Mbeki: We owe no one an apology

via Mbeki: We owe no one an apology | Mail & Guardian 28 NOV 2014

Two weeks ago, the Mail & Guardian published the report by justices Sisi Khampepe and Dikgang Moseneke on Zimbabwe’s 2002 presidential elections, obtained after a six-year legal battle with, initially, the administration of then-president Thabo Mbeki. Last week we reported on the reaction of Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who claimed that Mbeki had betrayed the people of Zimbabwe by ignoring the finding of the report that those elections had not been free and fair.

We also said in an editorial that Mbeki had “connived in the subversion of democracy in a neighbouring state”. Mbeki and his closest advisers at that time did not respond to requests for comment. Now, in his own words, Mbeki reacts to our coverage of the Khampepe report.


The self-righteous, misguided and insulting opinion of the Mail & Guardian is based on the disturbing failure by the newspaper to convey the truth about the basis of the decisions of the then South African government concerning the 2002 Zimbabwe presidential elections.

The South African government did not pluck its views about the outcome of these elections out of thin air. South Africa sent two fully fledged missions to observe the 2002 Zimbabwe presidential elections.

One of these was a multiparty South African Parliamentary Observer Mission (SAPOM), constituted and deployed by Parliament without any intervention by the South African government.

The second, and the larger of the two, sent by the South African government, was an essentially civil society 50-member South African Observer Mission (SAOM). Its leader, the eminent ambassador Sam Motsuenyane, was appointed by the South African government.

The two missions, the SAPOM and the SAOM, went to Zimbabwe at the invitation of the Zimbabwean Parliament and government respectively.

These missions had comprehensive mandates to observe all elements of the elections consistent with universal practice.

The two-member judicial observer mission (JOM) made up of Judge Sisi Khampepe and Judge Dikgang Moseneke had a very limited mandate, relating only to matters of the “legal framework” relevant to the elections.

In their report, the honourable judges mentioned their terms of reference. First, these directed the judges to report their findings to the president of South Africa.

Second, they required them to assess whether the Zimbabwean legal framework “can ensure credible or substantially free and fair elections, and whether the elections have been conducted in substantial compliance with the legislative framework”.

In addition, the South African government sent ministers Steve Tshwete and Membathisi Mdladlana to be present in Harare during the period of the elections.

These ministers would maintain continuous contact with the two observer missions so that they could immediately engage the Zimbabwe government on any relevant misdemeanour that would threaten the integrity of the elections, as reported by our observers.

We requested the government of Zimbabwe to allow us to deploy the JOM and the ministerial group, and explained their respective tasks. The government of Zimbabwe accepted our request and agreed to co-operate with both of them.

South Africa, with Angola, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique and Botswana, also served on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) ministerial task force.

Although it noted various negative developments relating to the elections, the SAPOM said they were “a credible expression of the will of the people”.

Similarly, the SAOM also pointed to various defects with regard to the elections. Nevertheless, in its interim report, it made the determination that “the outcome of the 2002 Zimbabwe presidential elections should be considered legitimate”.

In its final report, it said it is “of the view that the outcome of the elections represents the legitimate voice of the people of Zimbabwe”.

Commenting on the SAOM report in 2003, I said: “We have also studied and taken seriously the observations and recommendations contained in the 42-page report of our observer mission. These observations include issues of political violence, legislation and state institutions relevant to the elections, the role of the media, and the general political situation. Those who present themselves to the public as experts would do well to study this report.”

I must also point out that the SAOM observers of the March 9 and 10 elections were in Zimbabwe from February 13 2002.

I must also mention that other observer missions, which the South African government respected, also came to conclusions similar to those of the two South African observer missions. I refer here to those, among others, of the Namibian and Nigerian governments, the Organisation of African Unity and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and the SADC ministerial task force.

It was on the basis of the SAPOM, the SAOM and the other African observer reports that the South African government accepted that the outcome of the elections represented the will of the people of Zimbabwe.

The South African government had no basis on which to insult all these African observer missions by claiming that they had told lies intended to betray democracy when they made their determinations about the Zimbabwe presidential elections.

We studied the judges’ report and took careful note of its accounts and comments relating to its terms of reference about the legal framework for the conduct of the elections.

However, we found no summary in the judges’ report responding to its terms of reference about the legal framework and the elections.

Given its composition and mandate, we came to the firm conclusion that it was not credibly possible for the judges’ mission to come to a conclusion about all major elements of the elections based on its own direct observations. In any event there was no expectation or requirement that it should make such a determination.

The concrete reality was that the judges’ mission had neither the capacity nor the mandate to carry out the observation work done by the SAPOM and the SAOM, and it exceeded both its capacity and its mandate.

