Exposing the lie, and the missed opportunities of 2002

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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. 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.
It was a bloody process that election, and easily the equivalent of 2008, but did not produce the alarm that did 2008. 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, 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 George Bush Administration might have felt that Thabo Mbeki was the go-to guy on Zimbabwe, but this was a poor choice.Advertisement

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 maneuver 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.
Here, it is worth remembering that the Millbrook Declaration envisaged not only action against a state violating the Harare Declaration, but even continuing action as the country withdrew, which was clearly with the memory of South Africa’s own withdrawal and the continued engagement by the Commonwealth with the South African problem: to reinforce the need for change in the event that the government concerned chooses to leave the Commonwealth and/or persists in violating the principles of the Harare Commonwealth Declaration even after two years (emphasis added).
That South Africa, and its immense moral authority in the Commonwealth, had not accepted the conclusions of the Commonwealth Observer Group, created mayhem within the Commonwealth in dealing with Zimbabwe, and probably the climate that allowed Zimbabwe to withdraw without consequence. The Commonwealth faded out of the Zimbabwe picture, and this allowed all the member countries to deal with the Zimbabwe problem on a bi-lateral basis. It might even be speculated that this single event has had an enormously damaging effect on the viability and influence of the Commonwealth subsequently.
Secondly, one of the South African government, and certainly Thabo Mbeki’s major preoccupations subsequent to the 2002 election was in how to bring about a government of national unity. But first, and because they did not accept the Khampepe conclusions, the South African government had to fight strongly in the Zimbabwe government corner to deal with the international fall out; suspension from the Commonwealth), the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Recovery Act (ZDERA) and the continuing dispute proceedings with the EU under the Cotonou Agreement, never mind the attempts by several Western governments to get Zimbabwe sanctioned by the UN Security Council.
This South Africa did by avoiding 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 his 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 George 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 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 Morgan 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. Certainly no sight of the Khampepe report when the 2005 elections rolled by, but, since they were relatively peaceful, it did not matter perhaps that the many other conclusions about the 2002 elections – manipulation of the voters roll, unfair polling systems, etc. – 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.
But 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. If this sounds alarmist, try talking to ordinary Zimbabweans about life over the past decade; try talking to all the Zimbabweans, who with exceptional qualifications, are selling airtime and trinkets on South African streets.  And then try and tell us that suppressing this report was in our best interests. Don’t be surprised if they spit in your face.