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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • Rethinking Thabo Mbeki's legacy to Zimbabwe
    Faith Ndlovu
    July 24, 2013

    "This is just about Zanu-PF wanting a mediation and facilitation team that they have in their pockets or who is an ally to them… The Mbeki situation was one they were comfortable with. So really it (the reaction) is about the loss of an ally for Zanu-PF," Lewanika said (SW Radio Africa).

    The above quote by Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director, McDonald Lewanika referring to President Mugabe's angry, intolerant reaction to a senior member of the South African mediation team, Lindiwe Zulu, got me thinking about the general perception in Zimbabwe of former South African President Thabo Mbeki's mediation role in the country's crisis.

    The perception of Mbeki as a Zanu-PF ally is taken as a given. During his tenure as facilitator he was routinely criticized for what has been termed his "quiet diplomacy". That would put into context Lewanika's comment of Mbeki as a Zanu-PF ally and that his replacement as facilitator by Jacob Zuma represented the "loss of an ally for Zanu-PF".

    Granted, Mbeki was a Zanu-PF ally. But to me Mbeki was more than an ally. He was that and more. To see him as having just been a Zanu-PF ally to me represents a simplistic view of the former president's negotiation skills. Many people have in one way or another told Zanu-PF to go to hell, to shape up or ship out. With typical loud diplomacy, all with resounding failure. If anything, this approach is like waving a red flag in front of a bull, tending to make Zanu-PF even more intransigent and belligerent. Consider Mugabe's statement of defiance during his interview with Dali Tambo of 'The People of the South': "There is a fight to fight. The British are calling for regime change that I must go. That call must not come from the British … We fight to the finish: that's it. I still have it in me here."

    While current negotiator and South African President's Jacob Zuma has largely been praised for his more robust and forthright approach to the Zimbabwean situation, I believe in terms of results this approach has tended to be counter-productive.

    Nine days before the election, there are still so many contentious issues, especially around the area of media and other reforms. Advice from several quarters including SADC, to postpone elections has been ignored through unilateralism disguised as constitutionalism. Most of the recommendations by SADC on election preparations have been roughshod, with impunity. Similarly, the endless negotiation process, remains, well, just that - endless!! ZBC and the state-controlled papers remain thoroughly and unapologetically biased in favour of Zanu-PF.

    This is in stark to the winds of change in 2009. Rewind to March that year. Due to the Mbeki-led mediation process and other progressive forces, electoral changes were agreed upon in the talks between Zanu-PF and the MDC in the lead up to the March election. These included the posting of results outside of polling stations and the provision that, if state television aired any candidate's advertising, then it had to also air advertising from other candidates. Security laws that could be used to prevent MDC rallies were also moderated among other issues. Thus we saw the MDC formations and other parties getting considerably fair airplay in the media in the run up to the March election.

    To me those are results. Mbeki might not have been the best negotiator but his approach produced results. He was more than an ally to Zanu-PF. He was the 'comrade' that could tell them to go to hell and cause them to look forward to the ride. He was the ally that gently nudged the party to the gallows on March 29 and ushered in democratic reforms that were hitherto unthought of. So the loss of Mbeki as facilitator was more than the loss of a comrade to Zanu-PF. For Zimbabweans, it was the loss of one of the few voices that could tell Zanu-PF to go to hell and actually get them to do it. To me that is the art of diplomacy.

    So where are we now? Zulu has been left to dry in the public space by her political masters as they have distanced themselves from her 'robust' comments on the Zimbabwean situation. To be fair, Zulu has been forthright and quite right on the situation on the ground in Zimbabwe in terms of the state of preparedness for the elections. Furthermore, I find it disturbing that the South African Presidency did not come to her defence when Mugabe attacked her as a "stupid, and idiotic South African street woman".

    But I believe there are instances where calling a spade a spade might seem more appealing and exciting but without necessarily producing the desired results. And I believe this is the case with Zanu-PF. So, should the party be treated with kids' gloves and go scot-free? No, I don't think so. I believe the right approach is in knowing your subject and appealing to their self-interest so that you get the result that you want. And I don't think a confrontational, loud diplomacy approach really appeals to Zanu-PF's self-interest.

    So while Mbeki has been widely criticized for his "quite diplomacy" which in my view produced results; here we are five years later and President Jacob Zuma's robust mediation efforts have not moved us any closer to a solution.

    If anything, Zanu-PF has been emboldened by Zuma's apology over Zulu; and given Mugabe's threats to pull out of SADC, the continued lack of reforms and flagrant intransigence on the part of Zanu-PF; I need some convincing that this mediation process is not a poisoned chalice for President Zuma.

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