As political tensions rise in Zimbabwe in the lead-up to the presidential run-off election June 27th, many say the chances of a free and fair vote are growing slim. Along with the arrest or detention of opposition leaders and the seizure of their vehicles come warnings aired on state media that “war veterans” are ready to fight to prevent the opposition from gaining power.
For an analysis of the current political situation in Zimbabwe, VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua spoke to David Sanders, a Zimbabwean-born professor who heads the School of Public Health at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town. Professor Sanders first commented on the chances of a free and fair presidential runoff election.
“The chances of having a fair and free runoff are virtually nil. I mean it’s pretty clear to everyone, and even some African heads of state have commented on this, that the current regime has created a situation of repression and intimidation such that voters will feel at the very least uncomfortable and at the most extremely intimidated in exercising their right to vote,” he says.
Asked whether any country, on the continent or elsewhere, could influence or pressure President Mugabe, Sanders says, “I think it’s unlikely that countries outside Africa are going to be able to influence him. In fact, I think that sometimes his attitude hardens further when particularly Britain or the US attempts to exert such pressure. However, I think that African countries could and should exert such pressure, both collectively and individually. In terms of individual countries, I think one of the few that could exert effective pressure is South Africa because of its economic relationship with Zimbabwe,” he says.
South African President Thabo Mbeki was appointed by SADC, the Southern African Development Community, to mediate Zimbabwe’s political crisis. Critics have accused him of not taking a hard enough line with the Mugabe government, while supporters say he must keep a neutral stance to ensure dialogue with both the government and the opposition.
Sanders says, “I think it (South Africa) could do a number of things. I think that President Mbeki, as the appointed mediator for SADC and…recent chair of the AU, could certainly bring those organizations or influence SADC and the AU to adopt a much stronger and much less divided approach to Zimbabwe. I think that South Africa on its own could also exert significant economic pressure on Zimbabwe because Zimbabwe relies in many ways on South Africa, not least for much of its electricity supply. So that economic sanctions from South Africa could be used.”
He says that it’s been done before, “ironically, by President Vorster during the apartheid era in forcing (Rhodesian leader) Ian Smith to enter into negotiations with the then liberation movement headed by Robert Mugabe. So, there is a deep irony here.”
Sanders doubts that economic incentives from other countries would have any influence now on President Mugabe or help ensure a free and fair election.