Thursday, June 26, 2008

Zimbabwe Elections Bulletin: Mandela Was Pressured to Criticise Nation, Says Government; Mugabe Speaks at Campaign Rally Ahead of June 27 Poll

From Times Online
June 26, 2008

Zimbabwe: 'Mandela criticism does not matter'

Jenny Booth

Nelson Mandela was pressured into criticising the Zimbabwean Government at a charity dinner in London last night, the Zimbabwean information minister claimed today.

With hours to go before Zimbabwe goes to the polls after a campaign marred by intimidation, torture and killings, the veteran anti-apartheid campaigner and statesman had said that there had been a “tragic failure of leadership in our neighboring Zimbabwe”.

Mr Mandela's remark was seized upon by Western leaders who have criticised President Robert Mugabe's increasingly disastrous rule, and by Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader who pulled out of the election on Sunday blaming the political violence.

“We appreciate the solidarity from Nelson Mandela, it is something we cherish,” said Mr Tsvangirai in a phone interview with Sky News from the Dutch embassy in Harare, where he took shelter at the weekend.

However, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, the Zimbabwean Information Minister, said that the statement was only caused by Western pressure. “Mandela is a statesman. He is courageous, yes he is,” Ndlovu said. “I am condemning all Westerners for putting pressure on Mandela.”

Mr Ndlovu coupled Mr Mandela's remarks with Britain’s decision to strip Mr Mugabe of his knighthood, saying both were part of a campaign by Africa's former colonial powers.

“All those things are of no consequence,” said Mr Ndlovu. He added that Zimbabwe's critics were hypocrites, and that no-one was condemning Britain for calling for more sanctions against Zimbabwe. “We would also like Mandela to condemn the sanctions against us.”

Jerome MacDonald Gumbo, the parliamentary chief whip for Zanu-PF, said that Mr Mandela's statement was "very unfortunate" and "totally unacceptable".

"I don't see the merit in that kind of statement... [It's] totally unacceptable... the judgement that he has made," Mr MacDonald Gumbo told the BBC.

More international sanctions against Zimbabwe remain a possibility. European Union leaders last week threatened Zimbabwe with further, unspecified measures, which Gordon Brown said might be targeted against members of Mr Mugabe’s regime.

Downing Street said today that sanctions were under review, but that Britain wanted to guard against hurting the population, who have suffered greatly from mass unemployment and hyperinflation caused by Zimbabwean mismanagement of the economy, as well as from the political violence.

Commenting on Mr Mandela’s intervention, a Downing Street spokesman said: “There is growing international condemnation of Robert Mugabe and his regime and what they are doing to suppress the democratic will of the Zimbabwean people.

“We have seen a number of condemnations from African leaders and African statesmen in recent days and Mr Mandela’s is the latest of those.”

The remarks were out of the ordinary as Mr Mandela, who is nearly 90 and largely retired from public life, uses his influence sparingly. It is particularly rare for him to differ publicly with Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s current president. South Africans and other Africans have been increasingly questioning Mr Mbeki’s unwillingness to publicly criticise Mr Mugabe's use of violence against his own people.

The row over Mr Mandela's remarks came as Mr Mugabe launched into his final day of campaigning for the presidential second round ballot tomorrow, for which he is the only active candidate.

Mr Tsvangirai's name remains on the ballot paper and he is officially in contention, as his withdrawal from the election came too late. Commentators were predicting that few would be brave enough to vote for him now.

Mr Tsvangirai predicted that Zanu-PF would enforce a high turnout in order to gain a veneer of legitimacy. "There will be massive frogmarching of the people to the polling stations by force," said Mr Tsvangirai.

“There could be a massive turnout, not because of the will of the people but because of the role of the military and the traditional leaders to force people to these polls,” he said.

Zimbabwean police said that they had uncovered a plot by Britain and the United States, some foreign charities and Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change to disrupt the vote with violence, including burning down voting tents.

“It is evident that the opposition MDC has plans to disrupt the election. These counter-productive criminal activities will be met head-on and with the full force of the law,” Assistant Commissioner Faustino Mazango told a news conference. He said the plot was revealed by five people arrested yesterday.

