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South Africa Reaction to Mugabe Victory is Weighed Heavily - 2002-03-14


Reaction from African leaders to the re-election of President Robert Mugabe has been largely positive. But the world continues to wait for the reaction of South African President Thabo Mbeki.

From Nigeria to Namibia and Zambia to Tanzania, African leaders have reacted favorably to the conduct and outcome of the Zimbabwean presidential election - in contrast to Western countries, which have criticized the election as deeply flawed and far from free and fair.

The Organization of African Unity observer team found the elections to be generally transparent and credible, as well as free and fair. The council of ministers of the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, pronounced the election a reflection of the will of the Zimbabwean people.

However, a separate group within the SADC, the Parliamentary Forum of the Community, was sharply critical of the election. The forum's chief observer said the insecure climate prevailing in Zimbabwe since the general election in 2000 was such that the process did not meet the norms and standards of the SADC region.

The South African Observer Mission said it noted several problems, and declined to define the election as free and fair. However, mission leader Sam Motsuenyane said that, due to high voter participation, the election was legitimate.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, the leader whose reaction is perhaps the most anticipated, has yet to comment on the election. He and senior officials are engaged in discussion with leaders from across Africa and the Western world.

On Thursday, he dispatched Deputy President Jacob Zuma to Harare to deliver a special message to President Robert Mugabe. Mr. Zuma's spokeswoman, Lakela Kaunda, said Mr. Zuma had wished Mr. Mugabe well, and congratulated him on his re-election. She declined to give any further information on the meeting, adding only that Mr. Zuma would report back to Mr. Mbeki late Thursday.

Local observers and commentators have uniformly said Mr. Mbeki's reaction to the conduct of the Zimbabwe election will be fundamental to the future success of Mr. Mbeki's New African Partnership for Development initiative. The plan aims to promote international support in regenerating African economies through their commitment to responsible government. The commentators say, if Mr. Mbeki does decide to endorse the election result in Zimbabwe, members of the international community are likely to begin wondering about his own commitment to responsible government.

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