Mugabe blows hole in quiet diplomacy

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe may have dealt a fatal blow to Pretoria’s “quiet diplomacy” by calling an election in the middle of mediation efforts by his South African counterpart, say analysts.

Mugabe’s announcement last Friday that polling would be on March 29 appeared to pre-empt a bid by South African President Thabo Mbeki to get an agreement between Zimbabwe’s government and opposition on the framework of the ballot.

Mbeki, who has steadfastly refused to publicly criticise Mugabe despite the economic meltdown of Zimbabwe, has once again bitten his lip over what analysts have interpreted as an insult and a repudiation of his softly-softly approach.

“I am not surprised any longer by whatever Mugabe does. He has always treated Zimbabwe as his personal fiefdom,” political analyst and author Xolela Mangcu said.

“His latest decision is a demonstration of the failure of Mbeki to persuade Mugabe to behave decently.”

Mbeki was handed the poisoned chalice of mediating between Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) last April by his fellow leaders from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).

The 14-member bloc had hoped that as the leader of the region’s powerhouse, Mbeki was best placed to bring pressure to bear on his northern neighbour after Mugabe’s security forces had beaten up several MDC leaders.

But despite Mbeki’s assertion on a trip to Harare a fortnight ago that “good progress” had been made in the talks, the opposition was growing increasingly frustrated at the South African’s failure to squeeze concessions from Mugabe.

‘An insult to Mbeki’

Senior MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa saw no reason to spare Mbeki’s blushes, describing the election announcement as a “slap in the face” for his mediation.

Dirke Kotze, a researcher at the Pretoria-based University of South Africa, said that Mbeki’s task was now even harder, if not impossible.

“Mugabe’s decision to unilaterally fix the election date will definitely complicate the mediation process. It may even terminate it,” Kotze said.

“It is an insult to President Mbeki and a slap in the face of the opposition … a negative action by Mugabe to suggest that the negotiation was not making progress, and so, it could as well come after the poll.”

South African Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad, one of Mbeki’s closest confidantes, declined to say whether the president had received prior notice from Mugabe about the election announcement.

“I do not want to venture into the Zimbabwe situation at the moment,” he told reporters at a regular briefing in Pretoria.

“The talks and facilitation [mediation] are of such a sensitive nature. To that extent, I would rather prefer the president to do the briefing on Zimbabwe.”

Adam Habib, executive director of South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council think tank, said that Mbeki could not help but feel slighted by Mugabe, who has long resented the idea of anyone interfering in Zimbabwean politics.

“It will definitely unsettle any mediation effort and undermine the position of Mbeki as a mediator. It is Mugabe’s direct slight on Mbeki,” said Habib.

Mbeki has been widely criticised for the so-called quiet diplomacy, even though up to three million people are thought to have fled into South Africa from Zimbabwe where the official rate of inflation is now nearly 8 000%.

“This quiet diplomacy has not worked,” said Mangcu.

“There is a need to adopt a new approach to the Zimbabwe problem.” — AFP

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Two dead in new ANC KwaZulu-Natal killings

A Mtubatuba councillor and a Hammarsdale ANC Youth League leader were shot yesterday near their homes

Inside Facebook’s big bet on Africa

New undersea cables will massively increase bandwidth to the continent

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread

Engineering slips out of gear at varsity

Walter Sisulu University wants to reprioritise R178-million that it stands to give back to treasury after failing to spend it

Press Releases

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations