Bishops say Zimbabwe polls premature

Johannesburg - Conditions in Zimbabwe are not conducive to holding an election in 2011, the Catholic bishops of Southern Africa said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

"As we write, we are aware of talk of - if not even plans for - the holding of elections in 2011. We strongly believe that holding elections at this stage would be dangerously premature," the bishops said.

Their statement was prepared at an Inter-regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa held in Pretoria in December.

The bishops from Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Sao Tome e Principe, Swaziland, South Africa and Zimbabwe said they had tried unsuccessfully to convey their concerns to the leadership of the SA Development Community (SADC) for the past six weeks.

They appealed to the political leaders of the region that SADC be the "agent" which brought about "urgently needed recovery" to Zimbabwe.

The bishops expressed concern that two years after the Global Political Agreement (GPA) was signed, not all aspects of it had been fulfilled.

"... Ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe continue to suffer from, amongst other things: extreme poverty; high levels of unemployment; inadequate health and education services; lack of investment and confidence in the economy of the country," they said.

Constitution incomplete

"This is all the more tragic - and indeed a matter of grave injustice - when we consider the wealth of the country with respect both to its human and its material resources."

They did not believe an election could be held this year because the GPA had not been fully implemented, the process to form the new constitution was incomplete, the voters' roll had not been updated, freedom of the media and association was still restricted and Zimbabweans were "in the grip of fear" of intimidation and violence as election campaigns built up.

If those in power chose to proceed with the elections in 2011, then the bishops wanted as preconditions a roadmap leading up to the elections and that the elections be conducted in accordance with SADC's guidelines for elections.

"The positive gains achieved by the intervention of SADC, including the establishment of the GNU [Government of National Unity], simply cannot be allowed to go to waste," the bishops said.

In 2009, a deal brokered between long-time rivals Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai led to the formation of a coalition government in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe is reportedly pushing for fresh elections this year despite a deadlock over a new constitution that was supposed to precede the polls.

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