HEAD of the Sadc electoral observer mission Mr Bernard Membe yesterday implored Zimbabweans to participate peacefully in the referendum slated for Saturday to ensure the exercise is free, fair and democratic. Mr Membe jetted into the country yesterday representing the chairperson of the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania.
Speaking at the official launch of the mission in Harare yesterday, Mr Membe urged Zimbabweans to turn up in large numbers, stressing that the exercise would also be used as a measure of democracy in the country.
"My duty is to appeal to Zimbabweans to turn out in huge numbers to make their decisions in the referendum set for March 16. This will determine democracy in the country," he said.
Mr Membe said Zimbabwe was ready for the referendum considering that the dates have already been gazetted.
Sadc executive secretary Dr Tomaz Salamao urged Zimbabweans to demonstrate high standards of maturity and to cast their votes peacefully.
"The decision to have a peaceful and democratic vote lies in the hands of Zimbabweans. We are simply observing the process. We encourage Zimbabweans to demonstrate political stability to achieve a peaceful and democratic referendum," said Dr Salamao.
They both hailed the inclusive Government and Copac in particular for working together in coming up with the draft Constitution.
The former was also commended for fulfilling the bulk of the Global Political Agreement issues.
Mr Membe said Sadc would deploy between 80 and 100 observers to various areas throughout the country.
"The observers that entered Zimbabwe yesterday will be here up to March 20," he said.
Responding to questions on whether the observers were enough to cover the whole country, Mr Membe said: "Yes the figure might appear inadequate, but Sadc will never have the capacity to bring up to 1 000 observers, enough to cover all the polling centres. After all we will not be doing much. We will simply be observing the activities," he said.
Acting Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo received the delegation at the Harare International Airport and took them to the venue of the conference.
Minister Chombo said Zimbabweans were ready for the referendum save for a handful that will never be ready at all.
"Zimbabwe is ready for the exercise. This is so because the referendum was gazetted. Various newspapers published the draft constitution and the political parties have been given copies. All provincial and district offices countrywide received copies of the draft and the Constitutional Affairs Ministry has gone around the country preaching the referendum gospel.
"Political parties are also in agreement and the bulk of the population has already hinted they will vote in favour of the draft.
"From what we know, every Zimbabwean was given an opportunity to make an input in the Constitution-making process and the majority of the people should vote yes because their views were considered. There is something for everyone in the draft. This is a people-driven Constitution," he said.
However, MDC-99 leader Mr Job Sikhala tried to revive an application that was unsuccessfully brought to the High Court by NCA leader Professor Lovemore Madhuku to have the referendum dates extended by at least two months.
Mr Sikhala told the observers that people have to be afforded more time to study and understand the document before casting their vote.
"My grandmother in Gutu does not know what the draft is all about. Imagine, the Constitution-making process took up to four years and the ordinary Zimbabweans were given three weeks to study and understand it. That is very unfair and I feel something must be done," said Mr Sikhala.
The observer team did not respond to his assertions which were generally viewed as last-minute attempts to scuttle the process.