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Zimbabwe: Solidarity Newsletter

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Mar 2, 2005 (050302)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"The Zimbabwean elections of 2000 and 2002 deepened the political crisis, rather than contributing to a progressive resolution. Since 2002 democratic space has been further eroded. What Zimbabwe needs now is not another gravely flawed election but a SADC-facilitated negotiated transition towards democracy." - Zimbabwe Solidarity Conference, South Africa, February 24-25, 2005

With parliamentary elections set for March 31, tension is escalating in Zimbabwe. Opposition and independent candidates are competing in the elections, and observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other organizations are expected to be present. But the dominant notes in the pre-election climate are intimidation and repression, with the expression of opinion by Zimbabwean NGOs and independent media more limited than ever.

International attention tends to focus on critiques from Western governments and the reluctance of governments in Southern Africa to go beyond quiet diplomacy in confronting the ruling Mugabe regime's violations of democratic rights. But perhaps the most important new development is increasing activism on Zimbabwe by civil society in the region, including trade unions, churches, youth groups, Zimbabwean exiles, and others.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains reports on the Zimbabwe Solidarity Conference, excerpted from the latest issue of the new Zimbabwe Solidarity Newsletter. For more details on the newsletter and how to subscribe, see the note below at the beginning of the newsletter excerpts.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Zimbabwe, visit
The latest news from and IRIN is available at and

Other sources of current news on the Zimbabwe elections and related issues include:

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Zimbabwe Solidarity Newsletter

Issue 2, Sunday 27 February, 2005

[Excerpts only. From e-mail newsletter published by the Zimbabwe Solidarity and Consultation Forum, a network of progressive South African civil society organizations, including youth, women, labour, faith-based, human rights and student formations.

To subscribe to the Zimbabwe Solidarity Newsletter, send a message to Please specify in the subject line whether you want the plain-text or PDF version. Full text of past issues can be found on the Zimbabwe Situation website ( Letters, reactions or opinions can be sent to with the words 'Newsletter reaction' in the subject.]

Solidarity in Practice - the Zimbabwe Solidarity Conference

It wasn't always easy for the many speakers to address the plenary session of the solidarity conference on the 24th and 25th of February. The atmosphere at the conference facility in the South African capital was fiery, and laden with activist energy. Chanting and singing filled the conference hall on several occasions and came to a climax when Morgan Tsvangirai approached the hall. The many Amandla!'s and much spontaneous singing resulted in speeches lasting longer than planned as well as a very sweaty organizing committee. Jeremy Cronin had to wait at least ten minutes before the singing crowd, happy to see him stand before them, allowed him to read out and explain the collectively drafted statement.

The bulk of the chanting and singing came from a big presence of South African youth organizations such as Cosas and Sasco. They cheered up the atmosphere with their activist energy as well as provided the necessary insightfulness with critical questions to the keynote speakers. But delegates were not only of South African origin. Civics from the SADC region at large were well represented, and delegates from as far away as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Angola were present, alongside with brothers and sisters from Mozambique, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Zambia. Another show of solidarity came from the chair of the conference, Bishop Rubin Phillip of Kwazulu-Natal, when he asked for moments of silence and moments of prayer. These allowed delegates a chance to commemorate the many Zimbabweans who have given their lives for freedom. This sombre reflections allowed participants to pay respect to the many who, over the last few years, have been killed, tortured, raped or have been made homeless as a consequence of their continued struggle for freedom. But with the Inter-denominational Women's Prayer League from Mamelodi to back the prayers up many found their moment of silence with Zimbabwean friends and family on their minds and in their hearts.

The conference ended in several strong commitments to concrete acts of solidarity, as can be witnessed by the conference statement (further on in the newsletter) and the ensuing agenda. The conference agreed that the focus should not only be on the March 2005 elections, but also long-term. It was further noted that these problems not only exist in Zimbabwe but elsewhere in the region but that we have to join forces to tackle the Zimbabwe crisis first. Delegates emphasised that we have to repay Zimbabwe for the respect and support it showed us during the anti-apartheid struggle as much as we would expect their help and assistance again if ever we in South Africa are faced with the ordeals Zimbabwe is now faced with. Bishop Rubin closed the conference with a poem by Freedom Nyamubaya, who had joined Mugabe's ZANLA army at the age of 15 where her first sexual experience with men was to be raped in the camp - an all-too-common experience for many women recruits in the ZANLA forces during the liberation war. And sadly today this experience is no different for the many young women in the youth militia camps.

