The Khampepe Report, a crushing blow to SA’s diplomatic credibility

via Analysis: The Khampepe Report, a crushing blow to SA’s diplomatic credibility | Daily Maverick 17 Nov 2014

For more than 12 years, the South African government fought to keep the contents of the Khampepe Report under wraps. Finally, they failed, and the details of a damning cover-up were revealed: Zimbabwe’s 2002 elections were rigged, and South Africa knew all about it. Zimbabwe has been paying the price for this ever since. Now it’s South Africa’s turn. By SIMON ALLISON.

There is nothing new or particularly revelatory about the contents of the Khampepe Report, the South African judicial review of Zimbabwe’s 2002 presidential election. Of course the vote was skewed in Zanu-PF’s favour. Of course the spate of violence which preceded the poll was related to it, and was designed to intimidate the opposition. Of course Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change didn’t get enough airtime on public broadcasters. Of course Robert Mugabe fiddled with electoral laws and the voters’ roll to exclude or weaken unfriendly constituencies.

These are all pretty standard tactics in the handbook of any president-for-life, and Mugabe is a master of that particular dark art – as he proved again in the two subsequent presidential elections, which both ended with himself remaining firmly ensconced in his opulent presidential residence.

Still, it is unusual – unprecedented, even – to see anyone connected with the South African government reach the same conclusions, especially so unequivocally. “However, having regard to all the circumstances, and in particular the cumulative substantial departures from international standards of free and fair elections found in Zimbabwe during the pre-election period, these elections, in our view, cannot be considered to be free and fair.”

Such was the verdict of judges Sisi Khampepe and Dikgang Moseneke, both highly respected legal minds (Moseneke has gone on to become the Deputy Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa). It was delivered at the behest of then-President Thabo Mbeki, who sent the pair – at taxpayers’ expense – to Zimbabwe to observe the vote and its prelude.

Yet taxpayers have had to wait more than 12 years to view the report’s contents. That we can do so at all is entirely thanks to the Mail & Guardian and its dogged legal team, which spent more than six years (and a considerable amount of money, one suspects) demanding access, initially through the presidency and then the entire gamut of the judiciary. Eventually, on Friday 14 November, the Constitutional Court ruled in the paper’s favour, and the report was released and made public by the Mail & Guardian that same day.

Despite the common sense nature of the judges’ findings it is obvious why the executive branch of the South African government fought so hard to keep it under wraps. Common sense, unfortunately, has not always been part of South Africa’s policy towards Zimbabwe, especially when it comes wrapped in such blunt language.

In fact, the Khampepe Report entirely discredits that of the 50 person-strong South African Observer Mission (SAOM), which reached a rather different conclusion: “[It] is the view of the SAOM that the outcome of the 2002 Zimbabwe presidential elections should be considered legitimate,” the observer mission told reporters shortly after the vote.

So how did Thabo Mbeki’s administration reconcile these two very different conclusions, both reached by their own representatives? Well, that’s exactly the problem. The politically unhelpful Khampepe report was buried, while the SAOM position was adopted as the official government position. That the Khampepe Report has now come to light is a humiliation for Thabo Mbeki, and casts serious doubt on his credibility as a senior African statesman.

It also may well have altered Zimbabwe’s future. Counter-factual speculation is a largely pointless exercise, but it’s clear the Mugabe and Zanu-PF needed South Africa’s endorsement at the time to sell the result to a skeptical electorate. It also soured relations, permanently, between South Africa and Zimbabwe’s opposition.

We knew about all the irregularities and that there was a cover up,” said David Coltart, former education minister and a founding member of the Movement for Democratic Change, in comments to the Daily Maverick. “We had very good contacts within the ANC at the time who confirmed that the reason the report had not seen the light of day was because it was so damning. It strained our relationship with Mbeki and in many ways was a contributor to Tsvangirai being so suspicious of Mbeki later, especially in 2005 when the split in the MDC occurred. Accordingly when Mbeki tried to assist when the MDC split he was viewed as a dishonest broker by Tsvangirai.”

But these damaging revelations are not, however, why Mbeki, and after him Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma, fought so hard to keep the report under wraps. Few politicians are immune to hypocrisy, and Mbeki could have – and indeed will – ride out the storm and probably emerge with his reputation largely intact. Nor would there be much incentive for Jacob Zuma to invest any political capital in protecting Mbeki’s reputation. If anything, the current president might have relished the chance to damage Mbeki’s legacy in the foreign policy arena, which is one field in which Zuma has always struggled to compete with his predecessor.

But there was more at stake than just a reputation, or even the historical record, which will surely now reflect the fact that Zimbabwe’s 2002 election was rigged and that South Africa knew all about it. What was really at stake is the future of South African diplomacy, which has just suffered a crushing blow to its credibility.

South Africa’s economic muscle, combined with our strong democratic record, puts us in a unique position when it comes to observing elections in Africa. We have the power to confer legitimacy upon leaders; we have the power to give an internationally-recognized seal of approval to otherwise dodgy results.

