Monday, May 4, 2009



By Justice Malala
May 03, 2009

THE people of Zimbabwe went to the polls on March 29 last year and, within three days, we knew that they wanted Morgan Tsvangirai to lead them.
The numerous non-government organisations that observed the elections, and collated the results that were displayed outside polling stations, said so. International observer missions said so.

However, the country’s electoral commission refused to issue the results and for a month tried every trick in the book to ensure that Robert Mugabe emerged as the winner. While they were engaged in this fraud, Mugabe and his cronies arrested and tortured those who had legitimately won the election.

In December 2007, the electoral commission in Kenya, on realising that President Mwai Kibaki had lost the election, quickly declared him the winner and installed him in the presidency, despite observers from all corners of the globe saying that he had lost . His actions, and those of that electoral commission, led to the death of more than 1000 people when protests erupted.

On April 22, I went to my polling station. In the queue were some people I know and we greeted each other and conversed. The lines were made up of blacks and whites and a spirit of camaraderie was in the air.

There was my friend PJ and his family, kids and all, queuing to vote. And there were Kenneth and Faranaaz, walking out of the polling station with their young son after making their mark . And there was an ANC party agent, leading an elderly white woman through the queue and finding her a chair .

By the next day, I was already analysing the results as they were displayed on the boards at the Independent Electoral Commission centre in Pretoria. Within two days after I, and millions of other South Africans, had voted I knew that the ANC had triumphed once again. By the third day, Saturday April 25, I was at a party watching Brigalia Bam, the IEC chairwoman, announcing the final results on television.

What is beautiful, satisfying and deeply rewarding about our elections — the fourth democratic elections in our young country – is this ordinary fact : we all trust the IEC, we all believe that the election was conducted with integrity and fairness, and that the will of the people has been expressed.

We trust that institution. We respect its processes, decisions and its conclusions, whether we voted for the ANC or not. We abide by them.

That is the joy of the South Africa we live in today. When our institutions work, they work magnificently. The IEC’s conduct, and the way our politicians and our people conducted themselves in these, and the past three national elections, has shown us at our best.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Anton Harber, the Caxton professor of journalism at Wits University, and Mac Maharaj, a former transport minister . What was interesting was that both of them spoke passionately about the importance and need to preserve the integrity of the institutions of democracy in this country.

Maharaj is concerned that, over the past 10 years, our institutions of democracy, such as the National Prosecuting Authority, have been abused, as evidenced by the tapes of conversations between former NPA head Bulelani Ngcuka and former Scorpions head Leonard McCarthy. If a politician were to be investigated by the NPA today, few would believe that a legitimate prosecution was pending.

The same could also be said of the intelligence services and other arms of our security establishment.

The new administration under Jacob Zuma will have to restore the public’s trust in these institutions.

Harber has written persuasively about the fraught relationship between the media and the ANC’s leadership, old and new, over the past 10 years. The media have also been drawn into the tug of war between the new and the old ANC leadership. In the run-up to this election, many people have questioned their integrity.

And so, last week, Harber made a creative and intriguing suggestion.

He wrote: “I am not one to encourage journalists to be mild- mannered. The media, I believe, is best when it is boisterous, pushing the bounds of acceptable investigation and discourse, even troublesome.

“In the US, there is an unwritten 100-day honeymoon rule. The media give a new administration three months to find their feet and are cautious about criticism until then.

“... I am not suggesting that we suspend criticism or scrutiny of our incoming president and his administration ... I am suggesting, however, that we should put aside the rancour of the election and judge Zuma on how he rises to the considerable demands of his new job.”

This column will give Zuma his 100 days.