Poem Hey Man, Come with Me!

Sometimes I get lonely
While the world is full of life.
I see happy faces torn with joy,
loving girl-friends and loving husbands.
I sit and wonder what is wrong
for I stand with thousands
and I only count as one.

Mother is so far.
Maybe she is dead.
This world gets so frantic -
I really miss home.
Oh! Forget about home,
It's another blood pool.
But I love my people
This, I cannot hide . . .

Hey man, come with me!
let us fight this fight together.
Yes, I store love for you,
but I will always love my people.
If we have a family, let Fighters be our name;
we need no ring, no ceremony -
Let victory be our ring.

Courtesy of Freedom T.V. Nyamubuya, from "on the road again", Freedom Publishers

Reporting Back - Third Zimbabwe Solidarity Conference

The Third Zimbabwe Solidarity Conference was held in Pretoria, South Africa on the 24th and 25th of February. Attendees at the Conference included representatives from civil society organizations across the SADC region who had come together to discuss a program of action in solidarity with Zimbabweans in the run up to the March 31st parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe, and beyond.

The Conference began with a keynote address by COSATU secretary general, Zwelenzima Vavi. Vavi noted the historic ties between South Africa and Zimbabwe, including between the two nation's labour movements before describing the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe. Assessing the upcoming March 31st elections in Zimbabwe, Vavi said, "it will take a miracle to save the credibility of these elections." Obstacles to a free and fair election, Vavi said, included draconian legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Protection Act (AIPPA), as well as the "chaotic voters roll," which Vavi said "is in a complete shambles."

Two veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation struggle, Wilfred Mhanda and Freedom Nyamubaya also spoke at the conference. Mhanda emphasised that the liberation struggle had been a struggle of the Zimbabwean people, saying, "Mugabe on his own could not have liberated Zimbabwe." Addressing the upcoming elections, Mhanda argued that election conditions that would be unacceptable in South Africa should also be unacceptable in Zimbabwe.

The President of the Young Communists' League, David Masondo, addressed the conference. Masondo criticized the ZANU (PF) regime, saying that the history of oppression had been appropriated by Mugabe. Masondo also identified the role played by repressive legislation and violence, asking, "How can Zimbabweans resolve their own problems when the necessary conditions are not there?" "We are very critical of that stance of our government," he added.

Chris Landsberg, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, described the possibility of SADC intervening in the Zimbabwean crisis as very unlikely, suggesting that SADC countries were hesitant to criticize Mugabe for fear of being seen as "sellouts."

Morgan Tsvangirai, president of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) addressed the Conference at the opening of the second day. Tsvangirai said that ZANU (PF) had betrayed the ideal of "one man, one vote" espoused by the liberation struggle. Focusing on the March election, Tsvangirai noted the poor condition of the voters roll, saying that the MDC estimated that there were between 800,000 and 1 million dead voters on the roll. "The election will not be free and fair no matter what the result," said Tsvangirai, citing Zimbabwe's continuing non-compliance with the SADC Norms and Guidelines governing democratic elections. Tsvangirai stressed that there was consensus on the issue of land redistribution in Zimbabwe, but that the MDC disagreed with the ruling party over the methodology, saying land should go to ordinary people not politicians.

The President of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Lovemore Matombo, likened the workers of Zimbabwe to "the grass that suffers when two bull elephants fight."

Through extensive discussions, the Conference produced a programme of action targeted at drawing greater attention to the suffering of Zimbabweans and promoting action from all stakeholders in the region. The Conference identified the resolution of the "persisting political blockage" as the necessary condition for addressing the social, economic and moral crises in Zimbabwe. The Conference also stated that the March 31st elections "will not be remotely compliant with [the SADC] guidelines" and stated its support for a more "hands-on role" by SADC in the elections. A statement drafted by the plenary session of the conference is included in this newsletter.

