With kisses, laughs and even jokes about lobola, Robert Mugabe’s rehabilitation among his regional peers was sealed at the SADC summit in Lilongwe.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit took place in Lilongwe last weekend.
Lindiwe Zulu, one of President Jacob Zuma’s facilitators in Zimbabwe, who Mugabe had called a “foolish street woman” for saying Zimbabwe was not yet ready for elections, was pictured gushing over Mugabe as he charmed her, kissing her on the cheek and joking with Zuma about paying a bride price for her. All was forgiven, Mugabe said. It was said in the heat of the elections.
With all that theatre, Mugabe was well on his way back into the fold. This time next year, he will be the chairperson of SADC.
Zimbabwe has not headed any of SADC’s key organs since it led the region’s troika in 1999.
What followed were years virtually out in the cold. Although Mugabe retained his influence over his regional peers, Zimbabwe had to forgo its turn to lead the region as it battled with its political and economic crises.
It has taken years of diplomacy, including background moves to discredit his domestic opponents and using his clout as one of the remaining members of the old frontline states. But it also meant frequently sparring with other leaders.
Zimbabwe a "sinking Titanic"
In 2007 the late Zambian president, Levy Mwanawasa, faced a sharp backlash from Mugabe after he described Zimbabwe as a “sinking Titanic”.
In 2011, after a particularly feisty summit in Livingstone in Zambia where the region censured Mugabe for standing in the way of agreed reforms, Mugabe said he would not stand for any interference in the country’s affairs.
“We will not brook interference from any source. We will resist interference from any source, even from our neighbours,” Mugabe told a meeting of his senior party officials.
Taking his cue, state media went into overdrive, with the Sunday Mail blaming Zuma for the hard stance taken by SADC.
“President Jacob Zuma’s erratic behaviour is the stuff of legends,” the paper said in an editorial, citing how South Africa had voted at the United Nations in favour of a no-fly zone over Libya.
South Africa hit back, saying the Zimbabwe government needed to communicate with it directly and not through the paper.
Mugabe’s spokesperson wrote something akin to a mea culpa, saying the opinions of the Mail had been “conflated with the opinion of the government of Zimbabwe”.
But the message was out – Mugabe would not be lectured to.