The South African government has noted with concern reports of human rights violations in Zimbabwe, where an economic meltdown has triggered widespread discontent.
International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor discussed the matter with Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Sibusiso Moyo earlier this week, Pandor’s department said on Twitter.
Former provincial and local government minister Sydney Mufamadi and former speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete, who were appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa as special envoys to Zimbabwe, will engage in further talks.
The envoys will depart as soon as arrangements can be made and will “identify possible ways in which South Africa can assist Zimbabwe”, Ramaphosa’s office said in a statement on Thursday.
Zimbabwe is facing shortages of fuel and food, a 737% inflation rate and a collapse in the value of the local currency, which has spurred demands by teachers, bankers and healthcare workers to be paid in US dollars.
Human rights groups allege that the government has used measures which were ostensibly imposed to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus to quash political dissent and prevent street protests.
At least 60 people, including novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga, were arrested across the country last week, according to the not-for-profit organisation Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa said in a national address on Monday that there were “dark forces” within and outside the country undermining economic recovery.
While the US, UK and other Western nations have been stinging in their criticism of Zimbabwe, South Africa’s government has traditionally refrained from criticising its neighbour and long-standing political ally, or involving itself in its internal politics.
The ANC also signalled a departure from its usual hands-off approach, with secretary-general Ace Magashule announcing that the party would hold a special session to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe.
“We see what is happening in Zimbabwe,” Magashule said on Thursday.
“[Ramaphosa] is interacting with the president of Zimbabwe, worried about what is taking place there and that it will have a spillover on South Africa.”
Zanu-PF, Zimbabwe’s governing party, considered Magashule’s comments “completely out of order”, its acting spokesperson, Patrick Chinamasa, said in a statement on Friday.
Zimbabwean authorities have also downplayed the recent upheaval.
“To set the record straight, there is no crisis or implosion in Zimbabwe. Neither has there been any abduction or war on citizens,” government spokesperson Nick Mangwana said in a statement on Thursday. – Bloomberg