Statement 3rd Zimbabwean Solidarity Conference

24th-25th February, South Africa,
the Zimbabwe Solidarity and Consultation Forum

The Zimbabwe Solidarity and Consultation forum is a network of progressive South African civil society organizations, including youth, women, labour, faith-based, human rights and student formations. Over the past months our network has grown rapidly in size and influence, and we say confidently that we have contributed to a much greater understanding of the crisis and challenges in Zimbabwe within our organizations and within the broader South African debate. We convened our 3rd Zimbabwe Solidarity Conference on the 24-25th February in Tshwane to assess progress in our work and to discuss a programme of action going forward.

All dimensions of the crisis in Zimbabwe require urgent attention. However, it is the persisting political blockage that makes it difficult to address the social, economic and moral crises in any sustainable way. Our solidarity efforts need to be directed at the political crisis in Zimbabwe as a priority but not to the exclusion of the other dimensions of the crisis.

We commend efforts made by the South African government and by SADC to foster talks between the major political forces in Zimbabwe to arrive at a negotiated road-map for a democratic transition. These endeavours have not succeeded for the moment. There has been a lack of seriousness from the side of the ZANU-PF government. The unilateral declaration of a March 31 election date by the Zimbabwean government is in complete breach of the spirit and intent of that process.

As we move towards March 31, we need to bear in mind that the Zimbabwean elections of 2000 and 2002 deepened the political crisis, rather than contributing to a progressive resolution. Since 2002 democratic space has been further eroded. What Zimbabwe needs now is not another gravely flawed election but a SADC-facilitated negotiated transition towards democracy.

Comparing 2005 with the elections of 2000 and 2002 there is one crucially important difference now. We have in place the SADC Principles and Guidelines. All SADC governments have solemnly signed these Principles, which commit them (in terms of clause 7.1) to a scrupulous implementation. As South African and Southern African citizens we are proud of these very important and thoroughly progressive Principles and Guidelines. The fundamental requirements of a legitimate election are no longer a matter of vagueness, they are clearly benchmarked.

It is already clear that the forthcoming March 31 elections will not be remotely compliant with these Principles and Guidelines. We believe that the majority of SADC governments should appreciate very clearly that any pragmatic compromise on the SADC Principles and Guidelines, in the vain hope that this compromise will establish some kind of stability in Zimbabwe will, in fact:

*. Perpetuate the Zimbabwean political crisis;

*. Undermine the standing of our regional governments in the eyes of their citizens and the international community at large.

They will also appreciate that this is a litmus test for other elections in our region.

We support President Mbeki's views that SADC must have a much more hands on role in the run up to the March 31 elections. We believe that this must apply with even greater vigour after the end of March. SADC must actively fulfil its responsibilities in Zimbabwe to open up democratic space that remains open beyond the election itself. We are disappointed that SADC, for whatever reason, has in the past weeks been slow to take up its role in Zimbabwe.

In the coming days and weeks, we, the participating formations within the Zimbabwe Solidarity and Consultation Forum will be intensifying our activities within South Africa and throughout our region, in support of our vision and in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe. We call on all South and Southern Africans to join us in these activities. Our solidarity efforts will need to extend way beyond the election itself.

At this week's conference we have agreed upon a wide range of practical activities aimed at raising awareness and conscientising people about the crisis in Zimbabwe which include:

*. Mass actions aimed at popularizing our vision and mobilizing and organizing people behind our solidarity efforts. These actions include support for the COSATU programme and a range of other localized and national efforts on campuses, within places of worship and in communities.

* Our solidarity front also welcomes COSATU's efforts with allied formations in SATUCC. Many of our participating formations will also be working closely with their regional counterparts.

*. We will also be supporting a range of efforts to ensure that South African civil society formations are represented in election monitoring initiatives.

*. Engaging the media to ensure adequate and impartial coverage of the situation in Zimbabwe and using our networks to increase access to information.

*. A consolidation of the growing level of participation of mass based youth and student structures in our solidarity efforts and recognition of the importance of this involvement.

During the coming days further details of the specific activities will be released as action plans are further developed.

