|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
As a career diplomat-turned politician, then going back to diplomacy, David Connolly seems to have applied his experience successfully in both fields in representing his country's interest along what can sometimes be the thorny path of international relations. Here he discusses wide-ranging issues affecting Australia and SA, especially trade, as well as Zimbabwe.
What has been the role of the Commonwealth, and Australia as its chair, in assessing the elections in Zimbabwe?
There was a significant group of election observers who reported unanimously, with the one exception. The Commonwealth observer group was one of the most thorough and methodical in recording what it saw and its report contains abundant evidence of the violation of the democratic rights of the Zimbabwean people.
The Commonwealth had only one role, to make a judgment on the basis of its own observers' report, which it did. The decision was to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth for 12 months, subject to review.
For ages the focus of the Commonwealth has been on this region first with apartheid in SA and now with Zimbabwe. Does this depress you?
The Commonwealth has had a long interest both in SA and in Zimbabwe and in both cases it can be said that it has been a very honourable interest.
It took decades to sort out the problem of a lack of democracy in SA. It also took time to sort out the consequences of UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) in what was then Rhodesia with the establishment of a democratic state.
It is so important for Zimbabwe to understand that you can't go it alone we are in a world where certain standards of behaviour are expected and no nation can stand out from its region or from the world economy.
The Commonwealth stands ready to help Zimbabwe to overcome its problems, including the issue of land redistribution.
The Australian cricket team has cancelled a tour of Zimbabwe. Was that a political move?
The Australian government is advising all Australians to defer normal holiday and business travel to Zimbabwe until further notice, but it was the Australian Cricket Board that took the decision to cancel the tour based on its legitimate concerns about the security of the players.
After the presidential election there have been alarming reports of murders, beatings and violent retributive action by supporters of the government against opposition members and those suspected of supporting the opposition.
President Robert Mugabe is responsible for the violence and breakdown of the rule of law and he and Zanu (PF) must accept full responsibility for the cricket tour being cancelled.
You were a career diplomat who went into politics and now you are back as a diplomat. Is your political experience useful to you in your current post?
I believe that the skills you acquire in politics can make you a better diplomat, provided they are combined with the right personality and traits to handle the complexities of diplomacy.
It is easier for a former parliamentarian to work with ministers and members of parliament, we are members of the same club.
In 1994 Australia had two objectives: to give whatever financial and technical support we could to SA's first democratically elected government and to renew the trade ties which had been quite severely dented because of sanctions. These objectives have definitely been achieved.
What about trade? How is the commercial relationship progressing.
It's going from strength to strength. SA is our 20th-largest trading partner and SA is the fifthlargest source of foreign investment in Australia and the trend is upwards.
The synergies in mining between the two countries are self evident and, subject to political stability, there will be major Australian interest in Angola, Congo and Tanzania.
SA will always be the entrepôt for Australian investors in Africa and the source of much mining technology and expertise grafted on to Australian companies, operating together in Africa. It is easier for us to use SA expertise than to import it from Australia.
However, Australia can't take this trading relationship for granted, as SA companies have shown substantial competence as exporters and, although the trade balance is currently in our favour, I can see SA exports catching up and surpassing Australian exports to SA.
Take the car industry: Australians have an insatiable desire for BMWs and the C-Class Mercedes is being imported from SA.
But this is a two-way trade and there are opportunities for Australia in exporting not just cars, but also in the context of spare parts and components.
I am quite optimistic about the prospects for new world wine production and I would like to see a lot more Australian investment in the SA wine industry. I see opportunities for great synergies between the two countries, even though we will continue to compete in some markets.
SA and Australia are very close on issues of international trade and are both members of the Cairns group, which is seeking a better deal for agricultural exporters to the key markets of the US and Europe. How do you assess this partnership?
SA has been enormously helpful in emphasising the significance of primary industries and the need to open markets and to lower tariffs. The Cairns group has been reasonably successful and this can be linked to the close relationship of SA and Australia.
Australia has been a favoured destination for SA emigrants. Is the level of emigration slowing down ?
I can't say we have noticed that. There are about 4000 to 6000 South Africans emigrating to Australia a year. There are also a number of students from SA and from southern Africa.
What do you think of those SA exiles who run down their former home ?
Unfortunately, it's true that this happens. One thing that people admire Australians for is that they fight the good fight at the political level at home, but you'll never find Australians running down their own country when they are abroad.
The history of SA is very different, but I always urge South Africans to try to live in today and not yesterday. I visited SA in the late 1970s and the security situation was very tense. I found a country at war with itself.
When I came back in 1996 as a Commonwealth adviser to parliamentary committees, I was astonished at the transformation I found. I believe business has a good future in Africa and you can make a lot of money in SA, where the rate of return on an investment can be 20% to 25%. In Australia you will get about half that.
You have an entire continent in which to do business. If you want a little excitement in life, you should stay in SA.Apr 11 2002 12:00:00:000AM Business Day 1st Edition
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Our lawyers have uncovered mountains of hard core and powerful evidence of electoral fraud
The MDC, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, has accused President Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party of massive fraud and demanded a fresh election.
President Mugabe denies the allegations and has said no new presidential poll will be held until his term expires in six years' time.
Announcing the legal challenge, Mr Tsvangirai said MDC lawyers had uncovered "mountains of hardcore and powerful evidence of electoral fraud which if presented to an independent and impartial court would undoubtedly result in Robert Mugabe's electoral victory being set aside."
The MDC has said there were large discrepancies in the figures recorded at polling stations and those announced by the government.
But the opposition is not relying on the courts to overturn the results and will continue to use political channels.
"We are not under any illusions that despite the overwhelming evidence at hand, the legal action may face a hurdle given that Zanu-PF has now subverted Zimbabwe's judicial system," said Mr Tsvangirai.
Several judges seen as being pro-government sympathisers were appointed last year.
Mr Coltart told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that the legal action was not intended to derail this week's talks with Zanu-PF but said that Friday was the last day the MDC could legally file the petition.
Under electoral law, any legal challenge must be lodged within 30 days of results being announced.
Commonwealth observers said the presidential election was marred by a climate of fear and violence against opposition supporters.
As a result Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth for a year.
Talks between Zanu-PF and the MDC on a way forward were adjourned yesterday without achieving a breakthrough, and are due to resume next month.
The talks are taking place under South African and Nigerian mediation.
These two countries contributed to the Commonwealth decision to suspend Zimbabwe.