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Southern African Region Debates Zimbabwe

  • Peta Thornycroft

Leaders gather at the opening of the Southern Africa Development Community summit in Johannesburg, June 12, 2011

Leaders gather at the opening of the Southern Africa Development Community summit in Johannesburg, June 12, 2011

A Southern African Development Community summit in Johannesburg is considering Zimbabwe’s progress towards free and fair elections. Although the summit shows there is growing regional solidarity on Zimbabwe, insiders are concerned President Robert Mugabe will ignore SADC recommendations to achieve free and fair elections some time before March 2013.

During the lead-up to the summit on Zimbabwe, there were demonstrations around the convention center in Johannesburg’s plush Sandton suburb as all parties tried to advance their views.

At the same time, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF embarked on an energetic campaign to present its views on the implementation of the multi-party political agreement that brought the unity government to power in February 2009.

During interviews with South African media and in leaflets distributed to all summit delegates, the party said the Southern African Development Community had “deliberately” chosen to ignore Zanu-PF input. It said SADC leaders had chosen to only consider what it called “misleading” information from Zimbabwe’s majority party, the Movement for Democratic Change.

Although human-rights monitors say much of the recent political violence in Zimbabwe has been caused by Zanu-PF supporters, the president's party blamed the Movement for Democratic Change.

At a news conference before the summit, MDC spokesman Jameson Timba called for security sector reform because Zimbabwe’s security forces remain under Zanu-PF control. He said this is one of the reasons the Zanu-PF call for elections this year is improper.

"Total disregard for the Global Political Agreement. The machinery and factors impeding progress to peace and security remain in tact making nonsense of any call for an election.”

On the sidelines of the summit, the Zimbabwe group Lawyers for Human Rights produced statistics saying that more than 500 mainly MDC supporters have been arrested since January. A further 300 MDC supporters sought assistance from the rights lawyers when they claimed they were harassed or attacked by Zanu-PF or the police.