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Activists Riled as Zimbabwe Elected SADC Deputy Chair

Southern African Development Community leaders have elected Zimbabwe the deputy chair of the regional group, positioning Harare to take over the chairmanship of SADC when Malawi’s term expires. A SADC summit would be held in Harare next year, the regional group revealed Sunday.

This has riled activists who were in Lilongwe lobbying SADC leaders to discuss in detail Zimbabwe’s July 31 national elections they say were not in line with the regional body’s guidelines and principles on elections.

Malawi President Joyce Banda assumed the chairmanship of the regional body at the official opening of the summit on Saturday.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesman Thabani Nyoni told VOA Zimbabwe’s election to the deputy chair position is in bad taste, especially as the country is still smarting from an election the opposition MDC says was rigged in favour of President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party.

He says the region’s civil society did not get a positive response from the SADC leaders at the summit on their Zimbabwe election concerns.

“The response was expected and the usual where SADC leaders take people for granted where they don’t really seem to be listening to what people are saying, where they move on and continue to work as a club of dictators,” said Nyoni.

“They went on to endorse Zimbabwe’s election as peaceful and free and they also moved on to allow Zimbabwe to be deputy chair of the SADC Heads of States and Governments summit as well, meaning that in the next summit before the Malawi elections, Zimbabwe will likely be chairing SADC and also Zimbabwe will be participating in the SADC organ for defense and politics as well.”

Nyoni said this raises concerns within the democratic movement in the region as many did not expect Zimbabwe to have such a high profile position in the regional grouping following the disputed elections back home.

“What it means certainly is that there’s need for concern and vigilance within the citizenship in SADC and civil society as well going forward because certainly what it means is that Zimbabwe has been given the opportunity to make sure that the precedence that has been set in our country is then followed up so that it becomes a pattern in the region,” the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesperson said.

The election to deputise Malawi is a major victory for Harare, especially following the overwhelming endorsement of the country’s elections by the full SADC summit.

The summit noted the July 31 elections were peaceful and free but did not mention fairness of credibility.

MDC-T spokesman Douglas Mwonzora told Reuters after the summit; "We were not expecting SADC to immediately tell Mugabe to call fresh elections, but we are going to continue lobbying, while at home we apply various forms of political pressure to achieve democracy."

The MDC on Friday withdrew its court challenge against the Mr. Mugabe's re-election, saying it would not get a fair hearing and had sent delegates led by deputy president Thokozani Khupe to Lilongwe to raise its objections.