Harare--The SADC troika held a virtual extraordinary meeting of the ministerial committee last Tuesday, at which it condemned attacks on its chairman and Zambian president, Hakainde Hichilema, following a negative observer mission report on Zimbabwe’s 23-24 August general elections.
Government officials who attacked Hichilema and mission chair, Nevers Mumba, a former Zambian deputy head of state, included President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The SADC Election Observer Mission (SEOM) produced a preliminary report immediately after the elections and noted that the manner in which the elections were held violated some provisions of the Zimbabwean constitution, the Electoral Act as well as the regional body’s election guidelines and principles on democratic elections.
The SEOM flagged amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act that it said suppressed freedom of expression.
The amendments, now popularly referred to as the Patriot Act, prohibit citizens or permanent residents from participating in meetings perceived to plan foreign intervention or the overthrow of the government.
These changes are considered to be too vague and deliberately meant to target Zanu PF and government critics involved in bona fide engagements with foreign institutions or agencies deemed to be critical of the ruling establishment.
The regional observer mission also noted delays in the distribution of voting materials in some urban areas, unavailability of the voters’ roll at some polling centres, missing names, voter intimidation, a biased judiciary, prohibitive candidate nomination fees and biased election coverage by government-controlled media.
The report immediately generated angry reactions from top government and ruling party officials, some of who alleged that President Hichilema and Mumba had manipulated the mission, accusing them of siding with Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the main opposition, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).
In a televised speech after the polls, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said: “I am aware that some observer missions went beyond their call of duty and began interrogating legislation passed by our parliament … I don’t think it is in the mandate of election observers to interrogate institutions of a sovereign government.”
A local legal think tank, Veritas, however, insisted that the SEOM—whose observers were drawn from Botswana, Angola, Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa—was not at fault.
At the Tuesday extraordinary meeting, the troika—comprising Zambia as the chair, Namibia and Tanzania—expressed concern over the attacks.
“The…troika also noted with concern, the personal attacks and threats on the media that have been directed at the SEOM head of mission, Dr Nevers Mumba and the chairperson of the organ, His Excellency, Mr Hakainde Hichelima, since the Zimbabwe SEOM released its preliminary statement on 25 August 2023.
“The attacks were made by individuals in both the ruling Zanu PF political party and some in high level positions in the government of Zimbabwe. The narrative in these attacks have been that the SEOM preliminary statement on the Zimbabwean elections was personally authored by Dr Nevers Mumba,” reads the virtual record of the extraordinary troika meeting.
The troika said the attacks undermined the SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic elections “and might have a negative bearing on the SEOMs that are to be deployed in future elections”.
Eswatini is going to the polls today (Friday).
The troika also said “there is a risk that, if unchecked, further attacks on the leadership of the organ and the SEOM have the potential to damage the credibility of SADC as an institution”.
The meeting recommended that, so as to preserve the dignity of SADC and its SEOMs and avert “unwarranted attacks”, there was need to ensure that all reports and statements strictly followed the regional bloc’s rules and procedures and make it clear that the community was the author of the documents.
The Zimbabwean government invited Edgar Lungu, former Zambian president and Hichilema’s bitter rival, to President Mnangagwa’s inauguration when he and Zanu PF won the elections that the opposition described as a “gigantic fraud”.