15 February 2013

South Africa: SA President Must Hand Over Zim Report

Photo: IRIN
Zimbabwean queue to vote (file photo).

In a stunning victory for the right to access to information and the persistence of South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper and yet another legal defeat for the South African authorities, a High Court judge has ordered the presidency to hand over a report into the 2002 Zimbabwe elections to the M&G - and confirmed that the report contained enough information to cast doubts on the legality of the elections.

The judgment comes after four years of legal battles by the M&G to get hold of the document, which contains the findings of South African Justices Sisi Khampepe and Dikgang Moseneke, who were sent to Zimbabwe by SA's then president Thabo Mbeki to observe the 2002 elections.

Writing in the M&G, Sipho King describes how the M&G "put in a Promotion of Access to Information Act request to the president to have it released. This was refused and the matter went to court, where it was ruled that the full document had to be released. The president appealed this and a subsequent judgment in the Supreme Court of Appeal and the matter went before the Constitutional Court, which sent the matter back to the high court."

While the ruling of Judge Joseph Raulinga backs earlier court orders to release the report, it also provides a compelling reason for why the document should be in the public domain - despite the presidency's argument that releasing it could damage diplomatic relations.

Having taken a 'judicial peak' at the report, Judge Raulinga said "without disclosing the contents of the report I can reveal that the report potentially discloses evidence of substantial contravention of, or failure to comply with the law."

This is exactly what critics and opponents of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party have been saying for years. And with the next presidential and parliamentary elections due to take place this year - perhaps as early as July - the report's release now could hardly be timelier.

Judge Raulinga ordered that the full report should be released in 10 days, although it would remain embargoed if the presidency appealed yet again.

Nic Dawes, editor-in-chief of the M&G, welcomed the judgment. "Judge Raulinga makes it clear that the public interest in this case is real and urgent," he said. "They have been fighting doing so for the last four years and it is time that they accepted what multiple courts have said, which is that the M&G has the right to access the report."

And that South Africans - and Zimbabweans - have the right to read it.

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