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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • SADC and transformative politics in Zimbabwe: from paper tigers to fierce guard dog
    James Tsabora
    June 25, 2013

    The imminence of Zimbabwe’s general elections, recently seasoned by SADC’s recommendation in its June 15 Communiqué that called for the Zimbabwean government to approach the Constitutional Court for an extension of the national election dates from 31st July 2013 to 14th August, compels a scrutiny of the role SADC can play in the preparation of the election atmosphere, the observance of fundamental election principles and election practices as well as ensuring legitimate and universally acceptable and therefore incontestable election outcomes. SADC’s action no doubt marks the highest point that it has ever gone to resolve crises within a member state. Indeed, for SADC, the past decade will go down in history as a defining moment in its evolving role of ‘spearheading’ political change and cultivating democratic practices in troubled member states. Important political developments in member states, particularly in this period, have obliged SADC to demand increasing involvement bordering on direct interventionism apparently on the pretext of promoting its ideals of peace and development for the benefit of its members. Zimbabwe is one state where a number of key political events and developments were witnessed in the same period, prompting SADC’s intervention. The confluence of coincidence between tension-packed Zimbabwean politics and SADC’s emergent pro-interventionist stance provide an interesting framework to critique the ‘new’ role of SADC in southern Africa’s transformative politics.

    Since the disputed elections of 2002, Zimbabwean politics have been tempestuous. The opposition party, led by Morgan Tsvangirai provided a strong challenge against Zanu-PF’s political hegemony that had endured two decades of generally undisturbed supremacy in Zimbabwe politics. The successive elections between 2002 and 2012 continued to remind Zanu-PF of its diminishing political capital. Consequently, the degenerated political atmosphere robbed the majority of political processes, including the 2008 general election results, of their legitimacy and credibility. SADC’s involvement in Zimbabwe was essentially on this basis, and its intervention had to support institutional and constitutional reform, prepare ground for credible elections and continue policing the political developments in this troubled nation. True to its promises, this mediation made a number of achievements, the most significant being ushering an inclusive government that was obliged to institute immediate institutional and constitutional reform. To the ordinary Zimbabwean, these developments are cause for celebration, particularly coming in a decade that promised little on the political or economic front. Further, such positive steps are welcome news to a people that had lost hope in the ability of political parties to adhere to and respect democratic ideals.

    Be that as it may, it could be asked whether these important developments could have taken place in the absence of SADC mediation. To what extent was Zanu-PF, propri motu, prepared to shed its own uncompromising revolutionary skin and spearhead political change in Zimbabwe, even where it appeared such route was an experimental risk? Further, to what extent was the political opposition, led by MDC, prepared to continue the ever gruelling push for political change in Zimbabwe in light of the increasing repression they invited upon each attempt?

    In my view, the pressure by SADC, particularly the unwavering instigation of important states in this bloc was more responsible for Zimbabwe’s political turn around than any other internal or external force. Between 2002 and 2008, MDC’s fortunes had constantly soared and plummeted as it took on a very aggressive Zanu-PF. It might be that Zanu-PF itself was also unravelling, although its propaganda machine ensured this would be beyond the public eye. The 2008 election result was thus a surprise to both Zanu-PF and MDC. Then followed massive repression and crackdown that led to Mugabe running against himself in the election runoff of June 2008. The MDC proved powerless to stop the violence, or compel Zanu-PF to abandon its age-old repressive tactics against political opponents at all levels.

    It is therefore beyond doubt that SADC’s role in the quest for democratic political outcomes in Zimbabwe has been critical. Zanu-PF can promise peaceful elections, tolerance and an even political field but there is no doubt that the possibility of violence is real. Mugabe’s spokesperson himself acknowledged this, confidently stating that with the “elections (…) not far off, I catch the menacing sound of long knives being sharpened, being pushed to and fro on eager whetstones by secular causes.” The Permanent Secretary’s premonition is of sharp knives “craving for slaughter, ushering a season of bitter tears” and “a fight, a bloody fight.” This premonition should never be seen as existing within the realms of imagination; the experience of the past decade confirms the reality of election games that are nothing but a bloody spectre. While the MDC would want to believe in peaceful election, even they cannot be exonerated from, in the least, fanning the violent atmosphere of violence that has consumed Zimbabwe in the period before general elections. It is in light of this context that SADC must be expected to step up and play arbiter in the possibly volatile election atmosphere that is likely to grip Zimbabwe come the day.

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