/ 28 April 2008

Mbeki botched legacy over Zim, analysts say

South African President Thabo Mbeki’s failure to criticise neighbouring Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe has weakened his international stature, analysts said.

Once hailed as a leader focussed on Africa’s democratic and economic revival, Mbeki’s silence on Zimbabwe has been blamed either on misplaced loyalty or crippling deference.

A smiling Mbeki was photographed holding hands with Mugabe even as Zimbabweans had been waiting for weeks for the final results of a March 29 election.

He was further slammed for saying there was ”no crisis” in Zimbabwe after meeting the 84-year-old Zimbabwean strongman two weeks ago.

”The election was a crisis … for everyone to see. He denied that was the case. He went against his own logic,” said Ebrahim Fakir, a researcher at the Johannesburg-based Centre for Policy Studies.

Susan Booysen, political analyst at the University of the Witwatersrand, put it bluntly: ”One cannot come to any other conclusion than that he has botched … his legacy,” she said.

”People expected statesmanship. But at the end of the day, he didn’t have the guts to stand up to a fellow liberation movement leader,” said Booysen, referring to the pair’s shared background in anti-colonial politics.

A partial recount of ballots in Zimbabwe handed the main opposition party a historic victory in Parliament over Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF but results of the presidential poll have yet to be announced.

While the country waits, rights groups have reported an upsurge in violence by pro-Mugabe militias and the military.

The main voice in South Africa that has criticised this violence has been that of Mbeki rival and African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma, who denounced Zimbabwe’s ”police state” during a European tour in which he met Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

While Mbeki tried to evade the issue at a recent meeting of the United Nations Security Council, which South Africa chairs for the month of April, Zuma called for a speedy release of Zimbabwe’s election results.

Booysen questioned Mbeki’s commitment and that of the continent to democracy and human rights, as outlined in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, a continental revival plan he helped blueprint.

”This was a case where every emergency signal was going up saying: ‘Help this democratic project’. He didn’t step up,” Booysen said.

”He has suffered irreparable damage, irrespective of how the election turns out,” she continued.

The ANC and its labour ally, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, have each contradicted his analysis.

Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), meanwhile, has asked for him to be removed by the Southern African Development Community regional bloc as mediator.

The main United States envoy for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, failed to meet Mbeki on a recent tour of the region that included talks with two other heads of state on Zimbabwe.

The media has also been scathing of Mbeki. The Washington Post published a commentary this month which described Mbeki as a bankrupt democrat and accused him of complicity in ”stealing” the Zimbabwean election.

The Economist magazine said Mbeki’s actions were ”unconscionable”.

Fakir said Mbeki had lost respect not only in Western countries, but also on the African continent for pushing issues of state independence and sovereignty at the expense of legitimacy.

Mbeki seemed to feel an extraordinary duty not to ”break ranks” with his fellow African leaders, said Tom Wheeler, research fellow at the South African Institute for International Affairs.

”By not putting pressure on the Zimbabwean government when it started becoming clear the election had gone to the MDC, he did not do anyone any good. Much damage has been done.”

”There doesn’t appear to be much of an international role for him left, except perhaps within that group of African leaders into whose hands he had played — those that are happy to subvert democratic rule,” Booysen added.

Bid to free activists

Meanwhile, lawyers for Zimbabwe’s opposition were to launch an appeal in the High Court on Monday for the release of about 200 activists rounded up in a raid on the party’s offices in Harare.

”We are going to make an urgent chamber application in the High Court this morning to have all of them released,” said lawyer Alec Muchadehama.

”They have been overdetained while police are trying to find suitable charges against them. Some of them needed medical attention.”

Police said they detained 215 people when they raided the MDC’s headquarters on

Friday in an operation aimed at finding suspects in a series of arson attacks in Mashonaland east, a stronghold for Mugabe.

But the MDC said at least 245 who had sought shelter at the offices from retributive attack at the hands of war veterans and ruling party militants, were rounded during the raid.

At least 30, among them elderly villagers and breastfeeding mothers and children, were released during Friday night.

The police also raided the offices of the only independent election observers in Zimbabwe and took away some files.

The MDC says at least 15 of its supporters have been killed and hundreds displaced following attacks by Zanu-PF militants following the poll.

Although presidential election results are yet to be officially announced the MDC says its leader Morgan Tsvangirai was the outright winner while Zanu-PF argues there was not clear winner and that they are gearing up for a run-off. – Sapa-AFP