Mbeki in the firing line

2008-04-21 00:00

So ineffective has South African President Thabo Mbeki’s quiet diplomacy to save neighbouring Zimbabwe from its tyrannical leader Robert Mugabe been, that a better solution may be to replace him with a new mediator. At the UN last week, Mbeki pleaded for more time — in reality he has been working on this since 2000 — to resolve the Zimbabwean crisis.

The ANC’s general secretary Gwede Mantashe last week drew the line clearly between the ANC and Mbeki when he said that Mbeki represented the position of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), of whom the majority defers to Mugabe, while the ANC proper think that Zimbabwe is in a deep crisis. The majority members of SADC consist of leaders like Angola’s Eduardo dos Santos, who clearly do not believe in the popular ballot. In this light, to expect SADC to give Mugabe his marching orders is to live in a fantasy. The likes of Dos Santos will cushion Mugabe, because if their own people push them out in their countries, they can still count on neighbouring leaders to back them. Mbeki did not want Zimbabwe to be debated in the United Nations. He preferred “African solutions for Africa’s problems”. This is obviously not only admirable, but also the right sentiment. The problem is that in the case of Zimbabwe, it has clearly not worked. Mbeki and other African leaders’ failure to deal with the Zimbabwean crisis means that the admirable idea of “African solutions for Africa’s problems” has now been discredited.

The irony is that, like most of the wider ANC, Western leaders have largely deferred to Mbeki on Zimbabwe. But like most of the wider ANC, for the West to defer to Mbeki even longer and with the president saying that the situation is “manageable” is taking it too far. African leaders must now replace Mbeki with another South African negotiator, say, former ANC general secretary Cyril Ramaphosa, or somebody from the region, such as Zambian president Levy Mwana-wasa, as also proposed by Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, or with outgoing Botswana leader, Festus Mogae. Evidently, Mbeki and SADC leaders have agreed that Mugabe will stand down, but only if he loses the second presidential run-off and if he gets amnesty from prosecution.

The big obstacle appears to be that Mugabe also wants to secure immunity from prosecution and the question of if and which of his cronies should be included in such a deal remains unresolved. Since this issue cannot be resolved quickly, Zanu-PF insiders say this is one of the reasons why Mugabe wants to extend the period for a second presidential election run-off to 90 days.

Mbeki and SADC leaders appear to be prepared to overlook the small detail of Mugabe refusing to release the election results, but are already saying that there should be a presidential run-off. Furthermore, Mbeki and SADC leaders are also prepared to waive the fact that on the evidence available, Mugabe not only lost the March 29 presidential elections, but that the MDC reached the 50% tally which means there should not be a run-off.

Mbeki’s main argument has been that Mugabe will not listen to loud criticism. But as the record shows, Mugabe has never listened to soft appeals. All Mbeki needs to say publicly is that he opposes everything that Mugabe stands for. Mbeki’s detractors in the ANC are now using his failure in Zimbabwe to bring his term as president to an early end. Mbeki had hoped to secure victory in Zimbabwe and so regain authority and reputation in the ANC. If Mbeki does not change tactics, his detractors can rightly argue that the additional three million Zimbabweans likely to flee to South Africa necessitate an extraordinary emergency in South Africa, which the government can only deal with if it has a leader who has the confidence of his or her party. Already, the ANC is rushing to get 105 bills passed in Parliament, and so end this year’s parliamentary session earlier. At the beginning of the year, Mbeki escaped an initiative by his own MPs to propose a vote of no confidence in his leadership and a call for an early general election. Mbeki can thank the fact that the opposition parties also pushed for that —and the fact that some senior ANC leaders cautioned for unity first following the fractious Polokwane ANC national conference — that that ANC initiative fell flat. ANC MPs are not likely going to vote in favour of such an extraordinary step if the opposition parties are seen to initiate it.

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