South Africa believes that dwelling on the “inconclusive” elections in Ivory Coast will not help in negotiating an end to the political crisis in that country, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoane-Mashabane said on Thursday.
“I thought it was not our business to drag them backward but to help them forward,” Nkoane-Mashabane told a media briefing in Cape Town.
Without explicitly rescinding South Africa's earlier endorsement of Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the presidential vote and call on Laurent Gbagbo to relinquish power, she said: “We have no favourite.”
The minister confirmed that President Jacob Zuma will in coming days lead a five-man African Union (AU) delegation to the Ivory Coast for talks, after first holding consultations in Mauritania.
President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz of Mauritania heads the panel of leaders designated by the AU to deal with the crisis. They are expected to arrive in the Ivory Coast on Monday.
Nkoane-Mashabane said Pretoria's neutral stance was informed by the fact that supporters of both Ouattara and Ggagbo had asked South Africa to negotiate an end to the stalemate that has raised fears of renewed civil war in the Ivory Coast.
“If both Ouattara and Gbagbo's people are now saying, together, they need help to get out of this political crisis, I think it is better that we focus on that one and help them out of this political crisis.
“It was them who said they don't want to discuss elections again, they want to move forward because they realise that there were some discrepancies with the elections.
“So I don't know if, when they are asking us to find a way forward, we should be stagnating and taking them backward.”
South Africa endorsed Ouattara's victory after the United Nations. The European Union and the AU recognised that the former prime minister had won the vote.
Nkoane-Mashabane said the initial information received by the AU gave it cause to endorse the Outtara's victory, but the pan-African body had the “prerogative” to review its decisions at a later date.
The minister said she had in the last 10 days held intensive consultations with supporters of both Gbagbo and Ouattara.
She said “both factions” had agreed that they would accept whatever solution Zuma and the rest of the AU team found to end the deadlock in the Ivory Coast.
Nkoane-Mashabane also moved to clear up the controversy that was sparked earlier this month when the SAS Drakensberg was stationed in Ghanaian waters.
The west African regional bloc Ecowas criticised Pretoria for sending a warship to the region amid the crisis in Ivory Coast.
The minister said the vessel was en route to Argentina, but that the government thought it wise to leave it in the vicinity of the Ivory Coast with the sole intention of evacuating South African nationals if necessary. - Sapa