Why SADC does not consider Mugabe a villain

Regional bloc ignores criticism levelled against Zimbabwe’s leader and hands him its rotating chairm

Mugabe won disputed elections last year and a petition from his main challenger was withdrawn [Al Jazeera]

Few countries in southern Africa attract as much global media attention as Zimbabwe. But the Southern African Development Community’s naming of Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, to the bloc’s rotating chairmanship went almost unnoticed in the international media. 

That was to be expected to a certain extent. The conflicts in the Middle East – notably the Israel-Hamas fighting and the turmoil in Iraq – continue to hog the headlines.

We have, nonetheless, published the story on the 15-nation SADC enthroning Mugabe, and our writer in Harare says analysts have described the bloc’s move as geo-politically advantageous, and that it gives the 90-year-old Mugabe – in power for 34 years – some long-sought regional recognition.

The SADC summit in Zimbabwe came a little more than a year after Mugabe won elections that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the European Union judged as not being free and fair. 

SADC monitors

So why has SADC ignored the fact that the opposition still dispute the manner in which Mugabe was re-elected and gone ahead to embrace him?

The answer to that question can be found in a speech former South African President Thabo Mbeki gave last August at UNISA about Zimbabwe’s 2013 elections. Mbeki said – and this is corroborated by many independent Zimbabwe watchers – that there was a deliberate campaign by some Western nations to discredit the elections.

Mbeki said that once the SADC Lawyers Association, which brings together lawyers in southern Africa, announced that it was sending a team to Zimbabwe to observe the elections, the US came forward with what he said were completely unsolicited offers of money.

The US, Mbeki said, was saying: “Look, we want to pay for your observer mission.”

But the SADC Lawyers Association turned the offer down. “We knew that if we accepted that money, then we would have to produce a report consistent with the views of the paymaster, so we said ‘no’,” Mbeki quoted them as saying.

The African Union and SADC election observers numbering about 1,000 said that despite a few irregularities, the election was a reflection of the will of the people of Zimbabwe. And they had been in the country even before the election began.

The European Union, which did not have observers on the ground as Zimbabwe refused them entry because of sanctions imposed by their countries, said the elections were marred by irregularities.

Unsubstantiated claims

Mbeki said the ambassador of one European country alleged that 10,000 voters at one polling station were assisted by Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF in voting, implying there was rigging.

The diplomat did not name the area where this happened. And Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s main challenger who also made the same allegation in his affidavit to the Constitutional Court, did not name the constituency either. In fact, he withdrew the petition despite post-election proclamations that the vote was rigged.

None of this is to suggest that Mugabe runs a clean government. There have been countless reports of torture meted out by his security forces to members of the opposition. His land redistribution programme also came under criticism for depriving white farmers of their land, although a film and four books about this programme suggest the exercise was a success.

The point this blog is trying to make is that if there are people surprised that SADC has given Mugabe’s leadership a thumbs-up by electing him chairman of the bloc it is because SADC does not view Mugabe the way the Western nations view him.

As you will see in our story, Mugabe also told SADC about Zimbabwe’s indigenisation of the economy. This does send shivers down the spine of some but what is wrong with economically empowering Zimbabweans?

Zimbabwe sometimes does attract needlessly intense media attention. Mugabe is no saint, of course, but he is not alone. There is appalling leadership in places like Eritrea but the global media seldom, if ever, turn their attention to the horn of African nation.

Nyaope destroying lives

Our coverage this week also looks at the devastating effects of third-grade heroin, also known as nyaope, on South African youth, especially blacks. The cocktail is made with rat poison, detergents and HIV/AIDS medicine. Our photo galleries amply show the extent of the problem.

We have also returned to West Africa where raging Ebola has killed over 1,000 people. The focus this time is on Guinea, where the haemorrhagic fever first paid its deadly call. Ebola has completely disrupted economic and social life in the country, and has since spread to countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. 

All four affected countries are still clueless on how they can contain the spread of the deadly virus, and all hopes are pinned on the World Health Organisation and Western nations.

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