwealth. This proposal should be incorporated into the SADC and AU Guidelines.

However, it is important to stress that although there are very good guidelines in place on the continent, the element of political will is lacking to ensure not only adoption, but also implementation and enforcement – that guidelines and commitments to democracy and good elections are adhered to both in the letter and the spirit.

Definition of sovereignty
Internationally there is a growing trend in thinking that sovereignty cannot be used to justify non-interference by other states when there are violations of human rights. This shift in thinking is characterised by the establishment of the International Criminal Court. It is a reflection of the greater weight being placed on the necessity of states and leaders becoming accountable to their electorates for their actions and inactions. In this regard the decision by the OAU to disallow unconstitutional changes of power was a step in that direction.

Legal systems versus legitimate systems
This distinction is a useful guide in determining whether criticism is justified and valid. There are many pieces of legislation in Zimbabwe that, whilst technically legal or constitutional, are palpably unjust, such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Broadcasting Amendment Act, and the pending NGO Bill. Although the latter has not yet been, it has created a climate of uncertainty among NGOs, thus starving them of donor funds.1

Democracy is a process – and a way of life and operation on an ongoing basis rather than every four to five years. Elections are simply one institutional mechanism for the achievement and maintenance of democracy. The texture of democracy relates to many of the rights that the Zimbabwe government has curtailed over the last few years. Zimbabwe is suffering from a democratic deficit and observers must take this into account when observing, monitoring and declaring the conduct of elections.

What should happen internally?

  • An all-inclusive constitutional debate is required that is NOT restricted to the level of parliament. It is critical that all Zimbabweans have an input into what should constitute the fundamental principles governing their society. This process should also look to restoring the separation of powers between the executive, the judiciary, and the legislature, and between party and state.
  • The repeal of legislation such AIPPA and POSA, so as to level the playing field.
  • The resuscitation and emergence of a free and independent media.
  • The commencement of a process of national reconciliation.

What should the regional community do?

  • Strengthen institutions such as the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security in the region to be both firm and assertive in encouraging states to ensure compliance on commitments made by the Heads of State themselves.
  • Identify credible mediators that are seen as objective by both main roleplayers in Zimbabwe. Ultimately the solutions must come from Zimbabweans themselves, but as with South Africa, the region must play an important role in encouraging the political protagonists. This can happen through both ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots’. The region (and indeed the international community) should seek a calibrated response and rewards for the return to democracy and political normalisation.
  • Pressurise the Zimbabwean government to debate the constitution and any amendments more broadly in society and not only within parliament.

How should this be achieved?

  • The Zimbabwe crisis has to be taken up by the African Union and a mandate granted by members for mediation in the crisis.
  • SADC has to elevate the Zimbabwe crisis to the top of its agenda at the next Heads of State Summit and a decision taken to act collectively to ease the political impasse in the country.
  • An all-party summit to address the Zimbabwe crisis has to be mandated by
  • the AU and hosted by SADC.
  • A number of international, continental and regional special envoys need to be appointed and mandated by the United Nations to act as credible interlocutors between the contending parties in Zimbabwe.
  • Ultimately a timetable for constitutional and political reform has to emerge from all-party discussions.
  • A reconstruction package from the international community and financial institutions needs to be drawn up and implemented in accordance with the achievement of constitutional and political reform.
  • Targeted sanctions on the Zimbabwe government need to be broadened and intensified until progress is achieved.

1. The Business Day reported on 20 May 2005 that Robert Mugabe has fused to sign the bill, probably as a result of mounting international pressure.

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.