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The Messy Business of Zimbabwean Elections and the Role of SADC Mediators


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Photo taken from Generation C via Creative Commons

“The other parties do not want elections, they are afraid of elections”

Mugabe, June 2013


Electoral violence is a topic which is reviewed and assessed among many organisations and individuals with the aim to prevent, mitigate and avoid bloodshed and aggression during the electoral cycle. The purpose of the electoral process is to ensure free and fair appointment of individuals in elected positions on a national level.

In a publication from the International Foundation of Electoral Support electoral conflict and violence are defined as:

“any random or organized act or threat organized to intimidate, physically harm, blackmail, or abuse a political stakeholder in seeking to determine, delay, or otherwise influence an electoral process.”

Electoral violence can happen at any stage of the election process and goes beyond the campaign period, election day and the counting of the votes.

In Africa most conflicts have taken place on a national scale, in which electoral violence has been a recurrent phenomenon since independence. Against this background international and regional stakeholders developed dedicated efforts to facilitate a dialogue between conflicting parties and establish a peaceful political environment contributing to free and fair elections.

In Zimbabwe the presidential and parliamentarian elections in 2008 were the most violent and bloodiest of the post-colonial period. Opposition parties had not gained substantial ground until 1999, when the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), lead by Morgan Tsvangirai, was established.

Mediation efforts since 2007

In 2007, Thabo Mbeki, then president of the South Africa, was appointed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as facilitator to mediate a solution to the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe. As a result an agreement to have harmonised presidential, parliamentarian and local government elections was reached. Elections were held in March 2008 and the election date was decided by the president in post, Mugabe.

The 2008 election were a blow to ZANU-PF’s enduring rule. For the first time, the party lost its majority in the House of Assembly to the MDC. In the meantime, SADC had called for an emergency meeting urging the release of the official results for the presidential poll. Tsvangirai was said to have received most of the votes during the presidential poll, but lacked an overall voter majority to avoid a run-off against Mugabe. As a consequence, Mugabe and Tsvangirai had to compete in a second round for the presidential role. The violence that ensued, however, led Tsvangerai to withdraw from the second round so as to end the ongoing violence and intimidation against his supporters.

After the one-person election run-off, Mugabe re-assumed the role of president. Following his inauguration, the African Union urged for the creation of a government of national unity in Zimbabwe with Mbeki playing the facilitating role.

This was important on two accounts:

“It reflected an unusual readiness to break a general continentwide reluctance to intrude in other nations' business” and “it was another departure from the continents resistance to treating Mugabe as anything less than a hero of the struggle for liberation.”

After intensive negotiation efforts by Mbeki, a power sharing deal, titled the Global Political Agreement (GPA), was signed by the ZANU-PF, MDC-T and the MDC-M in Harare in September 2008. This agreement was the basis for the Government of National Unity, which was formed in February 2009. With the signature of the GPA the Government of National Unity committed itself to the introduction of reforms which would:

“create a genuine, viable, permanent and sustainable nationally acceptable solution to the Zimbabwe situation.”

The events leading up to the signing of the GPA and the establishment of the Government of National Unity were all but smooth. Mbeki adopted an approach of 'quiet diplomacy' and held discussions behind closed doors, expressing his dislike for what he called 'megaphone diplomacy' promoted by the west. From the very start the MDC-T did not have full trust in Mbeki as a mediator and repeatedly called for Mbeki to step down. On other accounts Mbeki was also critisised for his style of mediation as being too soft on Mugabe.

In 2009 SADC appointed Jacob Zuma, the newly elected president of South Africa, as mediator to the Zimbabwean crisis. The entry of Zuma was welcomed by the MDC-T, and this was supported by various media reports which have depicted Zuma as a tougher negotiator. His current task is to facilitate the Zimbabwe Political Dialogue and assist with the implementation of the GPA.

Preparation for the 2013 Elections

It has now been confirmed that the presidential and parliamentarian elections in Zimbabwe will follow the Constitutional Court ruling, as declared by presidential degree, to take place on the 31st July 2013. The main opposition party, MDC, disagrees with this date arguing that crucial reforms still have to be implemented and denies that consultation, in line with the constitution, has taken place. On June the 15th, the SADC held an extraordinary summit, concluding that a delay of two weeks to the election date should be sought.

Politics during election periods in Zimbabwe have in general been violent with the liberation movement ZANU-PF remaining in power. While condemning the violent actions of Mugabe and his ruling party, it is wise to bear in mind that the ZANU-PF had and has a power base and supporters. The nature of political events has shown that the current president is a seasoned politician in the post-colonial African context who does not fear the use of violence.

“Mugabe deliberately models himself and his party (ZANU-PF) as the guardians of the African nationalist revolution, which is being threatened by latter-day imperialists led by the former colonial power Britain in collusion with the US and members of the EU.”

On the basis of what has been learned from the last election, it is crucial that every effort is made to contribute to a free, fair, transparent and peaceful election process in Zimbabwe. It is pertinent that Zimbabwe avoids falling back into the vicious cycle of violence and uses peaceful means to decide who holds office

Machteld Bierens de Haan has more than 10 years experience in international cooperation in Africa, Central Asia, Central America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. She specialised in good governance, democratisation, elections and public administration reform.

Please show support for peaceful elections in Zimbabwe and sign our petition – all your help is appreciated during this crucial time of elections

Written by Machteld Bierens de Haan and published on 10-July-2013




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