It was not by accident that the judges’ mission was directed to submit its report to the president of South Africa. That report was not meant for public distribution.

It was intended to serve as advice to our presidency, given that we had already been engaging the government and political parties of Zimbabwe about what they should do to overcome their political challenges.

Throughout the years of litigation concerning the “Khampepe report”, we resisted its publication. We argued that it is the common practice in the jurisprudence of many jurisdictions to exclude from publication advice given to the sovereign, as provided for in our Promotion of Access to Information Act.

The reason for this is not to conceal from the public the content of such advice. It is simply to ensure that the quality of this advice is not compromised by fear or incentive that it might get into the public domain.

As an example, this important matter was dealt with by the New Zealand Law Commission as recently as 2012.

The commission report, titled The Public’s Right to Know: Review of the Official Information Legislation, has a chapter headed Protecting Good Government. Among others, this chapter says: “The withholding of the information is necessary to avoid prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs by protecting … The free and frank expression of opinions and provision of advice or information by, between or to ministers of the Crown or members of an organisation or officers and employees of any department or organisation in the course of their duty …”

I have no doubt that our courts erred in ordering the public release of the Khampepe report. From now onwards, all those requested to provide advice to the government will know that such advice may be brought into the public domain.

I am certain that this will affect the quality of such advice, given the knowledge of those requested to provide the advice that it is possible that they are not only advising the sovereign in confidence but also addressing the general public.

As stated by the New Zealand Law Commission, this presents the real danger that this will “prejudice … the effective conduct of public affairs”.

I know that some of those who were convinced they would win, but later cried foul after the announcement of the election results, had saluted what our observer missions and ministers had done. They had said the work carried out by them would ensure that the outcome of the elections truly represented the will of the people of Zimbabwe.

Those who lost the elections did not do so in the period between the closure of the polling stations and the finalisation of the count.

Commenting on the counting process after the polls closed, the report of the observers of the World Council of Churches and the All African Conference of Churches said: “Some of our observers participated in the counting process. They confirmed that, though the process was slow and time-consuming, it was solid and effective.”

The judges’ observer mission also made a similar finding.

We owe and will make no apology to anybody whatsoever both about resisting the publication of the Khampepe report and respecting the determinations made by the SAPOM, the SAOM and the other African observer missions about the 2002 Zimbabwe presidential elections.

The vacuous pontifications of the M&G in this regard are nothing more than that.

Thabo Mbeki was president from June 1999 to September 2008.


  • comment-avatar

    So Mbeki refuses to apologize because it would be an admission that his decision and hence his legacy is flawed. Essentially his argument is that because the much higher numbers of the non-expert public observer missions essentially condoned the conduct of the elections; then politically, he has no obligation to acknowledge the much more critical conclusions of his own, highly qualified expert judges who told him that from a structural perspective the 2002 election was not free or fair.

    In his defense, he sites a passage from a 2012 New Zealand government report suggesting that the executive should be able to receive confidential information in formulating policies. And yet since 2002 his and successive governments have used the argument that releasing the report would irreparably damage SA’s relations with Zimbabwe. The reason that those relations will and have been damaged, is because he chose to ignore the basic question as to whether the elections were legally designed to be free and fair. The conclusion of the two judges says otherwise and as a politician, he willfully chose to disregard their advice and then to fight to suppress any public access.

    Additionally, he tosses off the immense legal costs incurred by the M&G, saying simply that the judiciary erred. He’s acknowledging that they had every right to see the report all along. Well if that’s the case then why did he not release the report when they first asked for it?

    Even if Mbeki will not apologize, the fact that he and his successors have fought tooth and nail to suppress these results for so long, proves how compromised the last three presidents of SA have been toward the cause of democracy and the people of Zimbabwe, and their actions will now be part of the historical record and will also color all relations going forward.

    It’s also just one more reason why Mugabe should not be considered the legitimate president of Zimbabwe.

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    Wilbert Mukori 9 years ago

    It is rich that Tsvangirai should be asking SADC to apologise for Zimbabwe’s rigged 2013 elections when it was his failure to implement the reforms that allowed Mugabe to cheat!

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      Your personal hatred of Tsvangirai will get you nowhere, as it appears that you hope to build your future political career on the back of your perceived and imagined Tsvagirai’s weaknesses. You are advised that you can only succeed in Zimbabwean politics if you are on Tsvangirai’s side, where the pro-democracy masses reside. It is folly of unimaginable magnitude to say that it was Tsvangirai’s fault that reforms were not implemented? It shows the ignorance of Wilbert Mukori about the dictatorship and you should be saying how it could have been done better, otherwise just quietly join Biti/Mangoma in the sham ‘Renewal Team’

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    Msizeni silwelani 9 years ago

    Mbeki, you are being disrespectful to the judiciary system of S.A period. A layman’s understanding is that the learned judges said that the minimum legal framework required for a electoral process to be regarded as free, fair and credible were not observed. This access to information act is oppressive. It infringes on our right to know.

