While the SADC observer mission in Zimbabwe has called Saturday’s elections a “peaceful and credible expression of the will of the people,” one observer with the group strongly rejects that assessment.
Dianne Kohler Barnard is a South African member of parliament belonging to the opposition Democratic Alliance Party. From Harare, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about her views on the presidential and parliamentary elections.
“My mandate here as a member of SADC was not to declare which party won the election, but whether the process was free and fair. And frankly it was neither. Of the 13 tenants contained in the SADC guidelines only two seem to be in compliance and the rest were being blatantly flouted. So, I failed to understand how the SADC report says the elections were ‘a credible expression of the will of the people.’ First and foremost, there’s a concern for the three million extra voting papers. Papers I’ve not been able to track down. And now with the delay in the announcement of most positions, very few r5esults have come through, people are questioning the efficacy of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and where those three million extra papers might pop up,” she says.
Kohler also has harsh words for the Zimbabwe media. She says, “One of the big (SADC) tenants if freedom of the media in relation to campaigning. And this media show is nothing more or less than a nice brainwashing exercise with excuses for journalists telling voters there’s no one else they could possibly vote for but (President) Mugabe. The actually journalists say that. It’s quite embarrassing as an ex-journalist myself.”
The South Africa MP says that authorities have made it clear the opposition would never take office if they won the presidency. “Hardly free and fair. It happened a few days before the election. And now SADC says they were speaking in their personal capacity. Absolute rot. People have been disenfranchised… Freedom of association was attacked. I have the details. I’ve done the investigation. I’ve got the photographs. The voters’ roll is in a shambles, thousands of dead people on it. (The late Zimbabwean leader) Ian Smith is still on it,” she says. Kohler also accuses President of Mugabe of buying votes by giving away tiny parcels of land and free medicine. “In all good conscience I could never sign the final SADC report,” she says.
Kohler says that she is not free to move around and talk to voters because her credentials as an election observer have expired. “Things are quite tense out there and our passports have been taken. She and the other SADC observers are schedule to leave Tuesday.
Asked what action she’d like to see the South African government take, Kohler says, “It’s far more than the South African government. Their quiet diplomacy has been positively inaudible. I don’t know that they’ve achieved anything. But really, South Africa and Southern Africa have got to learn to take care of itself. They’ve got to cleanup their own messes.”
She says that by repeatedly refusing to criticize the Mugabe government and the election process, SADC has lost credibility. (English to Africa 3/31)