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Zimbabwe’s Plight, South Africa’s Responsibility

South Africa's handling of Robert Mugabe's increasingly lawless regime in Zimbabwe has focused for the past eight years on underplaying its leverage. But the mantle of a regional power sometimes requires using that leverage for the greater good of the region.

JOHANNESBURG – Morgan Tsvangirai’s withdrawal from the presidential run-off scheduled for June 27, and his decision to seek the protection of the Dutch embassy in Pretoria, has secured for Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe a Pyrrhic victory. Mugabe’s triumph comes at a huge cost to democracy and stability in Zimbabwe, as well as in the region. The actions of the Mugabe regime in the run-up to Tsvangirai’s decision demand a strong regional response to what is clearly a stolen victory. Indeed, Mugabe’s continuing in power represents the most serious challenge to Africa’s nascent democratic institutions and to South Africa’s vision of a continent of peace and prosperity.

After contesting every election since 2000, Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has changed tactics reluctantly. Under the circumstances, South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) urgently need to reappraise their approach not only to Mugabe, but to how they will deal with any uncontested election.

A host of declarations adopted over the years by the SADC and the African Union address the conduct of elections on the continent. These include the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (2004), the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance (2007), and the Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa (2002). None of these principles have been respected in Zimbabwe, and regional leaders have not cited their violation as reason to censure Mugabe’s government. 

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