With the release (finally) of the Khampepe-Moseneke report on the 2002 elections in Zimbabwe, it becomes possible to understand a few things more clearly.
GUEST OPINION BY THE RESEARCH AND ADVOCACY UNIT
Not that the report raises anything that was not known at the time: all reputable election observer groups, Zimbabwean civil society and opposition political parties, particularly the MDC, all made these points in even greater detail.
The 2002 election was a bloody process that was easily the equivalent of 2008 polls. There is one important difference in the reaction to the two. In 2002, Zimbabwe was still in economic difficulty, but not to the extent it was in 2008 when the economy was in total shambles, with potentially serious consequences for the region, let alone Zimbabwe.
But the report does clarify a number of issues. Firstly, in the balance between accepting an empirical report on the 2002 elections or a political report from the South African observer mission and in the conflict between accepting the election result or dismissing it, President Thabo Mbeki chose the political route. In order to do so, he had to suppress the judge’s report.
Mbeki and the South African government would have looked foolish and would have to publicly give reasons as to why Khampepe and Moseneke were mistaken. This was never going to be possible when the Commonwealth report would have supported the judges, as would the report of the Sadc parliamentary observer group and virtually everyone else.
It is difficult to understand why Mbeki commissioned these two eminent judges at all. They were going to report on the facts as they saw them and these were the same facts that his observer mission would have seen.
The latter would have been feeding back interim findings as would have the South African High Commission. And given that the violence had begun well in advance of the June election — it began in fact with the two by-elections in Bikita and Chikomba — as well as the playing fast and loose with legislation by the Zimbabwe government and the President, it was evident to all that this was developing into a very bad facsimile of a democratic election.
By the time the election happened, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum had issued 14 reports on the political violence, corroborated by reports from Amnesty International, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims and others.
Suppressing the report was thus a highly partisan choice and it is not surprising that Mbeki found any negotiating with the MDC extremely difficult thereafter. The US George Bush administration might have felt that Mbeki was the go-to guy on Zimbabwe, but this was a poor choice.
Why was it such a poor choice by Bush, Mbeki, and the South African government? Let’s think what might have happened had Mbeki released the report in 2002 and had rather modified the report of his partisan observer group.
Firstly, there would have been almost complete unanimity between Africa and the West on the outcome and its unacceptability and this would have dramatically closed the space for the Zimbabwe government’s ability to manoeuvre between these two constituencies.
It would also have created a very different approach by the Commonwealth in respect of Zimbabwe.
This might not have stopped Mugabe from unilaterally withdrawing from the Commonwealth, but it might have forced the Commonwealth to act upon the Harare Declaration and the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme.
South Africa avoided the results of the 2002 election, supporting the Zimbabwe government’s rhetoric about land and property rights and pushing hard for an African solution to an African problem.
All the while this little report was a time bomb ticking away in Mbeki’s desk drawer, publication of which would have destroyed his credibility and not only with Zimbabweans.
This charade of impartiality, or could it be Mbeki’s considerable arrogance — the same arrogance that had him kicked out by the ANC in the end — was given a decided boost when Bush made him his “point man” on Zimbabwe.
This created new problems. Most important of these became his continual casting of the MDC as the spoilers in getting a political settlement.
For those of us in Zimbabwe, it was interesting to see how little concerned the South African government was in the attacks on the judges, the failure to resolve all the election petitions from the 2000 elections, the summary fashion in which the “new” judges dismissed Morgan Tsvangirai’s petition on the 2002 election — particularly stinging given Zimbabwe’s support of South Africa’s own liberation war.
It seemed to us a betrayal given our supposed shared values for the rule of law, respect for human rights and participatory governance that were being sacrificed to political expediency.
It took the torture of Tsvangirai and many others in 2007 to start the ball rolling again but it might also be that the Zimbabwe economy looked likely to disappear down a black hole that provoked a reaction from South Africa.
There had been years of tortuous discussion, manipulated by Mugabe, blamed on the MDC spoilers and yet another unacceptable election.
There was no sight of the Khampepe report when the 2005 elections rolled by and since the elections were relatively peaceful, it did not matter perhaps that the many other conclusions about the 2002 elections — manipulation of the voters roll and unfair polling systems among others — were no longer a matter for concern.
How could they be when the official South African position was that none of this had happened in 2002!
In the end, the violence in 2007 resulted in an amazing result in 2008; Tsvangirai beat Mugabe, and the MDC-T beat Zanu PF.
However, rather than forcing Zanu PF to bite the bullet and hand over power, Mbeki and the South African government allowed the violence of the June 2008 run off to occur. But, this time, they did not accept the result and Mbeki finally got his government of national unity.
What might have happened had the report been issued in 2002? Rather than deal with the immense embarrassment of two contradictory positions from South Africa, Mbeki and the South African government chose the path of least embarrassment and condemned Zimbabwe to 12 years of economic disaster, mass migration and even more violence, death, and displacement.
This is deeply shameful and that it took 12 years of legal battles to force the release of the Khampepe report demonstrates that the loss of South Africa’s moral authority is not a recent phenomenon and the fault of the Zuma administration.
It came much earlier with the sacrificing of moral principle for political expediency all the way back in 2002 and the cancer has just grown.
For the democratic forces in Zimbabwe, we now know this as fact and must see the hegemonic power of South Africa as arrogant, self-serving, and dangerous. And then try and tell us that suppressing this report was in our best interests.