Diplomats in a frenzy over 'crazy old' Mugabe

US diplomats yesterday scrambled for appointments with senior South African government officials to protect relations between the two countries following the leaking of potentially damaging top-secret American communications on Sunday night.

Officials from US Ambassador Donald Gips’s office consulted their counterparts in the Department of International Relations and Co-operation after whistleblower website WikiLeaks leaked the first batch of about 250000 US diplomatic cables it has been given access to.

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane is likely to fly to the US this week to for discussions with American security officials, her spokesman said.

The cables, which include unflattering remarks about many world leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, include embarrassing revelations about how South Africa and the US view Zimbabwe’s leaders.

Nkoana-Mashabane will also have to deal with claims in the leaked cables that she refers to President Robert Mugabe as ”the crazy old man”. Her reported remarks are likely to harden attitudes in Zimbabwe and complicate efforts by President Jacob Zuma’s mediators to lessen tensions between Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and its coalition government partner, the Movement for Democratic Change.

Political analyst Steven Friedman said the leaks will cause "some irritation" and that Mugabe might be hard to deal with, but diplomatic relations between South Africa and Zimbabwe would not be affected.

”Mugabe will not take kindly to some of the comments made about him but that does not mean that diplomatic relations will be altered.”

Some of the other potentially damaging leaks pertaining to South Africa include the revelations that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year ordered US diplomats to gather intelligence on South Africa’s ambassador to the UN, Baso Sangqu, and that former president Nelson Mandela was infuriated that he was prohibited by the ANC from meeting former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher after his release from prison in 1990.

Mandela, according to the leaked reports, intended to criticise Thatcher’s constructive engagement policy with the apartheid government to her face. He was reportedly ”furious” when the ANC’s leadership vetoed the meeting.

The leaked reports include references to Mandela and his criticism of US president George W Bush for ignoring calls by the UN for restraint in Iraq, which he attributed to UN secretary general Kofi Annan being black.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation’s spokesman, Sello Hatang, said yesterday there was nothing new about Mandela’s comments on the US-led Iraqi invasion. – Times Live

He refused, however, to comment on reports that Mandela was banned by his party from talking to Thatcher.

This information was allegedly given to US intelligence agents by Gabu Tugwana, then deputy editor of the New Nation newspaper, which was edited by Zwelakhe Sisulu – a member of the ANC’s national executive committee and the man who compiled Mandela’s appointments diary.

Tugwana, director of communications for the Johannesburg metro, yesterday dismissed the reports as "nonsense" and called them ”libellous”.

A spokesman for the US embassy in South Africa, Elizabeth Trudeau, yesterday confirmed that US diplomats had been speaking to South African government officials about the leaks.

She said she was confident that they would not jeopardise relations between the countries.

Describing the leaks as "the nuts and bolts of diplomacy that goes on around the world", Trudeau said the communications leaked were typical of all embassies and were no more than "day-to-day reporting".

"It is important to realise that this sort of communication is not official US policy, it is not a public statement.

"This will not tarnish relations. Absolutely not! The relations are excellent and getting better."

Further leaks reveal how former president Thabo Mbeki, who negotiated a political settlement between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, was also criticised by the US government.

The documents show for the first time that the US believed that he was not a neutral broker in the negotiations but favoured Mugabe’s Zanu-PF.

A former US ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell, revealed this in a 2007 communique to Washington outlining options for ending Zimbabwe’s political crisis.

"This solution is more likely to prolong than resolve the crisis and we must guard against letting Pretoria dictate an outcome which perpetuates the status quo at the expense of real change and reform," he said.

Dell, in a cable, described Mugabe as "more clever and more ruthless than any other politician in Zimbabwe".

His criticism did not spare Tsvangirai, whom he described as ”a brave, committed man and, by and large, a democrat but ‘also a flawed figure, not readily open to advice, indecisive and with questionable judgment in selecting those around him". – Times Live