PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s legitimacy predicament emerging from the 23 August election smash-and-grab victory is deepening amid revelations that Sadc is set to meet over the Harare crisis.
The developments come as it emerged the beleaguered leader has been shuttling among African presidents at the ongoing United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, lobbying them to help him douse the diplomatic fire engulfing the southern African country.
The Southern African Development Community will soon summon Mnangagwa’s administration over the election mess, according to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa during an interview with South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) on the sidelines of the ongoing UNGA in New York.
Ramaphosa also revealed that representatives of the Sadc Election Observer Mission led by former Zambian vice-president Nevers Mumba will also be called to discuss the contents of their damning report on the elections which were also roundly condemned by other international election observer missions.
Ramaphosa, who has come under fire at home and abroad for congratulating Mnangagwa and attending his inauguration, said the Sadc observer mission report merely pointed out challenges to be addressed as opposed to it declaring the Zimbabwean poll “invalid”.
During the SABC interview in New York, Ramaphosa said: “If one looks at that report, it actually says there were challenges; challenges with regards to a number of things that have got to do with the election. Many countries throughout the world have such challenges; the United States is prime example with regards to the last election. They (observers) have said in the report, as I read it, that certain things need to be improved. They have not declared the election as invalid, unfree and unfair; they have highlighted certain challenges.”
According to the Sadc Election Observer Mission report, Zimbabwean institutions key to the running of the poll failed to conduct themselves in an independent and transparent manner.
Ramaphosa said: “What was said by the representative of the observer mission still got to (be) discussed in Sadc because it’s not a final report. Those are challenges that need to be addressed. Well, there is a lack of transparency, they (observers) need to come up with the details and I would say, yes, let the details be put forward so that we can deal with them.”
He added: “So, we are waiting to receive that report at Sadc level so that we can deal with it because, if anything, it was an interim report. So, once the report is put to the Sadc body, we will then debate it and we will also hear representations from Zimbabwe as well as the Sadc observer mission.”
While addressing the UNGA on Tuesday, Ramaphosa reiterated his demands for the unconditional lifting of Western-imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe.
He said the sanctions were also hurting his country which was being forced to carry the burden of a calamitous Zimbabwean economy.
The South African leader is viewed as a disappointment by both his countrymen and some Zimbabweans who blame him for failing to use his country’s influential status as a regional leader and a model democracy to deal with the troubled neighbour’s never-ending crisis.
On Wednesday this week while in New York, Mnangagwa met Angolan President and Sadc chair João Lourenço in a bid to win his support over the crisis stoked by the contentious election.
Mnangagwa also met Ramaphosa for the same cause. As previously reported by The NewsHawks, a behind-the-scenes regional lobby is underway for an extraordinary summit to be convened on the Zimbabwe situation.
Lusaka has reportedly been lobbying some Sadc countries to call for an emergency meeting to discuss Zimbabwe’s shambolic elections which have left the country, region and sections of the international community divided.
Zimbabwe, which sits at the heart of the region, has been a destabilising factor.
Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, who has been on a state visit to China to meet President Xi Jinping for bilateral talks, is the chair of the Sadc troika of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.
He deployed Mumba to lead the Sadc Election Observer Mission to Zimbabwe.
Mumba’s team said Zimbabwe’s elections did not meet the benchmarks in the country’s constitution, the Electoral Act and Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.
The mission, comprising members and experts from different countries across the region, effectively rejected Zimbabwe’s elections in an unprecedented move of courage and decisiveness.
This triggered an apoplectic uproar, with Harare officials, assisted by their Zambian allies, supporters and apologists, fulminating and thundering at Hichilema and Mumba, calling them names without dealing with the substance of their report.
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba described Mumba as a “hired gun”, while Zanu PF’s spokesperson Chris Mutsvangwa suggested he is a “Western puppet”.
But Mumba has vigorously defended his team, which has now produced the final report, dismissing pot-shots aimed at him and Hichilema as immaterial. He says the report belongs to Sadc, not him or any other individual as the Harare authorities claim, and if Zimbabwe wants to reply to it then it must follow protocol through the regional body’s headquarters in Gaborone, Botswana.
