COLUMN: MARY REVESAI
Mbeki must condemn state violence
This time around, he is reported to be keen to move swiftly to ensure free and fair elections in Zimbabwe next year.
He is reported by the South African press to have declared; "In reality we don't have enough time. The Zimbabweans have got eleven months to do everything that is necessary to ensure those elections are free and fair and that the outcome of those elections will not be contested by anyone."
He is reported to have appointed Sydney Mufamandi, South Africa's provincial and local government minister to lead the mediation effort.
But if Mbeki's peace-broking is to be conducted ethically, he needs to abandon some of the self-limiting assumptions that have hamstrung his efforts over the past five or so years.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) will be taken for another ride if it does not insist on clear terms of reference from the word go. Under the cloak of "quiet diplomacy" Mbeki displayed incredible levels of muddled thinking which led many observers to conclude that he was not a neutral referee in the matter but an active collaborator of the Zimbabwean government.
Since 2000 when the Mugabe regime embarked on the violent and haphazard seizure of land from white farmers, the Zimbabwean problem has been characterised by a war of words in which all sorts of denunciations and claims have been made to distort or deny realties on the ground.
The Mugabe regime's intransigence has been anything but diplomatic and quiet. For Mbeki to have expected to succeed in that poisoned atmosphere without speaking out and making a concerted effort to establish the truth independently was a recipe for the unmitigated disaster his mission eventually proved to be.
Tragically for the
opposition and Zimbabweans at large, Mbeki does not seem to have learnt
any lessons from past experiences. He is already talking about getting
the MDC and the ruling Zanu PF in the midst of the escalating
It is difficult to understand how he expects the opposition to participate in the talks when its members continue to be killed and maimed. Mbeki's first act after accepting the mantle of mediator on behalf of SADC should have been to break his self-imposed silence and condemn the on-going state-instigated violence. He should have made it clear that state violence had to end so that the groundwork for his mission would be undertaken in a peaceful and conducive atmosphere,
In the past, Mbeki has defended his reluctance to condemn the Mugabe regime's excesses and abuses by claiming that the 83-year old octogenarian would have told him off. Lately he has indicated that before the extraordinary SADC summit in Dar es Salaam three weeks ago, he did not have a mandate to tackle the Zimbabwean crisis and that whatever he did was only on the basis of South Africa being Zimbabwe's neighbour.
But now that he has been mandated by SADC to oversee the process, he should not be allowed to conduct a covert operation where no-one knows what he is doing and saying. If he is the best man for the job, as SADC seems to think, he cannot be allowed to be a timid messenger as was the case in the past. The Zimbabwean crisis involves life and death issues that demand calling a spade a spade.
Mbeki cannot pretend not to know that the Mugabe regime has institutionalised violence as a survival strategy. He was present when Mugabe gloated about the battering of opposition leaders in Dar es Salaam, making it clear that his regime was not being falsely accused of perpetrating these atrocities. The point that should be made is that if SADC'S motives for intervening in Zimbabwe are honourable and sincere, its mediator should insist on the cessation of state violence against the population NOW.
There is no point in focusing on the outcome of the elections in about a year's time when the "rigging" of the polls and tilting of the playing field in Mugabe's favour is already underway through torture, abductions and murders designed to terrorise the population well in advance. There has been no let-up in Mugabe's reign of terror since the people of Zimbabwe voted "NO" in a constitutional referendum in 2000. Despite this, SADC and other bodies that have sent teams to observe parliamentary and presidential elections have declared these free and fair on the basis of the conditions prevailing in the few days leading up to the actual voting.
This has always been a dishonest approach designed to let the Mugabe regime off the hook. SADC should take things more seriously this time not only because it is the right thing to do but to save lives. The period between now and the holding of elections next year threatens to be the bloodiest and most dangerous for Zimbabweans. If not stopped, Mugabe, who has his back against the wall, is prepared to go for broke in his last ditch attempt to impose his will on the electorate and the nation.
If Mbeki is allowed to conduct his peace-broking mission under the same murky conditions as before, SADC will go down in history as having facilitated the deadliest charade in its history.
The crisis in Zimbabwe is about human rights abuses and ruthless crushing of dissent affecting the population everyday. Zimbabweans would feel betrayed by Mbeki once again if he continues to keep his SADC and African union light under a bushel by not condemning and calling on Mugabe to end his reign of terror now.
Mary Revesai is a New Zimbabwe.com columnist and writes from Harare. Her column will appear here every Tuesday
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