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Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles
Zuma gave in and backed Mugabe
September 23, 2013
South Africa has the
potential and the desire to lead in Africa. It has an economy far
larger than any in southern Africa and an advanced and powerful
military. However, South Africa’s failure to resolve the ‘political
crisis’ across the Limpopo in Zimbabwe has left many doubting
its capability as an effective regional leader.
deemed Zimbabwe in a ‘crisis’ state from 2000. South
African president Thabo Mbeki, a firm advocate of African solutions
to African problems reassured the West that he was the only international
leader with the legitimacy and moral authority to restore order,
advance democracy and protect human rights in Zimbabwe. In doing
so, he played the role of chief mediator in bringing Zanu-PF and
the two factions of the MDC to the negotiating table after the 2008
elections, which resulted in the Government
of National Unity (GNU) and the Global
Political Agreement (GPA).
In his attempt to resolve
the ‘crisis’, Mbeki stressed dialogue and non-intervention
in Zimbabwe’s internal politics, an approach that was dubbed
(often pejoratively) ‘quiet diplomacy’. This cautious
approach not only attracted dismay from the West, who wanted to
see tougher action on Mugabe, but was also discredited by local
opposition groups, who openly expressed their frustration. Most
vocal was Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the MDC, which
accused the South African president of bias. Leaked diplomatic reports
in 2010 appeared to confirm these fears, highlighting Mbeki’s
bias towards Zimbabwe’s incumbent president and his party.
It was in this context
that much hope was placed on Mbeki’s successor, Jacob Zuma,
to lead from the front in coaxing Zimbabwe towards greater democracy,
including Zimbabwe’s then-Prime Minister and leader of the
larger MDC faction Morgan Tsvangirai. When Zuma came to the post
in 2009, commentators assured he would opt for a tougher stance
towards President Mugabe.
It was Zuma
who led the facilitation team in Zimbabwe which was responsible
for drawing up a roadmap to the
2013 elections. Zuma appeared to make it clear that the reforms
promised by Mugabe to the SADC under the GPA, which would enforce
the separation of state and Zanu-PF institutions, would be completed
before elections could be called. When the US President Barack Obama
visited South Africa in June this year, he praised Zuma’s
efforts for having presented “an opportunity…to move
into a new phase where perhaps Zimbabwe can finally achieve all
However, when Mugabe
insisted on holding the elections on July 31 without the completion
of these reforms, Zuma could do little. The elections were held
amidst allegations of vote rigging and voter intimidation, and Mugabe
Despite such concerns,
President Zuma was among the first to congratulate Mugabe for his
victory and encourage the opposition to accept the outcome, putting
him at odds with those in the country and the international community
who questioned the results. On 20 August, Zuma officially concluded
his facilitation role, apparently drawing a line under the election
and five more years of Zanu-PF rule.
Those who were disappointed
with Zuma for his apparent failings in Zimbabwe would do well to
remember the number of cards that Mugabe holds against the (apparently
more powerful) South African president.
Firstly, Zuma, as regional
leader, has considerable responsibility to keep together the main
regional body, SADC. When Zuma continued to press for political
and electoral reforms earlier this year, Mugabe decided to play
this card, upping the stakes and threatening to pull Zimbabwe out
of SADC unless Zimbabwe was left without interference.
Zuma was understandably
wary of being blamed for the weakening or breaking-up of the main
regional body. Mugabe’s apparent willingness to undermine
the stability of the SADC was a gamble that paid off, and Zuma backtracked
on his attempts to extract further concessions on reforms from Zanu-PF,
apparently accepting the 31 July election date.
Secondly, Mugabe and
Zanu-PF were in no mood to compromise. Extreme positions were taken
on a number of issues with the aim of undermining any meaningful
negotiations. For example, Mugabe insisted that all sanctions against
the Zanu-PF elite be lifted before any political and electoral reforms
could take place a decision that was out of Zuma’s hands.
decorum gone to the dogs
Mugabe and Zanu-PF also
deliberately disregarded diplomatic decorum as part of their strategy
to undermine Zuma and his facilitation team through a war of words.
At the forefront of this
was Jonathan Moyo, recently appointed Minister of Information in
Mugabe’s new cabinet. In the state-owned Sunday Mail newspaper,
Moyo attacked Zuma, labelling the South African president as “erratic”.
He added, “The problem with Zuma now is that his disconcerting
behaviour has become a huge liability, not only to South Africa,
but to the rest of the continent.” Admittedly, he was later
reprimanded by Zimbabwean Vice President Joice Mujuru for his comments.
relations advisor, Lindiwe Zulu, was subjected to such attacks from
even higher up the Zanu-PF circles. She was described by Mugabe
as “stupid and idiotic” and a “street woman”
when she publicly expressed concern with the pace of political and
electoral reforms. Zuma responded by censuring Zulu for “jumping
the gun” in criticising the electoral preparations, which
made clear that Mugabe’s vocal attacks on interference were
having an effect across the border.
Reportedly, the South
African facilitation team came to expect a chilly reception each
time they visited Harare and often found their efforts blocked by
a lack of cooperation from Zanu-PF. On one occasion, a SADC meeting
facilitated by South Africa had to be cancelled after Mugabe refused
the winning horse
What made Zuma so susceptible
to Mugabe throwing his weight around? Ultimately, it was because
the pillar upon which President Zuma’s policy seemed to rest
was unable to bear weight. Initially, the South African President
was banking on the belief that the opposition had a genuine chance
of unseating Zanu-PF in the July elections. But once it became increasingly
likely that Zanu-PF would remain in power after August 2013, the
South African president was forced to consider his position for
the sake of his future relations with the leaders of Zimbabwe.
This is particularly
true in the run up to South Africa’s 2014 elections. President
Mugabe’s party has already shown itself capable of inflicting
damage on Zuma’s bid for re-election, by providing ideological
inspiration and, allegedly, financial support to the Economic Freedom
Fighters, a new explicitly anti-Zuma party set up by former ANC
Youth League president Julius Malema. Indeed, the African National
Congress (ANC) Secretary General has accused Zanu-PF of influencing
the thinking and actions of Malema and Malema frequently admits
that he gets his inspiration from Mugabe, adding that South Africa
should learn from Zimbabwe when it comes to issues such as land
The upcoming election
has forced Zuma to put his self-preservation above second-order
interests such as the spreading of democracy and protection of human
rights in other countries. Despite his genuine interest in pushing
for reform in Zimbabwe, the South African president was arguably
forced to abandon his tough stance when his personal interests were
threatened. Once it became clear who the likely electoral winner
was going to be, Mugabe’s power at the negotiating table rocketed
and, arguably, Zuma had no choice but to back the winning horse.
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