February 17, 2005

Confusion over SADC team’s Harare visit

The proposed visit by a Southern African Development Community (SADC) team to Zimbabwe to assess whether free and fair elections are possible has been thrown into new turmoil. South Africa denied ordering SADC to cancel the team’s visit, in spite of reports saying South Africa had told the body’s secretariat in Gaborone, Botswana, the team’s visit was "no longer necessary". The growing controversy over the SADC initiative coincided with an announcement by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) that its proposed blockade of the Beitbridge border post would go ahead, despite warnings that it would be illegal.
Although President Thabo Mbeki was reported as saying that Harare had agreed to the visit, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has reportedly already told SADC that the team would not be welcome. Diplomats say the visit of the legal team would be followed by that of ministers and then possibly heads of state.
Before, the government in Harare had announced it would reduce the number of local election monitors and bar teams from the European Union (EU) from observing the parliamentary poll scheduled for 31 March. Patrick Chinamasa, the justice, legal and parliamentary affairs minister, told there was a need to reduce the number of observers to avoid "chaos", and held that observer teams from the EU had tried to destabilise the country in the past. "We have to limit the number of observers because we do not want a situation where 100 people come to disturb the polling process on the pretext of observing it," Chinamasa said, adding that the country was in the process of sending invitations for election observer missions to Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries and members of the African Union (AU). Foreign affairs spokesperson Pavelyn Musaka was quoted by news agencies as saying that Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland were among the countries that "should not bother" sending teams to Zimbabwe. (Business Day, Johannesburg/News24, South Africa)

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