Zuma’s victory intensifies pressure on Mugabe

Jacob Zuma’s election victory in South Africa has been welcomed by ministers in Zimbabwe as intensifying pressure on president Robert Mugabe.

Zuma, whose African National Congress (ANC) looked on course last night to retain its two-thirds parliamentary majority, has been outspoken in his criticism of Mugabe’s autocratic rule.

He has since come out in support of the power-sharing agreement between Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Morgan Tsvangirai. Zuma has criticised his predecessor Thabo Mbeki’s approach of “quiet diplomacy” towards the crisis-torn neighbour.

Tendai Biti, finance minister in the unity government and secretary general of the MDC, on Friday looked forward to a Zuma presidency. “I don’t think it will be quiet diplomacy,” he said.

“That was buried on 22 September 2008, the day Mbeki was removed. I expect a more forthright, honest and hands-on diplomacy.

“Jacob Zuma is not Thabo Mbeki and that means a lot. I know the man and meet him regularly and know the way he thinks.”

Unlike Britain and America, South Africa has thrown its weight behind the power-sharing agreement, despite concerns that Mugabe and his allies remain dominant. Biti added: “South Africa is leading the way in supporting us directly, including financial assistance. They recognise the problem requires international support. They’ve been calling for that consistently.”

Zuma, who has a track record on brokering peace deals in conflict areas, is thought to be keen to keep the ear of Mugabe. But he has family ties with the MDC: last year one of his daughters married the son of Welshman Ncube, a leading figure in the party.

David Coltart, Zimbabwe’s minister of education and an MDC senator, said: “The key for us is that Jacob Zuma wins and assumes the presidency. Of the last three — Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and Zuma — he has been the most outspoken. I think Robert Mugabe will be fairly nervous about his relationship with him.

“Zuma and Mugabe are very different characters. You would never see Mugabe singing a song in front of the faithful and dressed in casual attire.”

Coltart added: “There has been concern here that, because South Africans have been distracted, elements of Zanu-PF have been pushing the envelope. I think those who have been blatantly breaching the agreement will now have to watch themselves.”

South Africa has long been regarded as the democratic anchor of the continent. After the violent crackdown that followed last year’s disputed elections in Zimbabwe, Zuma said: “We cannot agree with Zanu-PF, we cannot agree with them on values. We fought for the right of people to vote. We fought for democracy.”

But the long-running bribery and corruption allegations against Zuma, dropped just before the election, left a nasty taste in the mouths of many, and there are concerns that he lacks credibility as a democratic flag-bearer.

Anxieties among Zuma’s critics grew yesterday as the ANC remained confident that it would narrowly retain its two-thirds parliamentary majority, giving it the power to change the Constitution. With nearly 14,5-million votes counted, the ANC led with a 66,91% share.

The opposition Democratic Alliance claimed 15,62% while the Congress of the People (Cope), formed by a breakaway faction of the ANC last year, was trailing on 7,53%. – guardian.co.uk

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