31 March

SA observers split over poll report

Conflict among members of the South African Observer Mission to Zimbabwe is hampering the finalisation of the report on that country's election. This week, a heated meeting to discuss the final report ended inconclusively, with some members refusing to accept the word "legitimate" to describe the Zimbabwean election. Members of the mission told the Sunday Times that they wanted a total reworking of the report, which they say was drafted two days before the election and did not take the input of members into account. The version that was subsequently made public was a slight adaptation of the draft. The draft almost threw the mission into disarray when some members threatened to leave Zimbabwe in protest against what they saw as prejudging of the elections. The report was supposed to be based on daily submissions from members of the team but discarded all claims of violence, mainly against members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Following this week's deadlock, the authors have been told to rework the document and include terminology that will be acceptable to all members of the mission. A member of the team, Dumisani Hlophe, said: "Some of us are not comfortable with the term 'legitimate'. It is too loaded. I would have preferred something that took into account that the conditions that prevailed at the time were not ideal." The initial report is said to have been drafted on the Thursday before the March 9 , 10 and 11 elections by an "editorial committee" led by Eddie Maloka of the Africa Institute and Technikon North-West head Professor Itumeleng Mosala. Members of the mission, including representatives of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, questioned the validity of the report.

In a heated meeting, key members of the team are said to have threatened to dump the mission when it became evident that the report was very close to legitimising the election process. "We were actually stunned by such a hastened act. We even asked what the point of staying further would be since we had already taken a position on the election," one election observer said. Most observers and members of the executive apparently did not see the report until the pronouncements a day after the elections. "We did not meet as a collective to deliberate on our experiences and to decide on the pronouncement. Even the interim statement was not distributed to us," said Unisa academic Iqbal Jhazbhay. But they were overruled after the committee obtained the backing of the head of the mission, retired diplomat Sam Motsuenyane. Initially, the report was supposed to have been submitted to President Thabo Mbeki. But Mbeki's spokesman, Bheki Khumalo, said: "There was no advance report given to the presidency. The President only got to know the content when he met Motsuenyane days after the elections." (ZWNews / Sunday Times, SA)

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