Zuma is damaged by rushing to endorse Zimbabwe election

Posted 07 August 2013 Written by Mamphela Rampele
Category Constitution

THE process leading up to the last week’s Zimbabwean elections and the way they were conducted are a grim reminder of the results of a failure of accountability and citizenship activism to nurture and sustain democracy, according to Business Day.

The failure of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and African Union (AU) leaders to follow through on their own set of conditions for a credible, free and fair election bode ill for the promise of freedom and democracy in Africa.

We seem to be drifting back to the old political culture of African leaders protecting their peers, who hold on to power by thwarting the will of the people.

South Africa’s government is also implicated in this failure to insist on the conditions for a free and fair election in Zimbabwe. Every one of the rules set by the Sadc task team was violated: constitutional guarantees; freedom and rights to all citizens; a conducive environment for free, fair and peaceful elections; nondiscrimination in voter registration; an updated and accessible voters’ roll; a timeous announcement of the election date; transparent funding of political parties in accordance with the law; deployment of observer missions to all voting stations to ensure neutrality; neutral polling station locations to ensure accessibility to all; and vote-counting to be done at polling stations.

How could the AU pronounce so quickly on the fairness and freedom of these elections knowing that none of the above conditions were met? Why has Sadc, which expressed concern about the status of these issues only a few weeks ago, be so tame in letting the elections go ahead before the mission of the task team was accomplished? Why did the senior women in the African National Congress (ANC) not come to the defence of Lindiwe Zulu when she was called a "street woman" by Robert Mugabe for daring to raise concerns about these matters? Why did the ANC not rebuke its president for failing to defend Zulu against the violation of her dignity and rights as a woman and a citizen?

Sadc has failed to live up to its promise of becoming a more robust custodian of good governance and protection of citizens as well an enabler of sustainable development. To pronounce the elections as free and peaceful when every one of its own conditions was violated is incredible. The disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of voters, who were turned away from polling stations, and the blatant stuffing of ballot boxes are just some of the most outrageous of the violations. Citizens of Sadc countries have to know they are on their own when it comes to governance issues in their countries. South Africa has lost its moral authority in Sadc and the AU.

The failure of President Jacob Zuma to discharge his responsibilities as an honest broker in Zimbabwe adds insult to the injury inflicted by the role of his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. The disputed 2008 election was widely believed to have been stolen by Mugabe with the acquiescence of South African government leaders. What is being hidden in the review report by the South African team on that election, despite court action by opposition parties?

We should be concerned as citizens that we have a governing party that is not showing a commitment to democracy as the expression of the will of the people.

We have seen worrying trends.

First, there is the systematic erosion by this government over the past few years of institutions and values that are essential to sustaining our constitutional democracy. Freedom of speech, expression and association are under attack through multiple attempts at silencing dissent: the "Secrecy Bill", the Traditional Courts Bill, and the undermining of the SABC’s independence through the appointment of a chief operating officer with no qualification for the job and the instability brought on by political interference in the functioning of its board.

In addition, the inexplicable use of R500m from government employee pension funds to support the purchase of Independent News & Media smells of a further attempt to bolster control over the media by the government — at the expense of the security of retirement benefits of teachers, nurses and other public servants. No credible pension portfolio manager could justify investing that kind of funding in a traditionally underperforming sector with an uncertain future.

So why did the Public Investment Corporation and the Government Employees Pension Fund allow this to happen?

Second, we have seen a culture of disregard for accountability in the conduct of this government — not dissimilar to Zanu (PF)’s to governance over the past decade.

The abuse of state resources knows no bounds as the personal interests of the president, the ANC and those of the government and the state are treated as one.

How else can one explain the use of more than R200m to build a palace for Zuma?

How else to explain the landing of the Gupta chartered flight at Air Force Base Waterkloof and the use of public servants to escort them to Sun City?

How different is this from Zanu (PF)’s approach of commandeering the agricultural land, minerals and the use of Zimbabwean airlines for the benefit of Zanu (PF) leaders, including Mugabe? We are witnessing the Zanufication of South African politics.

Third, the culture of impunity with regard to corruption has reached new levels. The insistence of the ANC on the mayor of Tlokwe municipality retaining his position despite the many charges of corruption against him reveals the true culture of a government that has lost the will to be accountable. Instead of dismissing the mayor, it expelled its councillors who were standing on the side of accountability. To add insult to injury, the minister of social development was dispatched to offer food parcels to aggrieved residents, who want nothing more than respect for their human rights, dignity and freedom. Public funds are used to buy votes in this manner, not only in Tlokwe, but in Mzombane in Limpopo.

The citizens of South Africa have a choice to remain passive because they are afraid to speak up against this abuse of power and let the country slide into authoritarian rule. Or citizens can do what we did to apartheid and stand up together and say no to the destruction of the promise of the freedom for which so many fought and many others died. Citizen power is the only thing that stops unaccountable governments worldwide. We have the strong protection of the constitution, the courts and the rule of law.

We have to ensure that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is protected and defended against any intrusion into its space by the governing party. Next year’s elections are a testing ground for how citizens can be effective in protecting the gains of our democracy and halting the erosion of our watchdog institutions. Opposition parties must work together to support the IEC and to monitor performance of all the key elements to ensure free and fair elections.

Citizens get the quality of democracy that they deserve. Accountability in government is directly related to the extent of citizen activism. Reliance on the liberation credentials of political leaders is a recipe for authoritarian, unaccountable governance. Zimbabweans have paid a heavy price for relying on Zanu (PF)’s leadership despite unspeakable abuses of power. South Africans need to heed the lessons and start mobilising to strengthen institutions of democracy. Next year’s elections offer us an opportunity to vote for the future and not the past.

Ramphele is leader of Agang SA.

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