Tide Turns against Mugabe: South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, One of the Staunchest Allies of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Is under Pressure to Soften His Support to the Zimbabwean Leader. (Countryfile: South Africa)

By Nevin, Tom | African Business, May 2003 | Go to article overview

Tide Turns against Mugabe: South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, One of the Staunchest Allies of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Is under Pressure to Soften His Support to the Zimbabwean Leader. (Countryfile: South Africa)


Nevin, Tom, African Business


South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, is coming to realise that he backed a loser in Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. Conspicuous shifts in South African attitudes are beginning to emerge with signs that Mbeki's 'quiet diplomacy' is now regarded as a lost cause, both in political circles at home and by an increasing number of African leaders abroad.

The message is also getting through that the Africa envisaged by Mbeki's New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) will be sidelined as long as it continues to demonstrate its impotence in bringing Mugabe to heel.

The most significant indication yet that the government is tiring of Mugabe's increasing recalcitrance and his obsession for power came from senior African National Congress (ANC) leader, Palo Jordan. In an unprecedented dressing down of Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party, Jordan said it was "a scandal" that the party was undermining the values they had waged a struggle to attain. Jordan, who is chairman of Parliament's Foreign Affairs portfolio committee, reminded the Zimbabwe government of the values it was expected to uphold - democracy, accountable government, the rule of law, an independent judiciary, non-racialism and political tolerance.

Last month's (April) African Business magazine quotes a senior official of Nepad as saying the organisation is being harmed because of Zimbabwe. "Wherever we go," said Dave Malcomson, manager, international liaison at the Nepad secretariat, "Zimbabwe is constantly thrown at us as a reason why Nepad's a joke."

The extraordinary criticism from an assembly of senior African leaders is seen as a strong signal that Mbeki and the rest of Nepad's chiefs want rapid resolution.

In April, Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano, a staunch Mugabe ally, finally admitted that Zimbabwe was "continuing to have a negative effect on the region".

According to Commonwealth secretary-general, Don McKinnon, Presidents Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, were in the minority in voting against Mugabe's continued suspension from the body.

MBEKI'S U-TURN

Another pressure point on the South African president concerns electricity. At a time when Eskom, the state-owned power-provider, is widely cutting supplies to payment defaulters in such black South African areas as Soweto and Alexandria, it is applying no pressure on Zimbabwe to pay its electricity bill. South Africa is lead supplier of regional power providers that are collectively owed R1.4bn by Zesa, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority. Township residents are demanding that Eskom "switch off Zimbabwe first".

What now remains to be seen is how quickly, visibly and diplomatically the South African president can complete his U-turn on Zimbabwe, and what pressures he will bring to bear on his neighbour.

Mbeki will also be aware that the popular anti-Mugabe tide in Zimbabwe is flowing perceptibly more quickly, as evidenced by two parliamentary by-election victories chalked up in April by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and by the MDC-inspired strike that closed the country down for two days.

A constant worry is the animosity the South African government will face from an MDC administration when Mugabe goes. Mbeki has been a high-profile and unapologetic champion of Mugabe, something the MDC has vowed not to forget.

Mbeki's latest manoeuvres to get MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Mugabe around a government of national unity table have been rejected by both leaders, making that possibility a non-starter. Mugabe says he "will not listen to pathetic puppets of the West". Tsvangirai wants nothing less than a new, properly-supervised general election. Nor does he believe any further talk is necessary. "The regime is now nervous," he says. "Their bags are packed as they realise who has the power. We have to prepare for the final push and they will run. …

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Tide Turns against Mugabe: South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, One of the Staunchest Allies of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Is under Pressure to Soften His Support to the Zimbabwean Leader. (Countryfile: South Africa)
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