South African churches doubt Zimbabwe elections will be fair

 Church leaders in southern Africa say they doubt that the forthcoming elections in Zimbabwe will be free or fair. Bishop Kevin Dowling who heads the Catholic diocese of Rustenburg in South Africa told the Catholic News Service: "Mugabe knows he can play games and get away with it. He had the security forces on his side, and the opposition. has no protection under the law - so he doesn't need to make any concessions." The opposition Movement for Democratic Change had asked for the elections to be postponed from March to June, to allow for a new constitution that protects human rights, to be put in place. South African President Thabo Mbeki, had been mediating between Mugabe's government and the opposition for months, but talks ended last week with no agreement. The Bishop said: "Mugabe has been stringing Mbeki along all this time." Bishop Dowling, who is a member of the Solidarity Peace Trust, an ecumenical group of church organizations from Zimbabwe and South Africa, said he believed Mugabe was untrustworthy and did not intend to make significant changes to bring stability to the country. Without the new constitution, the bishop said: "there can be no free and fair elections." Alouis Chaumba, head of Zimbabwe's Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, echoed this view, saying he was not surprised the talks had failed as the Zimbabwean government "doesn't negotiate in good faith." Chaumba said that as things stand, Zimbabwe faces a bleak future, with hyperinflation, massive unemployment and huge shortages of power, water, food and medicines.

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