At Home and Abroad – Time for Zuma to Stand Up to Mugabe

Former President Thabo Mbeki brokered the agreement on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in September 2007. But then the victorious Zuma faction of the ANC forced Mbeki to step down after Polokwane and Motlanthe took over as interim President to keep the seat warm for Zuma. So it fell to him as head of the country then holding the chairmanship of SADC to play the lead role in ensuring that the agreement was implemented.

Tsvangirai was reluctant to enter into the power-sharing government because Mugabe was playing games. First it was discovered that the printed document presented to Tsvangirai for signing at the ceremony had been surreptitiously altered in several critical respects from the version to which he, Mugabe and the leader of a small breakaway faction of the MDC, Arthur Mutambara, had accepted in the negotiations.

Tsvangirai, realising that the devil was in these details that kept coercive power in Mugabe’s hands, wanted SADC to ensure full compliance before committing himself to the power-sharing government. But Motlanthe, growing impatient at the long delay, put pressure on him to quit stalling and join the power-sharing government — telling him in effect that he could sort out the details later when he was in power as Prime Minister and able to build a working relationship with President Mugabe.

In any case, he reminded Tsvangirai, SADC was the guarantor of the agreement and there was a joint monitoring committee called JOMIC to oversee the process.

This was the height of naivety. Anyone who had watched the workings of Tricky Bob over the years, during which he had rigged at least three national elections, violated property rights, ignored the rule of law and committed many human rights atrocities, should have realised he could not be trusted to honour the letter, never mind the spirit, of a deal such as this.

But Tsvangirai thought the Zuma crowd, represented by Motlanthe at this point, would be a tougher and more reliable guarantor of the agreement than the limp-wristed Mbeki had been. After all Zuma’s big ally, Cosatu, had been grievously abused by the Mugabe government when a delegation paying a fraternal visit to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions was arrested, insulted and unceremoniously thrown out of the country in 2004.

That must have given Tsvangirai reason to believe he could expect more from the Motlanthe-Zuma-Cosatu-SACP axis than his dismal experiences with Mbeki.

So he reluctantly agreed and went into the power-sharing government — the terms of which Mugabe has continued to violate ever since.

That is why I contend the Zuma administration has a special obligation to back Tsvangirai in the present dispute and force Mugabe to implement all the outstanding requirements of the agreement he signed and to stop undermining it. It is they who pushed Tsvangirai into this deal prematurely and as the government of the lead member of the guarantors they must honour that obligation now.

Tsvangirai has put up with ZANU-PF’s continuous harassment for eight months. He has tried to put the best face on an intolerable situation because the MDC’s participation in the government was bringing at least some relief to the long suffering people of Zimbabwe. But precisely because of that ZANU-PF has been stepping up its harassment lately, fearing that the MDC was gaining increasing popular support.

Even as Tsvangirai calls on the guarantors to intervene Mugage is treating them with contempt, saying he will not yield to any pressure nor give away any aspects of ZANU-PF’s authority. "They (the MDC) can go to any summit, any part of the world to appeal," he said last Friday. "That will not happen."

To emphasise his disdain for SADC and the unity deal, 50 armed police raided a house in Harare used by the MDC’s out-of-town leaders last on Friday night, ransacked the premises, seized documents and dug up the garden ostensibly in a search for weapons of which there were none. There were also reports of troops carrying out violent raids against MDC supporters in the rural areas across the country over the weekend.

It seems clear Mugabe doesn’t believe the SADC leaders have the political will to deal firmly with him. He has faced them down before and he reckons he can again.

The SADC "troika" responsible for monitoring the situation in Zimbabwe, currently consisting of President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, President Rupia Banda of Zambia and King Mswati 111 of Swaziland, are due in Harare tomorrow for three days of negotiations on the crisis. But ultimately it is South Africa that has the clout in this region. It is up to Zuma to prove Mugabe wrong and show that he is prepare to honour his obligations as guarantor and deal firmly with the errant president.

Doing that is not as difficult as Mbeki’s apologists used to imply. No need for threats of force or sanctions or other such unrealistic posturing. Just a simple warning that if Mugabe doesn’t implement the GPA fully and tries to rule alone, South Africa will not recognise his government. It will regard him as the head of an illegitimate regime.

Botswana’s President Ian Khama has already done that. If the newest leader of one of the smallest populations in the region can do it, surely we the regional superpower can be as brave. (Business Day)