THE South African government has congratulated the people of Zimbabwe and the participating political parties for a “successful” election, but has backed off any pronouncement on whether the polls were free and fair.
President Jacob Zuma has already sent “profound congratulations” to President Robert Mugabe on his “landslide victory” in Zimbabwe’s elections in July. But his congratulations have been sharply criticised as premature because of the allegation that there was significant electoral fraud in the poll.
The Southern African Development Community (Sadc), for whom Mr Zuma was a facilitator in the Zimbabwe elections, has yet to express a view on the freeness and fairness of the poll.
It appears members of Mr Zuma’s Cabinet are being a little more careful in their responses than Mr Zuma’s own effusive congratulations to Mr Mugabe himself.
Acting cabinet spokeswoman Phumla Williams told a post-Cabinet news conference on Tuesday that “Cabinet congratulated the people of Zimbabwe and political parties on holding successful, harmonised parliamentary and local elections”.
“Cabinet commended the efforts of President Jacob Zuma as the Sadc facilitator on the Zimbabwe dialogue in ensuring that all political parties were committed to peaceful elections.”
When asked how South Africa could send congratulations to Zimbabwe before Sadc had expressed an opinion on the elections, Ms Williams said the Cabinet had not discussed Sadc’s position nor the meeting at which the Sadc countries would formulate a view on the freeness and fairness of the election.
In response to a question about whether describing the election as successful was proclaiming it as free and fair, she stressed that it was simply congratulations on the holding of the election.
In response to a barrage of questions about how a successful election could possibly not be free and fair Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said “there is no pronouncement on the freeness and fairness of the election but simply congratulation on the successful holding of the elections which went smoothly and without violence”.
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader and presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai has described the election as having been stolen by Mr Mugabe and his Zanu (PF) and as having been a fraud.
Democratic Alliance (DA) international relations spokesman Ian Davidson described Mr Zuma’s congratulations to Mr Mugabe on his victory as “premature” because many of the observer missions had expressed reservations about the polls.
Some reported that as many as a million voters were turned away from voting stations and that in some cases police loyal to Mr Mugabe counted the ballots.