The South African government is unfazed by Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s angry rejection of President Jacob Zuma’s “interference” in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs.
A South African official said on Sunday Zuma was right to tackle Mugabe at a regional summit in Livingstone, Zambia, on Thursday over Zanu-PF’s failure to implement its commitments in Zimbabwe’s troubled unity government.
“We are tired of going to one Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit after another and repeating the same appeal to him to meet his commitments. This administration is going to be tougher.”
“President Zuma told him there can be no elections until the Global Political Agreement (the GPA, which underpins the unity government) has been fully implemented, including drafting a new constitution and holding a referendum on it.”
This was a clear rejection by Zuma - the SADC’s Zimbabwe facilitator - and other regional leaders of Mugabe’s evident intention to rush into elections as soon as possible, to hold them under the present constitution rather than a new one which will provide a more level political playing field for Zanu-PF’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opponents.
Zuma and the presidents of Zambia, Mozambique and Namibia met as the security troika of the SADC and issued its strongest criticism yet of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF.
Though not mentioned by name, the SADC leaders clearly had Mugabe and Zanu-PF in mind when they expressed “grave concerns” and called for an immediate end to the rising political violence, arrests, intimidation, harassment and hate speech in Zimbabwe.
The troika also imposed tighter SADC supervision over the implementation of the GPA and the “roadmap” to new elections.
It decided the SADC would help Zimbabwe to formulate guidelines to ensure elections were held within SADC’s norms and standards for polls.
It also decided to appoint a team of officials to decide on the terms and the time frames for the Zimbabwean parties to meet their political commitments. The officials would report back to SADC, starting with a report to an urgent special full SADC summit to be held soon.
A visibly angry Mugabe told Zanu-PF’s central committee on Friday that neither the SADC nor South Africa could dictate how Zimbabwe run its internal affairs.
Referring to Zuma specifically, he said; “a facilitator is a facilitator and should facilitate dialogue between Zimbabweans by way of persuasion.
“He cannot prescribe that we do A, B, C, D,” the pro-Zanu-PF Herald quoted Mugabe as saying.
“We are a sovereign state and we don’t accept any interference … even our neighbours should not tell us what to do.”
Mugabe also rejected the troika’s plan to impose new supervisors on Zimbabwe, saying he would not be prescribed to.
And in apparent response to the troika’s insistence that Zimbabwean parties follow all the agreed steps in the roadmap to new elections - which would probably delay them by a year - Mugabe urged Zanu-PF to prepare for elections soon.
Zimbabwe’s official newspaper on Sunday called Zuma an erratic liability. “President Zuma’s erratic behaviour is the stuff of legends,” the Sunday Mail said in an editorial.
“The problem with Mr Zuma now is that his disconcerting behaviour has become a huge liability, not only to South Africa but also to the rest of the continent,” it said.
One of Mugabe’s key allies also expressed dismay that the SADC troika did not call on Western nations to lift their sanctions against Mugabe and his Zanu-PF cronies, as all previous SADC communiqués on Zimbabwe have done.
Herald columnist Nathaniel Manheru - widely known to be the pen name of Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba - noted in his Friday column that sanctions now seemed to mean the SADC was now acting in the interests of the West.
However, Jakkie Cilliers, head of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, saw “little evidence of a substantive shift” in South Africa’s Zimbabwe policy, “probably because the regional dynamics have not changed.
“This despite the fact that events further North must be sending a warning to dictators such as Mugabe that time is running out.
“What is concerning is that the SADC troika communique appears to allow South Africa room to acquiesce to Mugabe’s demand for elections this year, contrary to the impression created some weeks earlier. This would be a mistake. The appointment of (yet another) team to assist the team to report to the SADC is playing for time and reflects an absence of will to engage.” - Foreign Editor