THE opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) yesterday moved to contain the election observer row triggered by a senior
South African minister this week.
The MDC, which had threatened to boycott South African observers over remarks by the official South African Election Observer team head Membathisi Mdladlana, engaged the ANC to limit the damage.
Mdladlana sparked controversy by claiming the electoral process leading to the March 31 general election would be smooth soon after meeting President Robert Mugabe on Monday night.
Official sources said MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube spoke at length to his ANC counterpart Kgalema Motlanthe yesterday in a bid to avert a fallout.
Ncube, who had accused the South African observers of an “appalling lack of objectivity” after Mdladlana’s statement, also engaged the ANC poll observer mission head James Motlatsi as part of the damage control exercise.
South Africa currently has government and ruling-party teams in the country. It also has an ANC-dominated parliamentary mission.
Sources said after speaking to Motlanthe, Ncube wrote a letter to Motlatsi informing him of what had transpired. Motlatsi replied immediately. It is said he assured Ncube his team would be “objective and impartial”.
In his letter to Motlatsi, Ncube said Motlanthe had told him the ANC team was not in any way linked to Mdladlana’s official delegation.
Ncube told Motlatsi that Motlanthe had assured him the ANC team would “act independently and produce a final report based on its own objective assessment of the conditions on the ground”.
“He further assured me that the ANC observer mission is under strict instructions to discharge its mandate in an impartial and transparent manner,” Ncube wrote to Motlatsi.
Ncube said on the basis of Motlanthe’s “personal assurances” the MDC would “fully cooperate” with the South African observers except Mdladlana’s team. The MDC said yesterday the government delegation had “compromised its impartiality”.
“Unless someone else leads the mission we will not cooperate with it,” Ncube said. There was speculation Mdladlana’s departure yesterday was linked to the row, but South African ambassador Jerry Ndou said he had gone to attend a labour meeting in Geneva.
The row between the MDC and Mdladlana’s group was threatening to draw into its vortex other South African-led observer groups. In addition to its three teams in the country South Africa also heads the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) mission.
Its multi-party parliamentary delegation is led by ANC chief whip Mbulelo Goniwe. The Sadc team is led by South Africa’s Minerals and Energy minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Mlambo-Ngcuka told journalists yesterday her team would observe the poll with “neutrality and impartiality”. She said the team, which so far comprises South Africans and Mauritians, had already met various interest groups, including Zanu PF and MDC, and would continue to engage stakeholders.
“We have started consultations with different political parties, non-governmental organisations and electoral bodies to be briefed on developments, state of readiness and areas that require attention,” she said.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said the MDC complained about “unfair treatment by the police” and “privileges” given to Zanu PF.