Zuma’s warm message to Mugabe ‘premature’

2013-08-05 00:00

ZIMBABWEAN president Robert Mugabe’s re-election and his rival MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s challenge against the poll results has put President Jacob Zuma in a quandary.

Zuma yesterday morning extended his “profound congratulations” to Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe on his re-election and urged political parties to accept the outcome as “an expression of the will of the people” commending Zimbabwe for “conducting a peaceful election”.

As the head of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) facilitation team in Zimbabwe, however, Zuma is required to take a stance that favours neither party. The SADC’s observer team had already expressed concerns that the elections might not have been fair and its final report is only expected in a month’s time.

Diplomatically South Africa is keen to patch up relations with Zimbabwe after Zuma’s envoy Lindiwe Zulu angered Mugabe by expressing the SADC’s concerns in the run-up to the elections.

Zuma’s reaction yesterday came more than 12 hours after the widely-expected announcement that Mugabe had won the country’s presidential elections with a convincing 61,1% after Zanu-PF won seats in more than 76% of the country’s constituencies.

Zuma’s statement also came after countries like the United States and Britain issued statements within hours of the announcement in Harare, describing the elections as “deeply flawed” and expressing “grave concerns” respectively.

The SADC’s troika organ on Zimbabwe, of which Zuma is a member, is set to meet on Wednesday in Lilongwe to talk about the recent elections.

The DA criticised Zuma’s remarks, with its spokesperson on international relations, Ian Davidson, saying in a statement Mugabe’s election was “stolen”.

Davidson said by “prematurely” congratulating Mugabe, “Zuma has failed Zimbabwe, failed Zimbabweans and failed the SADC by not providing the leadership the region desperately required”.

Davidson said Zuma’s message of congratulation “shamefully legitimises undemocratic practices during elections, and sends a message that significant irregularities will be tolerated by his administration”.

Concerns by observer bodies included the printing of two million extra ballot papers, more than the international standard, the late release of the voters’ roll by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the number of people turned away from the polls.

MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who only managed to garner 33,9% of the vote, said his party would withdraw from all government institutions and would consider “at the appropriate time” whether to withdraw its 49 MPs from the 210-seat national assembly as well.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement on Saturday night Washington “does not believe that the results represent a credible expression of the will of the Zimbab­wean people”.

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