At the time this article was published
Gordon Fairweather was the Canadian Human Rights Commissioner.
The Southern Rhodesian elections of February
1980 were supervised by a British Election Commission. One of the members of
the Commonwealth Observer Group was Gordon Fairweather. Mr. Fairweather
prepared an account of his experience for the July issue of Report magazine and
he has kindly agreed to allow the Canadian Regional Review to publish an
extract from his article.
The Commonwealth Observer Group was made up
of representatives of 11 member states, Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados,
Canada, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Sri
Lanka. The Chairman was Rajeshwar Dayal of India, former Foreign Secretary with
long experience at the United Nations and in ambassadorial posts. The other
observers were drawn largely from judicial or ambassadorial positions although
the Nigerian representative was a former aid to President Kwame Nkrumah of
Ghana. The observer from Papua New Guinea was Minister of Labour in the
government of that country.
We became a highly congenial group but our
main role was to bring a dispassionate collective judgement to bear on the
question whether the elections were free and fair. I must not overstate our
role but the fact remains that the Group did form an integral part of the
entire dramatic movement from armed struggle to peace by means of the electoral
We had to observe, to report, to see, to
hear and to get the feel of what was going on in the country. We arbitrarily
divided the country into five regions and set up modest offices in Bulawayo,
Gwelo, Umtali, Fort Victoria and our headquarters in Salisbury. Staff were
present in the five offices throughout the campaign and we let the public know
that we were available to hear complaints about the conduct of the campaign,
and that we would seek remedies or explanations about them from the
authorities. Trust was vital to the success of our mission. We had to be seen
as being independent of the Rhodesian civil service. which was responsible for
the election arrangements, and of the British supervisors.
Observers and assistants rotated their
visits to each part of the country so that when polling days arrived one or
more of us had covered each of the 55 administrative districts of Rhodesia. I
was fortunate to have been assigned two excellent assistants, Michael Phillips.
now Deputy Canadian High Commissioner in Kenya and Jack Forrester, senior
information officer with the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.
An additional 30 people including three Canadians arrived a few days before
voting began, and the reinforced. the Observer Group visited 409 of the 657
polling stations during the three voting days.
Because I had been a candidate in so many
elections. I was determined to move around as much as possible. Obviously
official briefings were important but I became convinced that the Group might
find itself immoblized in Salisbury confronted by piles of documents and
thereby lose touch with the day by day progress of the campaign. Most were glad
when our actual travel plans were settled.
I set off for Fort Victoria, a U.S.
frontier-like town in the south. where the provincial officials were certain
that Robert Mugabe was the devil incarnate and that the Zanla army consisted of
terrorists bent upon pillage, rape and killing despite the cease-fire. To remain
dispassionate through all t lie hyperbole required all my patience. yet,
objectivity was vital, and I disciplined myself to a judicial demeanour as I
explored the small towns and villages by mine-protected vehicle, car. truck,
helicopter or single-engined aircraft.
The country was swarming with heavily armed
security forces and each day combined operations would issue casualty lists
which made exaggerated and usually quite unsubstantiated claims about who had
been responsible for the latest deaths. We found that the responsibility for
violence could be evenly apportioned between the Auxiliaries (a political army
of the United African National Council, Bishop Muzorewa's Party) and the Zanla
wing of the Patriotic Front.
I liked to visit missions and hospitals
where teachers and nurses were candid about their assessment of the political
situation. Most people knew why we were there and were glad to talk to us. The
Catholic Bishop of Gwelo gave me the first intimation of the likely outcome one
month before the campaign ended when he said that the people are going to vote
for peace, they are not interested in ideology but in peace. They believe
Mugabe can bring peace." The Bishop's assessment was to be reinforced and
it became obvious that the desire for peace transcended tribal and political
Peace was a recurring promise too. Bishop
Abel Muzorewa campaigned as Man of God, Man of Peace, Man of Power and Man of
the People. He failed to fulfill the three earthly claims.
I met the leaders of the main parties (nine
parties competed but only four were serious contenders) and was impressed most
by Robert Mugabe. Joshua Nkomo seemed to be a somewhat tragic person, greatly
admired by most Zimbabweans. but unable to translate that respect into votes
anywhere but in his own home country of Mtabeleland. The Bishop refused to see
the Group as such, but did invite four of us to his official residence the day
the votes were being counted. He gave me the distinct impression of a person
quite out of control of events.
The election was all engrossing and even
social occasions did not give one a chance to escape. Rather they served as
opportunities for hosts and guests to continue the debate, to predict the
results and to forecast either the end of the world or the coming of the
promised land depending upon one's biases. I sat in a garden watching tennis
matches while the players argued about who was responsible for the latest
violence. I had Sunday dinner in a household where adherents of Moral
Rearmament suggested that faith contained all the essentials for the new day.
When I went to Zambia for a short visit of "R and R" with the
Canadian High Commissioner in Lusaka, I was given a schedule packed with visits
and appointments having to do with the Rhodesian elections. Zambia, like
Mozambique, was desperate for peace.
Rhodesian television (which reminded me of
the 1950's) is a state owned facility, and was noticeably insensitive to the
unfolding political drama. An absence of investigative journalism was obvious,
and the news was scandalously imbalanced. References to Messrs. Mugabe and
Nkorno not only were never complimentary, but no attempt was made to analyze
party promises or give background information about the political leaders
Two or three personal recollections might
help give a flavour of how things were during the campaign. I was urged by the
Commonwealth Cease-fire Monitoring Force to go into an assembly point and speak
to the armed and restless Zanla forces about the election process. I am not
noted for being first off the mark to meet challenges, yet thisjourney was
indeed the first for a Commonwealth Observer inside such a camp. The journey
made was in a land rover, driven at a furious pace on rutted roads by a young
British subaltern. I sat beside him buckled in and choking with dust, and the
rest of the convoy roared along behind us even dustier and more uncomfortable.
We toured the camp and then a couple of
hundred NCO's (or their equivalent for there are no ranks in the people's army)
squatted with AK automatic rifles across their thighs. I was just about to
launch into my short election talk when I spotted one of the soldiers dressed
in a tee shirt which bore the message "Patience My Ass". I begged him
to give me just five minutes, and then he could do what he liked with his
In a school near the little town of Bindura,
the headmaster got all the children assembled outside on the grass in front of
a large map of the world in concrete. We visitors picked out our various
countries and said a few words about them. After this, there were questions and
a small Zimbabwean boy of 10 or 11 asked me if it was true that Mr. Rhodes had
put some money in the bank so that the boy could go to Oxford some day. I said
indeed it was true and what is more, now his sister standing beside him could
go too. The headmaster asked me not to push change too far and too fast.
I was in a taxi in Montreal the other day
and the driver recognized me and asked me if I had been in Africa. I said yes
and he responded "Gawd, that's one of the things that's worked in the
world lately". And worked it has, and I have had the great good fortune to
watch it on behalf of the Commonwealth, yet all the while very conscious of
being a Canadian.
Independence came because people put faith
in the processes of peace. Strange is it not that the fruits of peace should
have to be described as being the result of a miracle. The new Prime Minister,
erstwhile devil-incarnate, talks about "love and reconciliation", and
people cannot believe what they are hearing. This man comes out of jail and
exile and talks about forgiveness.
It matters a great deal that Zimbabwe should
work after all.