Zimbabwe: Regional Vigilance Critical As Poll Nears

editorial

The next elections are going to be a high-stakes game; the signs are already there for all to see.

At stake are not merely parliamentary seats and the presidency but also the very political survival of lots of personages.

The events of the past week have shown how people's civil liberties will be painfully taken away from them, how no one is safe from the reach of a marauding power elite that will stop at nothing to win the coming elections.

The lawyers are in trouble, next it will be the journalists. This is not difficult to see.

In the past few weeks it has been the press that has exposed the rampant corruption in certain circles of the political elite. The problem is not that corruption has been exposed, its existence has for long been an open secret.

In December last year President Mugabe said at his party's annual conference he was aware that some of his henchmen were demanding kickbacks from potential investors. He promised to act against such charlatans.

The problem is that the recent investigation into corruption by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) has hit right at the core of Zanu PF's survival strategy.

The party had wagered on the success of the indigenisation programme to win votes. The argument was that by grabbing stakes in foreign-owned companies and giving them to indigenous Zimbabweans, the party would regain its popularity as it claims it did at the turn of the millennium with the land reform programme.

Looked at from a disinterested angle, empowering the majority of the people through the indigenisation programme was a masterstroke. Who would not support such a noble cause? The community share ownership schemes that President Mugabe launched across the country were a great propaganda coup.

But like the land reform programme before it, the indigenisation process was also fraught with problems and the press was quick to expose these. The major problem was corruption. The revelation that while portraying themselves as people's champions by crusading against imperialism, the protagonists were also lining their own pockets, was a major blow to the campaign strategy.

What is happening to the anti-corruption commission and to anyone who dares expose the rampant corruption are an attempt at damage control. Members of the commission have to be exposed as corrupt, by so doing taking away their moral authority to investigate the cancer.

Interestingly, the process of smearing the commissioners has not spared judges. Any judge who has supported efforts to expose corruption is also targeted and his gravitas undermined. In any other country such direct attacks on judges would be deemed to be attacks on the judiciary and would be seen as highly contemptuous of the High Court.

It would bring the whole judicial system into disrepute. When the courts have been silenced and the judges have been silenced too, the press necessarily becomes the next target. It has happened before and it will happen again. We have already seen how the public press has been suborned and is being used as the weapon of choice in the dirty fight; next the private press will be labelled an enemy.

In 2001, a newsroom and a printing press were bombed. The act showed the extent to which the perpetrators could go to silence voices that exposed the ruling elite's impropriety.

Some of the nonsense being published in state-run newspapers is laughable. For example, Zacc chief executive, Sukai Tongogara, is no longer daughter of the late liberation war hero General Josiah Tongogara because of her involvement in the corruption investigations.

She is also accused of being a member of a political party that's fighting her father's comrades and their ideals.

The person who has the audacity to make the accusation not long ago was seen at Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's door asking for help and vilifying the same party that she now says her stepdaughter is about to destroy. But how that little piece of trivia is supposed to undermine her work, no one knows; one doesn't have to be the daughter of a national hero to be able to fight corruption.

The move is an attempt at labelling her a liar and therefore unfit for office.

It is when the private press continues to expose this farcical approach to issues that it will be targeted. The press will be lucky if it gets away with litigation only as has often happened but already threats are beginning to fly around which are likely to turn very nasty.

What all this points to is that the next few months - the months before the elections some say will be held in July - will be like a crucible in which Zimbabwe will be plunged back into uncertainty and insecurity.

President Mugabe has of late been preaching peace but it is now apparent peace cannot subsist in an environment in which there is no rule of law or in which the rule of law is subverted to serve certain interests.

After the successful holding of the referendum, the world was beginning to think that Zimbabwe had reinvented itself and was now on a clear path to peace. But the events of the past week or so point otherwise. This means the world, especially the regional body the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) should continue to keep the eye on the ball.

The roadmap spelt out in the global political agreement that brought about the government of national unity that rules the country today has only been partially fulfilled. On the roadmap are some important reforms that are still to be implemented. These include security sector reform, media reform and the establishment of a working human rights commission.

If these reforms are not implemented, civil society, particularly journalists and lawyers, will continue to be vulnerable to attack as is happening now.

Sadc should maintain a continuous presence in Zimbabwe to monitor progress. The powers that be will argue Zimbabwe is a sovereign country which should be allowed to rule itself the way it wishes, but sovereignty does not mean bludgeoning civil society into submission.

Often the sovereignty argument is used by the main culprits in the undermining of the rule of law. Vigilance is important at this critical juncture so Sadc should not shy away from its responsibility.

elections

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