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


Back to Index

Free and Fair Elections on 31 March? 'I think it is impossible to do it'
George Bizos tells Gugulethu Moyo
Extracted from International Bar Association, Zimbabwe Election Focus
March 25, 2005

"[Mugabe] is a party to the principles for free and fair elections. Did he cross his fingers when he signed all these things?"

Celebrated lawyer George Bizos was recently interviewed by Zimbabwean lawyer Gugulethu Moyo about the situation in Zimbabwe and the forthcoming elections. This is an edited extract from that interview.

MOYO: Let's talk about an interview that you gave to South Africa's Sunday Times in March 2004. In response to a question about Zimbabwe you said, 'Generally speaking I think that democratic governments should give the cold shoulder to those who violate human rights. Democracy is the poorer if one turns a blind eye; it's no good saying they are only allegations, we had enough of that during apartheid.' Does this mean that you see parallels between the situation in Zimbabwe and apartheid?

BIZOS: In relation to violations to the rule of law, yes, there are parallels. And, the denials of wrongdoers should not be too readily accepted. When you have undeniable evidence that hundreds of thousands, if not a few million people leave their country, they do not leave their country, their homes, their families without good reason. There must be good reasons and the reasons which they state are credible - I do not think that excuses should be found for tyrants.

MOYO: When you say that you don't think that excuses should be found, what means do democratic governments actually have to intervene in situations outside of their own territory and to actually put a country on the path to democracy?

BIZOS: Speak in clear and unequivocal terms. Hold the tyrannical governments to what they have signed, like the constitutive document establishing the African Union; the adoption of the African Charter; the principles of free and fair elections agreed to by everyone for the SADC region, and, call a spade a spade.

MOYO: When you say hold these governments to what they have signed, how can this be done?

BIZOS: First of all by speaking out against it, and sometimes, shunning them. The question of sanctions is a difficult one, and one must have regard to the wishes of the local people. In relation to sanctions in South Africa, we had very good guidelines. When those who criticise the international community and the liberation movement were calling for sanctions, because the people that they represented would be the sufferers, the wise man of our liberation struggle, Walter Sisulu said, 'Yes, sanctions brought the black people to their knees, but the whites are standing tall. The enforcement of more stringent sanctions may bring us down to the ground on our belly, but if they bring the whites down to their knees that will be progress for us.'

My understanding of the position in Zimbabwe is that the vast majority of the people think that effective sanctions like closing the borders, or cutting off electricity, or not using the means of transportation that South Africa has, is not really advocated by the MDC or others in Zimbabwe. There are other ways in which a regime which has no respect for the rule of law and oppresses its people can be shunned and shamed in order that it may mend its ways.

MOYO: You've spoken a lot about what happened in South Africa in the past in relation to what is happening in Zimbabwe now; do you think that South Africa has a special role to play in the Zimbabwe crisis today?

BIZOS: Yes, I think so. I think first of all that a lot of South Africans are emotionally involved with the freedom struggle in Zimbabwe and they acknowledge that many Zimbabweans gave their blood for the benefit of the liberation movement in South Africa. They acknowledge that Mr Mugabe played an important role in assisting South Africa in that struggle; but I think that indebtedness should not excuse everything that is happening in that country.

MOYO: Talking about excuses, one of the issues that comes up very frequently in the debate in Zimbabwe is that the demands for the respect of human rights in Zimbabwe are fuelled by an imperialist agenda. You have often said that democracy is not some form of 'Eurocentric idealism'. How is this relevant to the discussion about Zimbabwe?

BIZOS: Well you know that President Mugabe was the 53rd signatory of the constitutive document establishing the African Union which promises the rule of law, the implementation of the African Charter of Human Rights. He is a party to the principles for free and fair elections. Did he cross his fingers when he signed all these things?

These are very African documents, which he and the other 52 heads not so long ago put their signatures to. This demagogic suggestion that human rights and democracy is only for Western countries… I strongly believe that any adjective before the word 'democracy' actually diminishes it. There is democracy and that's it.

MOYO: So as Zimbabwe prepares for elections within a regional framework for democratic elections must it scrupulously apply all the principles and guidelines in the SADC declaration on democratic elections?

BIZOS: Mr Mugabe needs this election, he would like it to be certified as a free and fair election in the hope of getting some relief from the terrible situation which he has led his country to.

I don't think that he should get such a certificate because in order to have a free and fair election you have to have the rule of law, and an impartial and independent judiciary and an impartial and independent prosecuting authority and an impartial and competent police force. None of these things exists, nor can they be put in place before the end of March, when the election takes place.

The newspapers which do not support Mr Mugabe's policies have been closed down; the journalists have been deprived of the right to ply their trade. Take the Department of Justice for instance, the MDC filed 18 petitions in relation to the election of almost four years ago, the Zanu-PF noted appeals, those who were found by a court of first instance, the High Court, to have been irregularly elected still occupy their seats, because of chicanery within the justice system. Those appeals have not been heard yet, and they are not likely to be heard, for what is the purpose of their being heard, if the period of office of the irregularly elected is about to expire?

Now, if you don't have an election commission which operates efficiently or you don't have a judiciary which would hear urgent applications and give speedy decisions for any violation of the electoral code, where there are complaints about the electoral roll of being incomplete and interfered with and the copies are not made available to the opposition, how can you possibly have a free election, if in the rural areas, the chiefs so dependent upon the government for their salaries and their motor cars and the powers they exercise over the rural people, how can you possibly have free and fair elections?

MOYO: Given that you say there is so much that must be reformed in Zimbabwe before it is ready for a free and fair election, given that this election is a few weeks away and most of those reforms that you suggest have not been undertaken, how do you think Zimbabwe can get to a point where it is ready for a free and fair election?

BIZOS: I think that it is impossible to do it. I think that if the international community is serious about expecting Zimbabwe to have free and fair elections, they should put pressure for a postponement of the elections and a reasonable period in order to level the playing field. By making the state media available to all the parties that want to take part; by allowing people to study the voter's roll; to organise, to allow people to have meetings without the permission or the control of the police; to have venues available to have meetings held, and above all, a change of attitude. The MDC is considered as an enemy and a traitor. Let me give you one example: when the Minister for Justice was asked why the MDC adverts on the national television were rejected, his answer was that CNN would not air an advert from bin Laden. When you have people in high places so bereft of logic or common sense, how can you expect those to orchestrate a free and fair election?

This article is edited excerpts from an interview given to Gugulethu Moyo on 16 February 2005 for 'In the Balance', a weekly programme broadcast on SW Radio Africa. To listen to the original interview or read the transcript go to

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