Civil society calls for regional solidarity ahead of elections

HARARE - Civil society organisations have called for regional solidarity from southern African partners in ensuring that the 2018 elections in Zimbabwe meet the Sadc standards for free and fair elections.

During a session on human rights and elections at the Sadc People’s Summit on August 17, in Johannesburg, South Africa (SA), Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), Election Resource Centre (ERC), Heal Zimbabwe Trust, Crisis Coalition and Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) supported by Swaziland and Lesotho activists called for protection of democracy and human rights in the region.

SA organisations that have been supporting the agenda of democratisation in Zimbabwe such as the Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum and Action Support Centre have also supported the call for the full implementation of the revised Sadc principles and guidelines governing democratic elections adopted in 2015.

ZimRights chairperson Passmore Nyakureba urged civil society organisations in the region to stand up to their leaders to press the Zimbabwean government for reforms.

“Sadc has no intention of making its members abide by the organ’s principles and guidelines. West Africa and East Africa have progressed, but Sadc has regressed on this issue.

“Zimbabwe is on the verge of another undemocratic election and youth militia have been called back on the government payroll.

“We call upon civil society organisations in various countries to tell your presidents to stand up to protect what they agreed on with regards to the standards of elections.

“Elections in Zimbabwe have always been run on the basis of fear and violence,” Nyakureba said.

ERC Director Tawanda Chimhini said the southern Africa region had problems in complying with the Sadc principles guiding democratic elections.

“In 2015, the Sadc Principles and Guidelines were revised. There is an agreement among member countries that countries must ensure full participation of citizens in electoral processes.

“When it comes to compliance we have a crisis not only in Zimbabwe, but the whole of Sadc. The principles themselves are adequate, but the application is inadequate.

“When the 2013 elections ended in Zimbabwe, the first amendment of laws that came from the authorities was to ensure that the outcome of the next election is predetermined,” said Chimhinhi.

Zesn programmes coordinator Ellen Dingane said the government of Zimbabwe needed to implement the Constitution and to enforce laws against political violence.

“We are talking about zero tolerance to political violence. We have the example of Phillip Machipisa, a Zesn member who was killed for observing elections in 2008.

“We also want to know who will keep the server of the voters’ roll, whether we have back up servers and there must be timeous availing of the voters’ roll,” said Dingane.

Cleto Manjova of Heal Zimbabwe Trust called for an early warning mechanism to preserve peace in the run up to the elections.

“In the event of a violent election in Zimbabwe in 2018, there is need for the region to respond. So there is need for an early warning system in Zimbabwe.

‘Section 3 (3) (1) of the Sadc principles shows that Heads of States agreed that elections should be violence free, but the problem is adherence to the provisions.

“The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) is a vehicle to ensure that there is no recurrence of violence, but we have commissioners appointed but they are not doing anything,” said Manjova.

Crisis Coalition board member Anglistone Sibanda said there were indications that the ruling Zanu PF party is preparing to intimidate people ahead of the elections, adding that perpetrators of past violence still enjoyed impunity.

“The challenge is that people in power have committed genocide and know that if they are not in power they will be susceptible to prosecution. There is violence but nothing is being done because the perpetrators are in power.

“We are seeing soldiers being deployed under the guise of command agriculture.

“We need to pile up pressure for compliance with the Sadc Guidelines,” said Sibanda.

Director of the National Youth Development Trust Liberty Bhebhe said political leaders in Zimbabwe could not be trusted “to count the votes properly” in apparent reference to repeated allegations of rigging of national elections.

”As Zimbabweans we come before you hanging our heads in shame because of what our first lady did here,” added Bhebhe, referring to President Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace’s alleged assault and injuring of a young model for befriending her sons at a Sandton Hotel in South Africa, which has sparked a diplomatic crisis.

Actors from Savanna Trust of Zimbabwe performed their National Arts Merit Awards (Nama) award-winning human rights play, Liberation at the opening night’s event.

The play lays bare the rampant police brutality, patronage, corruption, social inequality, challenges of democratisation and mistreatment of human rights activists by the Zimbabwean authorities.

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