To expel or suspend

The crisis in Zimbabwe has triggered the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) most profound political crisis since its foundation, an expert on the regional body said this week.

Dr Andre du Pisani, a former dean of economics at the University of Namibia and consultant to the SADC, says President Robert Mugabe and the ruling Zanu-PF party have systematically violated every core principle of the 1992 SADC Treaty.

The treaty rests on principles of respect for human rights, democracy, the rule of law and the peaceful settlement of political disputes. These principles are also the core values of the United Nations Charter and the Constituent Act of the African Union, all of which Mugabe’s government ratified.

Mugabe is also a signatory to the strategic indicative plan on the SADC organ for defence, politics and security cooperation, the founding aim of which is to safeguard the region from instability that arises from a breakdown in law on an inter-state and intra-state level.

“But these principles have been grossly abused by Zimbabwe under the pretext that the Zimbabwean situation is purely a domestic one,” he said.
“It’s absolutely clear that the Zimbabwean situation flies in the face of every one of the constituent principles of not only the SADC, but the AU, the African peer review mechanism and Nepad.”

Du Pisani said Mugabe has consistently exploited “the politics of memory”—blind loyalty among the former liberation movements such as the ANC, Swapo in Namibia, the MPLA in Angola and Frelimo in Mozambique—to avoid censure from his former comrades-in-arms.

“Among the former liberation movement leaders it’s simply inconceivable that they could move against one another,” an aspect that has hamstrung SADC’s leadership ever since Mugabe used his chair of the SADC organ on defence, politics and security cooperation to justify Zimbabwe’s military intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1998.

Several key SADC member states such as Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana have condemned Mugabe’s regime. Even Angola has turned against its erstwhile friend, leaving only key allies such as the DRC and Namibia’s Swapo government firmly on his side.

Namibian civil society and opposition parties have called for Namibia to sever diplomatic ties with Mugabe’s regime immediately. But with Swapo still firmly under the thumb of former President Sam Nujoma—Mugabe’s staunchest regional ally—and Swapo hardliners refusing even to acknowledge the Harare regime’s most barbaric excesses, incumbent President Hifikepunye Pohamba remains silent.

As if to underline this, the Namibian army chief, General Martin Shalli, paid a formal visit this week to his Zimbabwean counterpart, Commander-General Constantine Chiwenga.

Despite the growing crisis, Shalli insisted to local media that Namibia was “neutral” in Zimbabwe’s political situation and backed Thabo Mbeki’s mediation efforts.

But former foreign affairs minister Hidipo Hamutenya, who was expelled from Swapo for opposing Nujoma, is far more direct: “Swapo has a shameful history of backing dictators, such as the late Sani Abacha of Nigeria, and is on record that it would not countenance ‘regime change’ in the region.”

All eyes will now be on the SADC’s next move, Du Pisani said. To expel or even just suspend Zimbabwe would hurt Mugabe, but in the context of Southern Africa’s liberation struggle history it would also be tantamount to children expelling their father from his own house; and that could bring the house down forever.

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