Signs of shift in South Africa's stance on Mugabe

Behind-the-scenes negotiations indicate that the South African government is loosening its support for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. This change in stance by one of the Mugabe government’s main—direct and indirect—political and financial supporters comes when Zimbabwe has been suspended from the Commonwealth, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has started taking steps to eject the country from the agency.

The IMF said in a statement on Wednesday that it had reviewed Zimbabwe’s “overdue financial obligations to the fund and decided to initiate the procedure on the compulsory withdrawal of Zimbabwe from the IMF, after having determined that Zimbabwe had not actively cooperated with the IMF. The IMF regrets that the authorities have not adopted comprehensive and consistent policies needed to address Zimbabwe’s serious economic problems.”

In one indication of the shift in South Africa’s stance, Deputy President Jacob Zuma alluded to Mugabe as a “dictator” while addressing the Congress of South African Trade Unions’s (Cosatu) 18th anniversary celebrations in Johannesburg.
Zuma urged the federation to play a more active role in strengthening the labour movement across the African continent. He added that a “strong trade union” on the continent would “prevent dictators to come in and corruption to come in”.

The Zimbabwean regime has been clamping down on the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), arresting several of its leaders in the past few months.

Zuma and the Director General of the Presidency, Frank Chikane, are believed to be playing a leading role within the government in chalking out a more critical position on Mugabe.

The Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) held meetings with the South African government on Tuesday, while ZCTU and members of Zimbabwean pro-democracy group the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition held talks with the South African Communist Party and Cosatu in Pretoria.

After the meeting the ZCTU and the coalition called for the expulsion of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth.

SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin, who participated in the talks, said the thrust of the discussions was the holding of fresh elections in Zimbabwe. “The sense is that Zanu-PF is also interested in holding elections, so the South African government and the MDC are pushing for elections.”

Also participating in the talks (hosted by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa) was Zimbabwean academic Brian Raftopolous. He explained that holding elections was the only way for Mugabe, who has faced a “huge loss of legitimacy” to “strategically ... re-engage the international community”.

Over the past year the MDC has made a strategic shift away from being associated with the South African opposition to ensure they are better placed for dialogue with the ANC-led government.

This shift was made clear by MDC representatives who addressed the South African Parliament last week. The MDC has indicated that their organisation has applied to join the Socialist International, along with ZCTU, and has since April this

year been holding talks with “like-minded” organisations such as the SACP and Cosatu.

According to well-placed government officials, there seems to be a shift within the “anti-imperialist” lobby in the Commonwealth. While Mugabe in his state of the nation address this week seemed to be attempting to consolidate the lobby by having a go at the “Anglo-Saxons” in the Commonwealth, leaders across the Commonwealth racial divide are apparently getting increasingly irritated with the Zimbabwean leader.

South Africa, Britain, Australia, Nigeria and New Zealand seem to be working in cohesion on the issue, claim the officials. An indication was the approving noises made by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw during his visit to South Africa a few months ago. Diplomats pointed out that other African countries like Kenya have also joined the opposition to Mugabe.

Cronin, who along with SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande will visit Zimbabwe on a fact-finding mission next week, said his party’s attempts were to ensure that if and when negotiations take place it should not end up being an “elite pact”, but would involve the Zimbabwean masses.

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