As expected SADC leaders repeat the sanctions mantra

KINSHASA, – Southern African heads of state called on the international community to end sanctions on Zimbabwe, ending a regional summit meeting on Tuesday with a statement many had expected.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and long-time foe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai formed a power-sharing government in February as part of a deal backed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to end a political crisis that followed disputed polls last year.

But the accord is beset with problems.

"The summit noted the progress made in the implementation of the global political agreement and called on the international community to remove all form of sanctions against Zimbabwe," the SADC said in its final communique after a meeting in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Considering the positive evolution of the situation, considering the progress that has been made, we believe it is now high time that the sanctions are lifted," Congolese President Jospeh Kabila said.

Kabila, who took over as chairman of SADC, said if sanctions were not lifted, they would become an impediment to putting the political agreement into practice.

South African President Jacob Zuma had kicked off the meeting on Monday by asking Zimbabwe’s leaders to end a row over a power-sharing pact that is holding up vital foreign aid to its battered economy.

Earlier, Congo said it was confident the meeting would culminate in a call for an end to the sanctions, and would urge South Africa to plead Harare’s cause within the Group of 20 rich and developing nations.

A surprise u-turn was made over the special summit on Zimbabwe to review progress of the inclusive government.

During deliberations on day one of the summit on Monday, the regional leaders had been due to discuss the months-long political and economic crisis in Harare, but the issue was pulled from the agenda. A special summit was mooted to deal solely with the remaining issues in the Global Political Agreement.

There were indications the special summit would be held in Maputo, Mozambique, before the end of this month. As of last night the SADC summit had not fully committed itself to holding this special summit, despite assurances from several member states it would be held in three weeks’ time.

The leaders said a review of the progress in the unity government will now be handled by the regional bloc’s less influential body, the Troika on Politics, Defence and Security.

This organ is responsible for promoting peace and security in the region. It reports to the SADC summit and consists of a chairperson, incoming chairperson and outgoing chairperson. In this case, South Africa will sit on the Troika as outgoing chairperson, the DRC as chairperson and Zambia as the next incoming chairperson.

Speaking to journalists at a press conference in Kinshasa, the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai called on the regional bloc to closely monitor the progress of his power-sharing deal with Robert Mugabe. 

He said SADC ‘remains seized with the enormous responsibility of ensuring that the parties signatory’ to the February agreement ‘move rapidly towards its full implementation.’ ‘Now that the SADC troika is specifically vested with the matter of Zimbabwe, it is my hope and belief that it will deal with all outstanding issues as a matter of urgency,’ he said

A source in Kinshasa told us that intense late night manoeuvres by Mugabe could have resulted in the SADC leaders changing their minds. Of course the decision not to have a special summit could also have been helped along by the fact that Joseph Kabila is the incoming chair of SADC and a key ally of Mugabe.

A senior aide in Tsvangirai’s office told us the u-turn was a setback, although they expected, it because of Mugabe’s very close links with Kabila. He said the handing over of the chair to Kabila has been one of the key concerns of the MDC.

‘The question now to be asked is what can the Troika achieve that countless extraordinary summits have failed. Are they bringing in a fresh approach to the crisis? the MDC-T aide asked. He added; ‘It is no secret that there has been no sufficient progress in the GPA.

The principals have been unable to move in the last six months, so as the MDC we have internationalized the crisis and refocused on our strategy, hence the move by ZANU PF to frustrate our efforts.’

There are concerns by ZANU PF that implementing the GPA fully will spell the end of their party. Human rights lawyer Dewa Mavhinga told us Mugabe wants to stall the process in order to manage internal problems that have increased with the death of Joseph Msika, the vice-president. Military chiefs are also reportedly unhappy with more reforms, because that would threaten their power.

‘Mugabe needs time to rejuvenate his party, and the dynamics of his survival is to stall the process and not let it collapse. The sudden failure of the GNU will mean demise for his party, because there would be fresh elections. The success of the GNU will mean victory for the MDC, so the realization within ZANU PF is to drag the process until order is restored in their party,’ Mavhinga said.

Pedzisai Ruhanya, programmes manager for Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition in Harare, said despite Kabila taking over the SADC chair, Zuma’s voice will still carry the day in future SADC meetings. ‘In terms of international relations, South Africa is the economic powerhouse of the region and it’s the country the international community will listen to.

Even if Kabila were to shout from a mountain top in support of Mugabe, no one will support it unless it has the backing of Zuma, which is unlikely in the foreseeable future,’ Ruhanya said.