Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search - 30 May 2008
30 May 2008

A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully
MP for East Coast Bays

Crisis in Zimbabwe

On 27 June the people of Zimbabwe will go to the polls for the run-off of the presidential contest between Robert Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The vote will be a watershed moment for that troubled country for it will force the hand of Mugabe and his henchmen whose options for further delay will have evaporated. For others too, in the region and in the international community, it will be a moment of truth. Over the coming weeks New Zealand must play a much more assertive role in persuading the international community, whose actions to date have been painfully weak, to insist on the free and fair elections that must resolve the crisis.

The first round of the presidential ballot was a total farce. Any ballot in which the results are withheld for a full month can have no credibility. There is every reason to suspect ballot tampering and misconduct within the electoral commission to accompany the widespread stacking of the rolls. The real significance of the allegedly inconclusive first round of voting was simply to provide a few more weeks in which those who have steadfastly avoided their responsibilities might finally confront them. To date they show little sign of doing so.

Current reports from Zimbabwe are deeply troubling. MDC activists are being abducted, beaten and killed in a Mugabe-sanctioned campaign of brutal intimidation. Meanwhile the economy is being quietly destroyed in one of the worst episodes of economic vandalism the world has seen. Inflation is so high as to no longer be measurable. As it has wisely been said, the food basket of Africa is now the basket case of Africa.

It is hard to overstate the importance of the leadership of South Africa in the impasse that now seemingly exists. President Mbeki should be judged harshly for his long-standing role as a protector of the Mugabe regime. And while South Africa can take some credit for stopping the most recent shipment of arms to Zimbabwe, there has been an almost total failure to exert the influence towards a peaceful resolution that that country is uniquely placed to provide.

Where, you may well ask, is the United Nations in this tragic affair? Seemingly crippled by the threat of a Chinese veto, and handicapped by the current South African membership on the Security Council, the self- proclaimed beacon of justice, peace and human rights has been exposed as almost completely impotent. For the Chinese, leading up to the Olympic Games, there are serious risks ahead. The ship that was stopped from delivering its cargo of weapons recently was Chinese. The weapons were Chinese. New Zealand should be delivering the clearest of messages to the Chinese Government, and formally backing Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s call for an arms embargo on Zimbabwe.

It is through the Commonwealth that a more productive path may be found. Many Southern African nations, including South Africa, are members. It is those southern African nations who, especially though the Southern African Development Community (SADC), hold the key. This is their region. This is one of their brothers running amok. Theirs, at this point, is the only voice that is being listened to. And theirs (with the possible exception of some Russians) are likely to be the only observers permitted into Zimbabwe to comment on the integrity of the poll.

In the wake of reported threats to his life Tsvangirai has returned to Zimbabwe in recent days, calling for independent international observers to be present both for polling day, and – critically – for the period leading up to it. New Zealand should expend every possible effort to ensure that the southern African nations, especially South Africa with whom we enjoy such close sporting ties, know that their credibility is on the line. If the SADC nations, the Commonwealth and the United Nations stand by to permit another rorting of the democratic process on 27 June, with all the accompanying brutality and repression, it will not just be the people of Zimbabwe they are letting down. They will be seriously letting down themselves.


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