Despite pressure, Mugabe says vote must go ahead

Thu Jun 26, 2008 12:38pm EDT
By Cris Chinaka

HARARE, June 26 (Reuters) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Thursday rejected African calls to postpone a presidential election on Friday, saying there could be no interference in his country even from the African Union.

Mugabe, 84, who is bound to extend his 28-year-rule in the one candidate election, said he was open to discussions with the opposition MDC. Its leader Morgan Tsvangirai has withdrawn from the election after a wave of deadly attacks on his supporters.

Addressing a campaign rally in Chitungwiza, south of Harare, Mugabe said: "We have some of our brothers in Africa making that call (to postpone the vote), pushing us to violate our own law and we have refused to do so, we are sticking to our law."

Mugabe said he would attend an African Union summit in Egypt next week but no solutions could be imposed on Zimbabwe from outside. He said he was ready to answer any challenge from within the AU to the elections.

"I know some people are gearing themselves for an attack on Zimbabwe. I want to see any country which will raise its finger in the AU, our elections have been free."

A security committee of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on Wednesday called for the vote to be postponed, saying Mugabe's re-election as the only candidate could lack legitimacy because of chronic political violence.

The committee includes AU chairman Tanzania.

Opposition leader Tsvangirai last Sunday pulled out of the vote because of violence that he says has killed almost 90 of his Movement of Democratic Change supporters. He has taken refuge in the Dutch embassy ever since.

Tsvangirai said earlier there could be no negotiations with Mugabe if he went ahead with Friday's election.

He said that if Mugabe declared himself president he would be shunned as an illegitimate leader who killed his own people.


Africa's most iconic figure, Nelson Mandela, added his voice to a storm of African and international condemnation of the violence and chaos in Zimbabwe, in a rare political statement that showed the level of concern around the continent.

Mugabe, president since independence from Britain, has presided over Zimbabwe's slide from one of the region's most prosperous nations to a basket case with inflation estimated to have hit at least 2 million percent.

A loaf of bread now costs 6 billion Zimbabwe dollars, or 150 times more than at the time of the first round of elections on March 29 when Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe but fell short of the absolute majority needed for an outright victory.

Mugabe blames the crisis on sanctions by former colonial ruler Britain and other Western countries.

Zimbabwean police said Britain and the United States were backing plans by Tsvangirai's MDC and some NGOs to disrupt Friday's vote with violence, including burning down voting tents.

Tsvangirai tried to step up the pressure by telling Mugabe that his chances of negotiating an end to Zimbabwe's catastrophic collapse would end on Friday.

"Negotiations will be over if Mr Mugabe declares himself the winner and considers himself the president. How can we negotiate?" Tsvangirai told London's Times newspaper.

Mugabe said he was open to discussions with other parties but stressed that any solution to the crisis in the country needed to come from Zimbabweans.

In a later interview with Sky News, Tsvangirai challenged South African President Thabo Mbeki, the designated regional mediator in Zimbabwe, to take urgent action to end the crisis.

Mbeki, leader of Africa's biggest economic power, has been widely criticised for being soft on Mugabe despite a crisis that has flooded his country with millions of refugees.

Tsvangirai's lieutenant Tendai Biti was released on bail on Thursday after being held for two weeks on treason charges. Bail was set at 1 trillion Zimbabwean dollars -- about $90, his lawyer said.

Biti told reporters in Harare after his release that the election was a farce. "The whole thing, as we said at the beginning...was always going to be a runover over people and the closer we got to the 27th of June the clearer it became that this was a farce."

Mugabe is facing a concerted international campaign to push him into calling off the vote by threatening he will be shunned by the world, including African allies once over-awed by his liberation hero status.

Mandela said in a speech at a dinner for his 90th birthday in London that there had been a "tragic failure of leadership in our neighbouring Zimbabwe."

South Africa's ruling African National Congress, which has been severely critical of Mugabe, in contrast to Mbeki, said it was not too late to call off the vote.

"The ANC is convinced that it is not too late for President Mugabe to cancel the election, the run-off, and lead the country in a dialogue that will be for the good of all Zimbabweans," spokeswoman Jesse Duarte told BBC television.

(Additional reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe and Nelson Banya in Harare, Susan Cornwell in Kyoto; Writing by Barry Moody and Marius Bosch; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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