The lobby’s narrative is that Zimbabwe has again failed to hold free, fair and credible elections. The country remains locked in a trajectory of disputed polls that will compound challenges for economic recovery and destabilise the region.
The elections again exposed widespread irregularities, illegalities and a blatant disregard for the law and international best practice measured against the country’s own constitution, electoral law and Sadc principles and guidelines governing democratic elections.
Sadc member states are under pressure to take strong and effective action to deal with one of the region’s most protracted grave crises.
Its credibility as a real force for democratic change and progress is on the line and its leaders are being pressured to insist on proper elections and settlement of the Zimbabwe question.
They are also being forced to deal with the issue in view of other Sadc elections ahead: Eswatini in September, Madagascar (November), Democratic Republic of Congo (December), and Botswana 2024.
For the emergency meeting to take place, Hichilema must first convince the Sadc summit troika, which includes chairperson Angolan President João Lourenço. Other members of the summit troika are Mnangagwa, who is the vice chair and the now incoming chair and outgoing chair Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi.
The Sadc summit in Luanda on 17 August elected Lourenço the chair and Mnangagwa incoming chairperson.
It also elected Hichilema as chairperson of the organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation and Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan as incoming chair. Namibian President Hage Geingob is the outgoing chair.
For Hichiliema to pull off the extraordinary summit meeting, he would also need to carry his own troika of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, meaning getting the support of Tanzania and Namibia.
With that core in place, then the bigger task is to convince South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has been fighting in Mnangagwa’s corner. As incoming Sadc chair, Mnangagwa wields clout to scuttle the lobby. Charamba hinted at that. Charamba suggested Mnangagwa will next year use his Sadc power of incumbency to kill the damning elections report.
Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi, whose country hosts the Sadc headquarters, is also pro-Mnangagwa.
Even though several Sadc leaders congratulated Mnangagwa on his disputed victory, only three Sadc leaders attended his much-hyped inauguration — Ramaphosa, Tshisekedi and Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi.
This suggests Mnangagwa is not strongly supported across the region.
Compared to the late former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe who had the experience, stature, capacity and respect to keep Sadc behind him, Mnangagwa is not in the same class and league.
After Charamba’s rant, the Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services ministry’s permanent secretary, Nick Mangwana, confirmed there is a lobby for an extraordinary summit, blaming Zambia, without naming it, for the development.
“There is some treacherous lobbying going on by one Sadc member state to have an extraordinary summit on Zimbabwe. The other members are seeing through this and it’s not going to happen. This agenda being pushed by this member state is not its own.
It’s doing a hatchet job for some powerful nations,” Mangwana said.
While the Sadc mission’s mention of structural and systemic challenges in Zimbabwe reflects a break with the past, the question is whether it has the political will, courage and capacity to push further. South Africa’s Institute of Security Studies says Sadc leaders may not have the guts to bring Zimbabwe back onto the regional agenda.
“Zanu PF can rely on Sadc’s collective management style grounded in comradeship and the primacy of stability rather than confrontation or action,” says South Africa’s Institute of Security Studies.
“Sadc is unlikely to muster the political consensus and willpower to put Zimbabwe back on the bloc’s agenda. Not all member states will be comfortable with Sadc Election Observer Mission (SEOM)’s findings, which could set an unwelcome precedent that represents a departure from its previous approach.
“With Zanu PF’s manoeuvring and Sadc’s approach of non-interference, the regional bloc is unlikely to act on the disputed elections.”
Zimbabwe has been a scar on the conscience of the region for some time now.
At an extraordinary summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in March 2007, Sadc asked former South African president Thabo Mbeki to mediate between the ruling Zanu PF and then main opposition MDC. Mbeki’s mediation ended up with the formation of a Government of National Unity in 2009.
Commenting on the current Zimbabwe crisis in an interview with the SABC in New York this week, Mbeki intimated that Mnangagwa should agree to a discussion in the best interests of Zimbabwe and not be driven by personal interests.