African leaders step up condemnation of Mugabe

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Former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano is among the 40 prominent African personalities who have signed an open letter calling for an end to the current political violence in Zimbabwe, and for a free and fair second round of voting in the presidential election 27 June.

The letter was published as a full page advertisement Friday in several publications, including the “Financial Times” of London and “Business Day” of South Africa, according to the Mozambican News Agency (AIM).

The letter declares “we are deeply troubled by the current reports of intimidation, harassment and violence. It is vital that the appropriate conditions are created so that the Presidential run-off is conducted in a peaceful, free and fair manner.

“Only then can the political parties conduct their electioneering campaign in a way that enables the citizens to express freely their political will.”

The signatories called not only for an immediate end to violence, but also for the restoration of “full access for humanitarian aid agencies”.

The Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has shut down the operations of international NGOs, even though an estimated four million Zimbabweans (almost a third of the entire population) are in need of food aid.

It is feared that, by concentrating distribution of food aid in its own hands, the regime plans to use food as a weapon against opposition voters.

The letter also called for “an adequate number of independent electoral observers, both during the election process and to verify the results”.

However, Mugabe’s government has banned most independent organistions, including the Commonwealth, the Carter Centre and even the SADC (Southern African Development Community) Parliamentary Forum, from observing the elections.

The letter states that Zimbabweans “fought for liberation in order to be able to determine their own future. Great sacrifices were made during the liberation struggle. To live up to the aspirations of those who sacrificed, it is vital that nothing is done to deny the legitimate expression of the will of the people of Zimbabwe”.

This is a clear rejection of the regime’s claim that only the ruling ZANU-PF can claim the mantle of the liberation struggle and represent the will of the people.

That Chissano has signed this letter is of considerable significance, since in the past he has been very close to Mugabe (and was Mugabe’s best man at his marriage to his second wife, Grace).

Chissano has been most reluctant to criticise Mugabe, and the fact that he put his name to this letter shows that there are very few figures of any stature left on the international stage who are prepared to support Mugabe’s current behaviour .

A second Mozambican signatory is Graca Machel, the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, and widow of Mozambique’s first President, Samora Machel.

Without Machel’s commitment to the Zimbabwean liberation struggle, allowing ZANU to operate from Mozambican soil, it is rather unlikely that Mugabe would ever have attained power.

Other signatories to the letter include the two former UN general secretaries fr om Africa, Kofi Annan and Boutros Ghali, and Nobel laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Wangari Maathai of Kenya.

Seventeen former heads of state and government signed the letter – several of them from SADC and well known to Mugabe. They include former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, two former Tanzanian Presidents, Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Benjamin Mkapa, and two former Botswana Presidents, Quett Masire and Festus Mogae.

Signatories from the arts include world-renowned Senegalese musician Youssou N’d our. The man who is arguably the most powerful trade unionist in Africa, Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (CO S ATU) also signed the letter.

The letter was published on the same day that Botswana became the first SADC member to publicly condemn the crackdown against leaders of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The Botswanan Foreign Minister, Phandu Sekelemani, summoned the Zimbabwean Ambassador to Gaborone, Thomas Mandigora, to warn him that Thursday’s detention of MD C leader Morgan Tsvangirai while he was campaigning and the arrest of MDC general secretary Tendai Biti on treason charges were ‘unacceptable’.

“Botswana is alarmed by these arrests and detentions as they disrupt electoral a ctivities of key players and intimidate the electorate, thus undermining the process of holding a free, fair and democratic election,” Sekelemani said in a statement.

“We are deeply disturbed by this unfolding situation of politically motivated arrests and intolerance which pose a serious threat to an outcome that reflects the will of the people of Zimbabwe,” the minister said. Panapress .

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