Dar es Salaam — Tanzania yesterday took a tough stand against Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, casting doubt on whether the forthcoming run-off presidential election will be free and fair.
In a strong indication that gone are the days when Zimbabwe took Tanzania's support for granted, Dar es Salaam expressed concern about President Mugabe's style, which it said could plunge the country into further chaos.
Speaking to journalists in Dar es Salaam, Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation minister Bernard Membe said: "I want to tell you what I told fellow Southern African Development Community (SADC) members. We have got evidence that the elections will not be free and fair.
"We have told the Government of Zimbabwe to stop the violence. We have told our observers not to be threatened, that they should do their work without fear. People of Zimbabwe are being hurt and it pains us," Mr Membe said. He was speaking on behalf of a peace and security troika of nations from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Tanzania is also current chair of the African Union.
"Zimbabwe has been our great friend and we have stood by them since the Lancaster agreement on land issues in 1980, but on governance issues we cannot support what is going on in Zimbabwe today," he added.
Zimbabwe has enjoyed strong support from Tanzania dating back to early 1980s, when the Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere supported President Mugabe and Zanu-PF during the struggle for liberation. But recent events in Zimbabwe seem to disturb even its closest allies, especially Mr Mugabe's statements suggesting that he will retain his post at any cost.
For instance, with only seven days to go for the run-off, President Mugabe has vowed to "go to war" to prevent the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) taking power. "We are prepared to fight for our country and to go to war for it," he told a rally of cheering supporters.
The belligerent 84-year-old's comments came during a week in which, the winner of the March 29 poll, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, was arrested several times on the campaign trail, and his second-in-command, Mr Tendai Biti, detained.
In what is likely to cripple MDC's campaigns, the Government has ordered Zimbabweans to pull down satellite dishes so they do not watch foreign television stations. This is meant to prevent them from seeing MDC election adverts, expected to be aired from South Africa.
Free and fair election
Speaking about the next week's run-off, Minister Membe said there was credible evidence that there won't be a free and fair election. Mr Membe said their judgment on the conduct of the poll was based on evidence from 211 observers already in Zimbabwe.
SADC is sending 380 monitors to Zimbabwe for the poll, in which President Mugabe faces the biggest challenge to his 28-year rule from Mr Tsvangirai. Some of the observers saw two people shot dead before them on June 17, Mr Membe said. He said this was the official stand of not only Tanzania but also group of southern African ministers who met this week to analyse the situation in Zimbabwe.
He, together with the foreign ministers of Swaziland and Angola, promised to write to their presidents "so that they do something urgently so that we can save Zimbabwe." Mr Mugabe is accused by opponents, Western countries and human rights groups of orchestrating a campaign of killings and intimidation to keep his hold on the once prosperous country. But its economy is now in ruins.
The MDC says at least 70 of its supporters have been killed. Terror campaign A senior Western diplomat, speaking in the region, said the violence was spreading and had now taken on terror proportions. "It's time really that we moved beyond calling this a campaign of violence. This is terror, plain and simple.
This is a terror campaign that the joint operations command has launched weeks ago, it's too well organised, it's too well focused, it's too comprehensive, it's too completely political in its objectives to be anything else," the diplomat said. He added that militias backing President Mugabe's Zanu-PF party were now active in Harare.
"The atmosphere is violent. The violence is not abating; indeed it is spreading to areas where it has not historically spread before," he added. Additional reporting by Reuters