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Mugabe can save himself by stepping down, says Tutu


South African churches have urged President Thabo Mbeki to work vigorously to get Zimbabwe to release full election results without delay, while Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu says Robert Mugabe can still redeem himself by stepping down as president.

"The delayed release of the results creates unnecessary tension and insecurity for millions of voters and may undermine their faith in democratic processes," the South African Council of Churches said in a statement released on 8 April.

"The slow and seemingly stage-managed release of Zimbabwe’s election results raises concerns," it stated. "The long delay in the announcement of the results of the presidential vote is disturbing and may compromise the entire electoral process. Accordingly, we urge the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to release these results now."

Zimbabweans voted on 29 March in presidential, parliamentary and local elections. The opposition parties gained a majority in the parliament, but results in the presidential election had still not been released when the church council made its statement.

"We urge the South African government to work vigorously to promote the timely publication of election results and to prevent any violence or crisis from emerging in the wake of this historic election," the South African church group stated

"Given the mandate conferred on the South African government by the SADC [Southern African Development Community] Peace and Security Council, we believe it is time for President Mbeki to move beyond his policy of ‘quiet diplomacy’ in Zimbabwe," said the church council, which represents Protestant, Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christian groups.

The SACC noted that it had been unable to gain accreditation to monitor the 29 March elections, in which President Mugabe who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, faced a challenge from Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party.

"The people have spoken," the South African church grouping noted. "Democratic elections are the right of citizens and the mechanism by which they express their ambitions, wishes and aspirations," it said. "It is therefore vital that the will of the people be respected. Failure to do so may cause people to lose faith in the ballot as a means of determining the popular will. Everything possible must be done to ensure that democratic processes are credible, legitimate and acceptable to the voters."

In San Francisco on 8 April. Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, urged the 84-year-old Mugabe to accept that he lost the presidential election in Zimbabwe.

"They are tipping over the precipice," Tutu told journalists. "Violence is very much in the air." The cleric who came to the fore during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa said, "I would have hoped there would be a great deal more pressure, not just from South Africa but from the international community." He continued, "On the whole, African leadership has not done themselves proud on this one."

The Geneva-based World Council of Churches, which told the United Nations it would monitor the elections through its member churches in Africa, had not yet made a statement by 9 April.

In Cape Town, the Rev Kenneth Meshoe, the leader of the African Christian Democratic Party, an opposition group in the South African parliament, said in a statement on 9 April, "Are our African leaders bewitched or under Robert Mugabe’s spell? Why are they remaining silent while Zimbabwe is being pushed towards potential violence, bloodshed and a humanitarian crisis? African leaders with their indifference and ‘don’t care’ attitude have not only disappointed the people of this continent but many throughout the world who thought that their talk about democracy was more than lip service."

The secretary general of Catholic aid group Caritas Internationalis, Lesley Anne Knight, said on 9 April, "Failure to release the election results without any compelling reason is not justifiable. It is simply leading to the suspicion that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is being manipulated to produce results against the verdict of the people."

The Christian Council from the South African province of KwaZulu Natal called for intervention in the Zimbabwean situation by the South African government and leaders of SADC countries to ensure that the presidential election results are released without further delay, and that the results are honoured.

Ecumenical News International