    In any case Mr Denial, no AIDS, no crisis in Zimbabwe, no apology. We await to hear from the judiciary service council of your country.

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    The Black Aristocrat 9 years ago

    Reading between the lines it appears as sure as night follows day, that Mbeki tried to organise a whitewash to protect Mugabe but, the learned judges refused to play along !

    Mbeki always had extremely worryingly autocratic and reactionary instincts, which were never far from the surface in the way he ran South Africa.

    While President he failed to break a tradition, half a century old, of blind solidarity between African presidents, as evidenced by Mbeki’s continued tolerance of Zimbabwe’s appalling Robert Mugabe.

    Like Mugabe, he commonly accuses his political opponents of racism if they are white, or of supporting a “white agenda” if they are black.

    AIDS campaigners who lobbied for useful drugs for patients were ludicrously accused of being stooges of foreign drug companies.

    Who can forget him snapping at a white journalist, a rape victim who has written about the terrible rates of sexual abuse in South Africa, saying that she was a racist and out to denigrate black men.

    His biggest mistake however, came when Archbishop Desmond Tutu dared point out that a culture of “sycophantic, obsequious conformity” is emerging under Mr Mbeki. An “unthinking, uncritical, kow-towing party line-toeing”, he said, “is fatal to a vibrant democracy.”

    TUTU has a gift for riling pompous leaders. He upset apartheid’s white rulers, Mugabe (who called him an “embittered little bishop”) and Mbeki. Sadly, Mr Mbeki chose to ally himself with the Zimbabwean tyrant against the genial and democratic clergyman and the Zimbabwean people. He snapped at Mr Tutu that he was not a member of the ANC, and should therefore keep quiet.

    Most alarmingly, he used the organs of state against party rivals. In 2001 he told the police to investigate three men—Mr Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale and Matthews Phosa—for plotting to “overthrow” him. It was a ludicrous accusation, but it pushed the three men out of politics.

    Moeletsi Mbeki, a businessman and the president’s brother, was blunter. He sees a “stubborn and self-righteous” ex president drifting away from the ANC tradition of multi-racial social democracy. My brother created a “narrow capitalist, black-consciousness party, obsessed with promoting the interests of one racial group and political party, similar to what Mugabe has done in Zimbabwe”

    Could’t have put it better – clearly, no love lost there!

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      Brother Of The Soil 9 years ago

      Mbeki you a pathological liar who simply rode the wave of the apartheid oppression. An opportunist with hatred in your heart. To the detriment of Africa it has sincerely been a huge disappointment to have you in a position of influence during such a crucial juncture in history. Your grave stone, like Bob will be visited by the lesser.

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    Jimbo 9 years ago

    True to form this is Thabo Mbeki at his best! He has never made a mistake and continues to defend the indefensible . I wonder what he thinks of the current situation in in Zimbabwe which is a failed state if ever there was one. I doubt if he even cares about the millions of Zimbabweans that have had to flee the country for simply supporting the opposition. Zimbabwe could be a totally different country today if Mbeki had put more pressure on the tyrant Mugabe and forced a fully democratic election with the diaspora allowed to vote. Sadly this is never going to happen and the majority of Zimbabweans trapped inside their country are unemployed and starving. Mbeki could have changed all this but he chose not to. This is the same Mbeki who is now responsible for the power outages in SA because his government was warned about looking power shortages more than ten years ago but chose nothing to do about it.

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    Munya Gudoguru 9 years ago

    i am total disappointed by Thabo, keeping quiet would have been a noble idea. The judiciary is independent from government, and parliament and is expected to report without fear or favour. Its is an equally powerful arm which need not to report to president or else it looses its independence.

    You have done a great job to Mugabe at the expense of the majority and SA citizens whose economy has been flooded by economic and political refuges.

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    Johnny k 9 years ago

    If thejudges report was so inconsequential why did Mbeki suppress it for 12 years?? SA chikanery with Mugabe

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      Petal 9 years ago

      There is a saying “Birds of a feather flock together” this could be the case of Thabo and Jacob they only have their own personal interests at heart

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    All these SA leaders have in some way or other been compromised by the Mugabe Govt and dare not upset the power hungry lot up north. Have you wondered why Moeletsi Mbeki, an avid critic of the Mugabe regime has gone so quiet?
    Thabo Mbeki is one of the most reviled political leaders in Zimbabwe. He aided and abeted fraud and prevented an inevitable process of change.