And we use that power. President Joseph Kabila, for instance, was reported to have used the full powers of the state to keep himself in office in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011. Despite those election results being discredited by most international observers, a South Africa-led SADC observer mission praised the poll as “successful” – a verdict which Kabila used to brush off legal challenges from his main opponent.

In fact, in recent years, no South African or SADC observer mission has seriously questioned the results of an African election, despite witnessing polls in places with high political tensions and little democratic track record. Is this because democracy in Africa is improving? Or is it simply because South Africa is choosing to ignore or cover up any irregularities?

Before the publication of the Khampepe Report, South African officials could (and did) argue the former. They may not have always been entirely convincing, but who could prove otherwise? But after the Khampepe Report, the façade of plausible deniability is impossible to maintain. We know that Zimbabwe fixed elections, and we know that South Africa knowingly helped them get away with it. Can anyone trust a South African endorsement again? DM


  • comment-avatar
    Dr Madroy 6 years ago

    I think it is high time that the people of Zimbabwe took a class action against the South African Government (and Mbeki) for endorsing an election that they knew was neither free or fair. The cost is human suffering and economic destruction has been huge, here now is the evidence that the South African Government is part of the problem…

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    ntaba 6 years ago

    But Mugabe is a lovely man according to Scoones, Kissinger, Fraser, Carrington and Mbeki?

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    holy moyo 6 years ago

    Mugabe will go down in history in the club of the worst of the worst tyrants. As murderous and praise craving psychopath he is up there with Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Kim Il Sung and his blood thirsty family,
    The flesh eating Idi Amin, Ceacescu of Romania whose wife, like the prostitute Grace Mugabe awarded her a Doctorate. Attila the Hun, and the Evil ISIS Be-headers..
    Mugabe in all honesty is evil, power hungry despot who cares only for himself and enjoys the praise from his lap dogs who surround him with others calling him Son of God, Cremora, Jesus Christ and all kinds of boot licking names..
    i have said it before and I will always say it..Ian Smith was much better than this monster called Mgabe.
    And even gadafi was much better to his people than this old fossil who is still on the backs of the suffering people of Zimbabwe, sucking their lives dry along with his demonic concubine DisGrace whom he snatched from Goreraza as his wife lay dying…shame. shame shame,,Kanti uyafa nini wena Spoko.

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    Doris 6 years ago

    The sad thing is that other leaders in Africa still think of Bob as a hero. How else did he manage to find the pull to disband the SADC Tribunal. Thereafter taking away the last link to law and order, integrity and the chance for the people of Southern Africa to fight human rights violations on their own countries. Shame on them all.

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    munzwa 6 years ago

    A genocidal maniac…

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    Charles Chamunorwa 6 years ago

    Thabo Mbeki, Montlante and JZ should one day pay for the sufferings they bestowed upon Zimbabweans. To cleanse themselves they should call for a free and fair general election in Zimbabwe now!

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    Charles Chamunorwa 6 years ago

    No free and fair election in Zimbabwe as long as the ANC is in power in SA. In future SA should not be allowed to observe any election process anywhere in the world

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    a vast betrayal of the very principles of the liberation struggles

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    South Africa will not condem, it’s what the ANC will do to stay in power.

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    Rodlin Mvelase 6 years ago

    Thabo Mbeki is a very big embarrassment and a disgrace.He baby-sitted Mugabe and lied with a straight face to the whole world in 2002 and 2008 about Zimbabwe to the extent that he said the was ‘no crisis in Zimbabwe’ with not only that report in front of him but daily intelligence reports out of Zim by SA operatives. Even with xenophobic attacks in 2008 he remained without a conscience and lying about Zim, possessed by Mugabe demon. All that this says is no foreign power ever will make tings right..It is up to the citizens to free themselves by whatever means from dictatorship. As the youth of the 70’s fought and prevailed against Smith regime, it is up to the youths of today to free the country from maniac Zanu puff.

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    Nick Collis 6 years ago

    It was also counter productive. An MDC win in any of the former elections would have been good for Zimbabwe’s economy and deterred the headlong rush to cross the border into Sourh Africa!

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    Brian 6 years ago

    All this would appear to me to be pointing to a view that SA is approaching a pariah state – approving clearly illegitimate elections, protecting tyrants, protecting corruption and blocking FOI efforts. SA is now looking dodgy and corrupt. Why am I surprised? It’s ANC!

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    Pombi 6 years ago

    I lost all respect for Thabo Mbeki as far as 2003! He is the biggest liar in Africa. Bigger than Grace and Bob put together! And that NEPAD thing he waffles about, its just godzva business.

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    Petal 6 years ago

    what is the AU and Southern African Dictators Club doing about it?? Where are the comments from the Human Rights Lawyers Why is Zuma and Mbeki picking their maize cobs?

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    Petal 6 years ago

    Thabo was eyeing the Mo Ibrahim’s money taking on the role as an African ambassador liek Kofi Annana without the ordinary peoples interests.

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    Petal 6 years ago

    Now the Senile 90 year old Geriatric is heading the club of Dictators and all this is happenning