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SADC Decision Falls Short

On 1 June SADC leaders meeting in Luanda, Angola, for an extraordinary summit that discussed the political situation in Zimbabwe made a correct decision when the insisted on critical reforms before Zimbabwe can go for elections. This may have derailed plans by Zanu PF to have elections this year with or without a new constitution and may have given pro-democracy forces cause to cheer, but much more needs to be done. SADC must abandone this minimalist approach and take decisive steps to ensure the urgent implementation of reforms to level the political field and pave way for non-violent, free and fair elections as soon as possible.

In March 2011 the SADC Troika Organ on Defence, Politics and Security Cooperation made it clear that elections in Zimbabwe could only take place following credible reforms, and therefore, the Luanda SADC Communique did not reveal anything new; it merely restated a position that SADC had already put on public record. While some can celebrate that SADC consensus on Zimbabwe has not been broken, especially given that Zambian president Sata seems sympathetic to Zanu PF views, the real challenge is that SADC is failing to go beyond this minimalist to actually push for the reforms that must be implemented.

It is not that civil society has been pushing for Zimbabwe not to go for elections at all, but rather, that Zimbabwe should only go to elections under the right conditions. SADC has laid out in clear terms, firm pre-conditions to ensure democratic elections in Zimbabwe but has done little to ensure that Zimbabwe's political leaders implement the reforms with a sense of urgency. Given Zanu PF's resistance to reforms, there is a real risk that the next 12 months may fail to yield the desired reforms which the Inclusive Government failed to implement in the last 48 months. Such a scenario may very well benefit president Mugabe who may wish to die in office, but would certainly be disastrous for Zimbabwe.

SADC must now confront Zanu PF directly on the question of the urgency of reforms and insist on a clear timeframe within which reforms must be implemented. No-one is advocacting for the lifespan of the Inclusive Government to be extended in perpetuity. Fresh elections leading to a legitimate government with a mandate from the people is in every Zimbabwean's interest. There is need now to commit to a clear elections roadmap with benchmarks including a new constitution confirmed in a referendum.

An issue of prime importance for SADC is the monitoring of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) implementation, particulary the set of reforms agreed to that will level the political field and pave way for free and fair elections, and such monitoring is best achieved through the urgent deployment of SADC appointed monitors from the Troika countries who should work closely with the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC). Agreement was reached that the SADC monitors should be deployed but to date this has not happened, SADC leaders must now shift their focus to ensuring that they have a presence on the ground in Zimbabwe to monitor all aspects of the implementation of the GPA on a day to day basis.

SADC must make it clear to the political parties in Zimbabwe that now it is business as unusual and state clearly what appropriate steps it will take to ensure full compliance with its resolutions and directives regarding Zimbabwe's preparations for elections. For the roadmap to be meaningful and to inspire confidence in the people of Zimbabwe, it must directly address the following five critical pre-conditions:

A new constitution which includes critical electoral reforms such as an updated and accurate voters' roll, guarantees for media freedoms, promotes gender equality and equal access by all political parties to state media while repealing or amending all legislation that hinders free political activity.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and its Secretariat Staff, charged with elections management, must be completely demilitarized, independent, professional, adequately resourced and have direct technical support from the SADC Electoral Commissions Forum to enable it to impartially discharge its mandate.

In the context of its on-going facilitation in the political conflict in Zimbabwe, SADC must independently examine and certify that the environment is conducive to holding free and fair elections and then supervise those elections to ensure full compliance with SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic elections. The elections must robustly monitored and observed by local, regional and international groups who should have unfettered access to all parts of the country.

Together with the AU and the UN, deploy peace-keeping monitors at least three months ahead of elections to prevent state-sponsored violence and intimidation and to guarantee peaceful transfer of power to the eventual winner of the elections. The peace-keeping monitors should remain on the ground a further three months after elections have been held.

Dewa Mavhinga, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Regional Coordinator

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