Secret report has people up in arms

News of a second Khampepe report, the analysis Judge Sisi Khampepe wrote with Judge Dikgang Moseneke for President Thabo Mbeki of the skewed 2002 Zimbabwean presidential election and which he has sat on since then, has got a number of people hot under the collar, writes Michael Bleby in Business Day, Johannesburg.

 The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) is baying for Mbeki’s blood. And murmurs are growing among the African National Congress’ tripartite alliance partners for a more robust approach to dealing with Zimbabwe and President Robert Mugabe. They may be reassured, however, to know that the same report has also been a source of great frustration to Mbeki. In 2004, Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) dropped a bid to force Mbeki to release the report under access to information legislation. While the party did not say at the time why it was giving up the chase, senior party member David Coltart now says it was under pressure from Mbeki. “Mbeki threw his toys out of the cot,” Coltart says. “He got hold of Morgan Tsvangirai through Welshman Ncube and quashed the whole thing. He quashed our attempts to use South African legislation to compel the production of the report. He was very angry about it. It was a warning that it would endanger their relationship.”

The report by Khampepe and Moseneke, now deputy chief justice, cited a range of problems with the 2002 poll that the MDC said allowed Mugabe to steal the election. These included a failure to properly constitute the Electoral Supervisory Commission; a change in the Electoral Act to give Mugabe, rather than parliament, authority to amend electoral law; and the change of wording in the Electoral Act to stymie challenges to election findings. Mbeki has not publicly released the report. Back in 2002, his government endorsed the view of SA’s official observer mission led by businessman and former ambassador Sam Motsuenyane that the poll “should be considered legitimate”. According to Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett – who represented the MDC in its challenges to the election report and who wrote about the report earlier this week – it confirms details of abuses that were widely reported at the time. However, analysts say it was very unlikely Mbeki would have ever released such a report. To publicly criticise Mugabe with it would only have alienated him and reduced any negotiating hold Mbeki had with him, both as neighbour and, from last year, as the nominated negotiator for the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

“One of the more striking things about Zimbabwe has been the polarisation of the two sides and the lack of a middle ground. Mbeki’s tried to occupy that middle ground,” says Chris Maroleng, a senior researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies. “This limits his ability to make what you could describe as telling public condemnations of the clearly skewed political environment.” Mbeki’s spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga agrees. “Our efforts are concentrated solely, wholly on ensuring that the mediation, the current mediation process succeeds. We are not going to be diverted to discuss things which for all intents and purposes militate against the success of that process. We can’t. It would not be responsible,” Ratshitanga says. Mugabe, who reacts with “intransigence” when faced with public criticism, would have labelled Mbeki a lackey of western powers and refused to deal with him, had he released the Khampepe-Moseneke report, Maroleng says. “President Mbeki has tried to manoeuvre this minefield and steer away from this trap. In many cases it’s resulted in a decline in confidence in him by the MDC because they don’t see the efficacy of the approach”. Where Mbeki’s approach has succeeded, says Maroleng, was in the successful agreement late last year to amend Zimbabwe’s constitution to make changes ahead of this year’s election that saw individual polling stations release their own results locally, as well as curbing Mugabe’s ability to nominate members of parliament of his choosing.

While this policy of working at the level of structural reform did bear some fruit, it did not “tinker with the small aspects” such as election violence and left Mbeki open to charges that he was a willing accomplice of Mugabe, Maroleng says. Siphamandla Zondi, an Africa analyst at the Midrand-based Institute for Global Dialogue, says it is likely Mbeki used the report at the 2002 SADC leaders’ summit in Dar es Salaam. At that summit, the SADC’s organ on politics, defence and security co-operation paid a level of attention to the Zimbabwean problems that put Mugabe on the defensive. “Where did the organ get all this information?” Zondi says. “It must have been this report fed into the organ. It was unusual for the SADC to pay so much attention to this topic. There was coverage. Mugabe was uncomfortable with the attention paid to his country. He was uncomfortable with the SADC saying it was in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe. That was different from saying they were in solidarity with the government of Zimbabwe.”

Not everyone agrees with the idea that Mbeki used the report. “As far as I’m aware the report was buried,” says Coltart. “We don’t have any information it was ever used anywhere.” The DA, which also tried for the release of the report, says the same thing. “I don’t think he would have acted on it at all,” said Joe Seremane, DA federal chairman and a member of Parliament’s committee on foreign affairs. “I don’t see why it should be under wraps. I wouldn’t want to keep under wraps something that shows where the problem lies,” he said. Despite the recent noise by African National Congress president Jacob Zuma and ANC allies about a harder line on Zimbabwe, Maroleng says a Zuma presidency would not differ much in its foreign policy. “Jacob Zuma was the deputy president during the exact period we’re looking at and I don’t recall him during that period making statements that were significantly in variance to what he approach was. It has more to do with our domestic politics than really a foreign policy imperative.”

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