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    I told you so 9 years ago

    Wonder hoow many bottles of brandy Mbeki was paid for this, the illegal land invasions,could also have been stopped,,but Mheki misjudged supporting it.Sanctions were applied,so SA could not do same.Hence the turnaround of the ANC on a Bheki groomed Malema.Sa must pay for not supporting its nationals in Zimbabwe.the records are there between Sa embassy Harare and Pretoria (Mbeki) on this nonaction

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    Chasi 9 years ago

    So we continue to suffer under an illegitimate gvt

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    gonoremombe 9 years ago

    Typical of Mr no crisis, the same tyrant selfish president like bob,

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    Politically and economically South Africa benefited and its still benefits from the political and economical turmoil caused by Mugabe in Zimbabwe. A poor and mismanaged Zimbabwe is good for SA. So there is no way Mbeki or any unprincipled SA president will be happy with an economically and politically stable Zimbabwe. Its unfortunate that we gave SA and others too much power to determine Zimbabwe’s destiny. Its time we take that power back and determine our country’s destine because Mbeki’s apology is not important.

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    Petal 9 years ago

    Someone get the Human Rights Lawyers and Bishop Tutu, Baki Moon on board and the international community and leave these Southern African Dictators Club they will not move an inch as the saying goes to do anything including the All Useless Club stop waffling and actions speak louder than words ordinary people are suffering

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    Petal 9 years ago

    Thabo and Jacob do not give a stuff if there is migration across the border into SA where the migrants are often ill treated and that goes for Botswana migrants are badly treated in Botswana too Look at the number of migrants crossing the meditteranean risking their lives to leave this godforsaken continent because those at the top do not give a stuff and that goes for Kofi Annan it is all about lining their pockets

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    Petal 9 years ago

    Am mentioning Kofi Anaan because he had alot to say about the Ebola outbreak he should have been targeting african governments to lead but instead he chose to attack the rest of the world for not coming sooner

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    Malcolm 9 years ago

    When a politician goes to such great lengths to explain, it means that its a fabrication and cover up. Extensive detail is a major phenomenon in the psychology of lying.

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    Malcolm 9 years ago

    Those who may be interested could do well to refer to a quick run-down on propaganda at


    Read through the types and you’ll be shocked to find just how many base tactics you’ll recognise being employed in current and historical Zimbabwe political mouthings, and indeed with respect to politicians in general. And whilst you’re about it just Wiki ‘lying’ as well. Information on just two of these tools of political trade will not allow you to sleep well!

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    Mkoma 9 years ago

    Who needs an apology from a mad man. The same mad man who denied that Aids was extant while millions were being infected and affected in Africa, the same mad man who said there was no crisis yet he was a negotiator to resolve a political crisis. As a patriotic zimbabwean Mbeki should just be under treatmeant in a mental institution Ngomahuru to be specific

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    Charles Frizell 9 years ago

    Well, they all belong to the African Dictators Club, so what can one expect? The South Africans fought tooth and nail to suppress this report because it exposes the extent that Mbeki went to support his mate Mugabe. We know his treachery concerning the GNU. It makes me despair indeed. African renaissance? My foot!

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    Flick 9 years ago

    Mbeki, you and your ilk have everything to apologise for.

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    By owing nobody an apology, it simply means Mr Mbeki was part of the operations. After such damage Mr ex -president, we wish you many years of life so that you correct your mistakes. All souls which perished as a result of this, cries to you and your government.

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    mark longhurst 8 years ago

    he should also be dragged to the hague for this abuse of human rights and his complicity in the ongoing torture and murder of the people of Zimbabwe , he is complicit in Zanu’s genocide.

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    Intellectual Africans??????????????

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    Tozvi 8 years ago

    Mbeki must be adding something else in his smoking pipe! To be this unrepetant and self-righteous is indeed sad for Africa. Where & who shall we look up to. The revolution continues indeed, lets see this ‘lot’ of leaders go away and start afresh.Fellow Africans ARISE!

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    Petal 8 years ago

    Is it possible for organisations representing Civl Society to comment and what are they intentions?

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    Petal 8 years ago

    Including Human rights Lawyers??

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    Petal 8 years ago

    Have heard that the South African Postal services do not function and letters are piling up at Post Offices for the last three months – South africa is going down the same river like us

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    Patriotic 8 years ago

    Nothing will come out of it. This is Africa. They all know each other and they look after each other’s backs expect a few