Mbeki a longtime Mugabe ally …

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South African President Thabo Mbeki has been lampooned and condemned across the world for saying there is “no crisis” in Zimbabwe on his brief stopover in the capital, Harare, on the way to an emergency summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Zambia to discuss Zimbabwe’s disputed 29 March elections.

Now there is also a growing chorus from within the African National Congress (ANC), Mbeki’s own party, in South Africa, the continent and the world for Mbeki to discard his much-maligned policy of “quiet diplomacy” and get tough on Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe.

Mbeki’s comment that “there is no crisis in Zimbabwe” drew a sharp response from Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), that Mbeki “needs to be relieved of his duties” as a mediator. The SADC appointed Mbeki to mediate between the MDC and the ruling ZANU-PF party in 2007.

Would results be held if Mugabe had won?

One of the key provisions governing elections in Zimbabwe – that results be displayed outside polling stations – allowed Tsvangirai to claim victory in the presidential race by 50 percent plus one vote, which negates the need for a second round of voting.
The MDC overturned ZANU-PF’s parliamentary majority for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980, but the official result of the presidential election has still not been published, nearly three weeks after the poll.

Britain’s Economist magazine said in an editorial, “Can Mr Mbeki seriously suggest, with a straight face, that the result would have been held back if Mr Mugabe had not lost?”
The Washington Post, under the headline “Rogue Democrat”, commented in an editorial: “The government of President Thabo Mbeki has consistently allied itself with the world’s rogue states and against the Western democracies.

“It has defended Iran’s nuclear program and resisted sanctions against it; shielded Sudan and Burma from the sort of pressure the United Nations once directed at the apartheid regime … Now Mr Mbeki’s perverse and immoral policy is reaching its nadir – in South Africa’s neighbour, Zimbabwe.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon expressed “deep concern” over the delay in publishing the presidential ballot at a UN Security Council meeting in New York, chaired by South Africa this week, and noted that “the credibility of the democratic process in Africa could be at stake here.”

ANC views differ

ANC spokesperson Jesse Duarte added to the Mbeki bashing: “It [the ANC] is concerned with the state of crisis that Zimbabwe is in and perceives this as negative for the entire SADC region.”
Everyone was devasted but Mbeki

It is not the first time that the ANC’s and Mbeki’s views on Zimbabwe have been out of step. In 1980, when Mugabe won Zimbabwe’s first democratic elections, Mark Gevisser recounts in his biography, “Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred”, that “Thabo Mbeki seemed to be one of the only ANC comrades [at a meeting] in the whole of Lusaka [capital of Zambia] who was not devastated [by the then ZANU party’s victory].”
During the struggle against apartheid, the ANC was allied to Joshua Nkomo’s rival ZAPU party. That night, Gevisser recounts in an interview with a mid-level ANC exile, the celebrations of Zimbabwe’s independence and shedding white rule were as if “at a wake. I think we even said we would rather have had [Ian] Smith [leader of white-ruled Rhodesia] than Mugabe.”

In the early 1980s Mbeki was tasked with building relations between the ANC and Mugabe’s ZANU party. Gevisser wrote on 17 April in the South African weekly newspaper, The Mail and & Guardian, that Mbeki admitted this relationship developed into one of “father [Mugabe] and son [Mbeki]”.

All diplomacy is quiet

Chris Maroleng, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, a Pretoria-based think-tank, told IRIN the “quiet diplomacy” label was a misnomer, as “all diplomacy is quiet.”

He said, “Mbeki knows that open criticism of ZANU-PF creates intransigence, so he has steered away from public criticism.” Post-apartheid South Africa learnt to its cost that public criticism of other African governments, even ones that had no pretensions to democracy, was a high-risk game.

Maroleng pointed out that the 1995 execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other political activists in Nigeria on trumped-up charges by Sani Abacha’s military dictatorship saw a “serious backlash” from other African countries after South Africa’s founding president, Nelson Mandela, called for sanctions against the oil-rich nation,.

From then on, Maroleng said, South Africa’s foreign policy has been multilateral in its approach and always “wary of pushing a Western agenda, in case it is seen as a proxy or lackey of the West”.

South Africa’s economic clout on the continent – it produces 25 percent of Africa’s GDP – has led to it being given disparaging labels such as the “Yanks of Africa”, but this is not mirrored in its broad diplomatic engagement on the continent.

“Dire” situation

On 17 April, after the UN Security Council meeting, Themba Maseko, South Africa’s ambassador to the UN, said the situation in Zimbabwe was “dire”, and the delay in releasing the poll results was “obviously of great concern”.

Maroleng said this was being interpreted by many as a policy shift, but South Africa had criticised human rights abuses by Mugabe in the past, although “maybe not in the manner people would like to see.”

Mbeki has always sought “homegrown” solutions rather than imposing them, Maroleng commented, and while “strong on pragmatism, it [this approach] can be weak on principle”, but he [Mbeki] has “an aversion to force.”

Mbeki’s bad Anjouan advice

In March 2008, on the eve of an African Union (AU) military operation to reclaim Anjouan, an island in the Comoros archipelago, from renegade leader Mohamed Bacar after nine months of fruitless negotiations, Mbeki said the operation should be delayed.

Much to the chagrin of the AU, Mbeki told an international news agency on 12 March that Bacar had offered to hold fresh elections, and “this is really the way that we should go. I don’t think there is any need to do anything apart or additional to that.” AU troops landed on the island a few days later and encountered minimal resistance.
SADC member states and the AU are not contemplating any military action against Zimbabwe, and probably never would, although Article 4 of the AU Constitution gives permission “to intervene in grave circumstances that include war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, as well as a serious threat to legitimate order”.

Chinese arms was held by union workers not Mbeki

A shipment of Chinese small arms, ammunition and rocket propelled grenades en route to Zimbabwe was held up in the South African port city of Durban, not by Mbeki’s government, but by unionised workers who refused to unload the ship’s cargo because they were concerned that the weapons could be used against Mugabe’s opponents.

Maroleng said such a worst-case scenario “is a continuation of what is going on now [the refusal to announce presidential results, and the alleged beatings and assaults of MDC supporters] and ultimately a clampdown by Mugabe, backed by the military, and a worsening of the humanitarian situation and the inability of the region [SADC] to change things.”

A more likely scenario might be a second round of voting, with an enhanced mission of SADC observers, and assistance by South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission.
However, Tsvangirai has said that the MDC would not take part in a presidential run-off ballot, as the high levels of violence and intimidation by Zimbabwe’s police and army since the first round of voting would amount to Mugabe “stealing the election”.


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