The government of Botswana respects a decision by Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai to pull out of the run-off for the presidential election on Friday.
Speaking to the media yesterday, Defence, Justice and Security Minister, Dikgakgamatso Ramadeluka Seretse said that the Botswana government is not disappointed at Tsvangirai's decision to pull out at the last minute. However, he said they expected Tsvangirai to take part in the elections. "I had expectation, but if something happens contrary to the expectation, I must first want to understand why it happened. I must investigate and put myself in the shoes of that particular person, before I can make any valued judgment on it. I can't say I am disappointed. I can't say personally I'm not disappointed," he said. The Zimbabwe government has said it will continue with the elections on Friday and there is debate that if Tsvangirai does not stand, President Robert Mugabe will automatically be the winner of the run-off according to the laws of Zimbabwe.
Seretse explained that it is important for Zimbabwe to hold free and fair elections and that everybody must respect the rule of law. He said that Botswana was concerned at reports of escalating violence that has been attributed to supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF attacking MDC supporters. "As a country we don't condone any brutality. We are seriously concerned. After the first elections we were concerned. The law in Zimbabwe says they should go for a run-off and we contributed 50 observers from Botswana, the largest number we have ever sent," he said.
Seretse said that there is nothing more Botswana can do about the Zimbabwe situation apart from telling all parties to respect the rule of law and stop the violence. He said that the government has summoned the Zimbabwean ambassador to Botswana over the violence in his country. "We can't go into Zimbabwe and strangle anybody and say they are doing the wrong
In a statement issued on Monday, the Botswana government said that it will wait for an official report of the SADC Election Observer Mission and other independent observers before it pronounces its position in regard to recognition and legitimacy of any presidential candidate after the run-off. This is the third statement issued by Botswana since the March general elections in Zimbabwe. The United Nations on Monday issued a statement saying the situation in Zimbabwe was not suitable for a free and fair election.
Meanwhile, Seretse urged the media to treat with caution some of the information they gather that could put Botswana's national security at risk. He said that there are circumstances in which any government is required to withhold information. "Like your newsrooms, public authorities such as my office often hold sensitive information communicated in confidence by private individuals, companies and NGOs, as well as from foreign governments or international organisations. Such 'off the public record' communications must be protected," he cautioned.
However, he acknowledged that there are some public officers who have a tendency of unnecessarily withholding information from the press. He promised that his ministry will act proactively in disseminating information. He said the number of refugees from Zimbabwe is increasing and this can have security and human rights implications. He said the refugees need to be handled with care to avoid inciting passions such as the xenophobic attacks in some neighbouring countries. He said the government is prepared to assist the refugees. "We are prepared in case of any eventuality going beyond the influx of Zimbabweans into Botswana," he said.