Zimbabwe success can't save Mbeki – Analysts

JOHANNESBURG – President Thabo Mbeki came out a winner in his mediation to end Zimbabwe's political crisis, but his success there may not help his own battle for legitimacy at home, analysts say.

Mbeki was handed a domestic defeat on Friday when a High Court threw out a corruption case against the president’s main political rival, Jacob Zuma, and implied that the government had meddled in the case.

Three days later, Mbeki successfully brokered a power-sharing deal in neighbouring Zimbabwe between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara.

But his victory on the international scene will not outweigh his domestic troubles, analysts say, amid calls from detractors this weekend for Mbeki to resign following the court ruling.

"On one hand, there are very positive results in Zimbabwe but on the other, it was a low point for him in terms of domestic politics," said Dirk Kotze, political science professor at the University of South Africa.

Mbeki’s ruling ANC was expected to discuss this week the implications of the court ruling. The South African president denies that his government meddled in the corruption case.

"Obviously the judgment of Friday gives a lot of ammunition to the Zuma people," Kotze said.

"Some people would focus on the Zimbabwe issue because they are more interested into that, other people especially in the ANC group would focus more on Friday’s judgment," he said. "It is really split."

Mbeki was already handed a major defeat in December, when Zuma ousted him as leader of the ANC.

Sacked by Mbeki as deputy president in 2005 after being implicated in graft but then cleared of those charges, Zuma was charged again 10 days after he was elected ANC chief.

Zuma’s supporters waged a long and vocal campaign against the prosecution of Zuma, accusing Mbeki’s supporters of having cooked it up to block his way to the presidency.

Friday’s ruling clears the way for Zuma to become president in next year’s elections.

While Mbeki has worked to burnish South Africa’s image abroad, he has failed to connect with ordinary citizens back home, analysts say.

"There have been criticisms that he has not been at home enough. On the other hand he tried to bring South Africa to the international fore," said Ivor Jenkins, director of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa.

In contrast with Zuma’s populist image, Mbeki’s is seen as a distant technocrat, analysts say.

"He misinterpreted the citizens of South Africa, who need someone with empathy, not someone who control them. That is why Zuma is so popular, he’s close to people, he’s on the ground, he says ‘I’m one of you,’" Jenkins said.

Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, an independent political analyst, said Mbeki is "inaccessible".

"He seems to be more and more aloof," he said, noting that Mbeki did not engage in dialogue with ANC factions like the Youth League, which called for his resignation.

But Mbeki’s critics have little chance to oust him, analysts said. Zuma himself said the focus should be on the election and that his rival’s government should remain in place. AFP