ALL AFRICA REPORT: Catholic bishops from eight African countries have appealed to political leaders in the SADC region to oversee the development of a roadmap for peaceful elections in Zimbabwe, stressing that "elections at this stage would be dangerously premature".
In a statement addressed to SADC, the bishops said they "strongly believe" that conditions in the country are "emphatically not conducive to elections in 2011. They applauded the GPA and unity government it created but expressed great concern that two years later, few aspects of the agreement had been fulfilled.
Regarding elections, the bishops said conditions are not conducive because the GPA was not fulfilled, the constitutional reform process was incomplete, the voters roll is not updated, there is no freedom of association and media is "severely restricted". "The nation is in the grip of extreme fear; polarization is still evident; there are increasing signs of intimidation and/or violence as the election campaign builds up."
Father Oskar Wermter who helps needy people in Mbare, told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday that the atmosphere is tense and the so-called "ruling party" has not changed its tactics of violence and intimidation.
He said although Robert Mugabe has shown no respect for the church in the past, the IMBISA statement was important because it shows the church is in touch with people on the ground and bishops are well informed about life in both the rural and urban areas. "Our bishop came here to Mbare to see what is going on and he can then inform the conference," said Father Wermter.
He described an incident when ZANU PF thugs attacked a soup kitchen being run by the Catholic Church, for people displaced by the recent violence in Mbare. "They have no morals. They just walked in and started beating up volunteer workers there. Some were taken to hospitals with injuries."
The appeal was signed by bishops from Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, Sao Tome e Principe, South Africa & Zimbabwe, who appealed to SADC to be "the agent that brings about this urgently needed recovery of Zimbabwe".
The bishops explained that if those in power choose to hold elections in 2011, then they "assert emphatically" that two things be considered as preconditions - a roadmap leading up to the elections be put in place and that the elections be conducted according to SADC's guidelines for elections.
The facilitation team for South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, who is SADC's chief negotiator on Zimbabwe, is expected in Harare this week to work on a roadmap with the three major political parties.Father Wermter agreed and stressed that violence was a key issue: "People are nervous. The constant threat of violence is hanging over them and they are afraid to go out after dark. As long as that continues there should be no elections in Zimbabwe".
Unfortunately SADC does not have a good record of supervising elections in Zimbabwe and has failed to pressure Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF into implementing what they agreed to in the SADC-brokered GPA.
There has been a general consensus among civic groups that the U.N. and the international community should also be allowed to monitor elections in Zimbabwe.