SADC finally invited to oversee elections

The Southern African Development Community has finally, 58 days too late according to their own guidelines, been invited to monitor the March 31 elections in Zimbabwe. This belated invitation in itself shows ZANU-PF's blatant disrespect for SADC and its 13 members and it's unwillingness to abide by the SADC principles and guidelines for free and fair elections, according to analysts. As a consequence it will become increasingly difficult for SADC to describe the elections as "credible", as it did in 2002, because it had failed to monitor the run-up to the elections Anne Hamerstad, an expert on SADC at South Africa's Institute for Security Studies said. Sehlare Makgetlaneng of the Africa Institute of South Africa went further to say, "It is already too late to send an observer mission now. SADC should have been more pro-active."

Invitations have been extended to some 32 countries, including 23 from Africa and five from Asia. Several organisations have also been invited, including the African Union, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Non-Aligned Movement and the United Nations. (IRIN, 21 Feb)

Analysis - the SADC Protocol and the Observers: Does this Contribute to Regional Solidarity for Liberation Ideals and Agenda?

Much hope has been placed on the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections. Clearly the hope has been that Zimbabwe's voluntary acceptance of African standards would lead to a situation in which Zimbabwe would create the internal conditions for a poll that could be accepted by its regional allies.

However, SADC now finds itself in a serious dilemma. Ever since the disputed election in 2000, SADC has been fighting a series of rear-guard actions to maintain its credibility over Zimbabwe. At the UN Human Rights Commission, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, the EU-ACP Parliamentary Forum, and in other international fora, SADC member states have fought to prevent Zimbabwe's further isolation, and, in so doing, have tried to portray the Zimbabwe crisis as minimal. This has meant that the more odious features of the crisis - the gross human rights violations, the burgeoning food shortages, and the general economic collapse - have all had to be down-played in an effort to ensure that Zimbabwe's problems are managed continentally. In the final analysis, the problems of Zimbabwe will have to be managed regionally.

So SADC has set itself up to be the final arbiter of the forthcoming poll, and would seem to have walked neatly into yet another trap set by Robert Mugabe. In essence, the trap is very simple: you can only judge on what you see. So the Zimbabwe Government plays the SADC Principles and Guidelines with a very fine sense of judgement, leaving SADC reeling in its wake.

On the one hand, the Government states baldly that these are only guidelines and principles, and not a legally binding instrument: every sovereign state will apply the principles and guidelines within the context of its own constitution and political situation. Hence observers must judge not in some absolute manner, but relatively according to these constraints. For example, Zimbabwe has constituencies and a first-past-the-post model, not proportional representation, and thus postal votes are very difficult to incorporate in this model.

But, on the other hand, the Zimbabwe Government applies the Principles and Guidelines very legalistically over the matter of observers. According to these principles, a government shall invite observers if it sees fit, and such observers need only be present 2 weeks before the poll. It is desirable that they be present 90 days before the poll, but the minimum requirement is 2 weeks, and the Zimbabwe Government looks like making this minimum stick.

So it seems that SADC will be forced into giving this poll the thumbs up, if only because they will not be present in the country long enough to satisfactorily observe the pre-election process. Furthermore, since they have studiously refrained from commenting on all the many adverse aspects of Zimbabwean political life in the past, they will be unable to draw on their own previous knowledge if they want to maintain face. SADC will be unable to comment on the effects of sustained political violence on an electorate if it has not previously admitted their existence. Indeed, the President of Tanzania has already denied that violence has been a problem, and this notwithstanding the report of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights now adopted by the AU.

As the introduction to the SADC Principles and Guidelines puts it: the SADC region has made significant strides in the consolidation of the citizens' participation in the decision-making processes and consolidation of democratic practice and institutions. It was the denial of citizen participation that led to the many struggles in Southern Africa, and to the liberation of all Southern African countries from colonial and racist regimes. Zimbabwe now provides an important test of the commitment expressed above, and all are watching to see whether SADC will expand this commitment to ensure full participation of Zimbabweans in their choice of government. Or will SADC founder on the rock of narrow interpretations of national sovereignty, and another bright new African start be dulled by misplaced solidarity with an elite out of step with its people?

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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