"Play the game or else face an Egypt-style revolt" – SADC leaders tell Mugabe

Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders this week cornered President Robert Mugabe at a stormy summit in Livingstone, Zambia, over resurgent political repression and violence, leaving him shaken and angry.

Fed up by Mugabe’s hide and seek tactics in Zimbabwe’s political crisis, regional leaders escalated pressure on the 87-year-old leader to immediately reform to avert a catastrophic collapse of the inclusive government.  

With signs that Mugabe is losing his grip on power and the military said to be running the country’s affairs, the SADC Troika on politics, defence and security on Thursday agreed to pressurise Mugabe to stop the arbitrary arrest, intimidation and torture of opponents.

Mugabe’s woes worsened when the Troika communiqué released after the summit attacked him for human rights abuses. He was told to his face to stop his latest crackdown on political opponents and brutality. SADC leaders also told him to cease henceforth "violence, arrests, and intimidation".

The Sunday Times understands that regional leaders, led by the Zimbabwe crisis facilitator President Jacob Zuma of SA, did not give Mugabe a chance to explain anything. Instead they virtually imposed what needs to be done to prevent an Egypt-style revolt.  

Zambian President Rupiah Banda set the tone during the official opening of the summit when he indirectly warned Mugabe against abusing his people, saying dictatorial tendencies led to revolts like the one in Libya.

Diplomats close to the deliberations told the Sunday Times that regional leaders will step up the pressure on Mugabe by sending a new team of officials – appointed on Thursday from SA, Zambia and Mozambique – to deal with the situation.

SADC executive secretary Dr Tomaz Salomao said the new team hit the ground running as it met with SA’s facilitators, Charles Nqakula, Mac Maharaj and Lindiwe Zulu, on Friday. "I’m not sure when the new team will visit Zimbabwe but they held preliminary consultations with the facilitation team today (Friday). They have started working," Salomao said.

SA’s facilitators are expected in Zimbabwe this week to meet with party negotiators to ensure the full implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and the crafting of the elections roadmap.

President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, who is the SADC chairman, and President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, a member of the Troika, also attended the meeting.

Diplomatic insiders told the Sunday Times that for the first, time Mugabe was shocked by the tough manner his colleagues took. The insiders said Zuma played a key role as he was becoming impatient with Mugabe, who agreed to reforms only to renege when confronted by hardliners in Zanu-PF.

"President Mugabe was left shell-shocked by the response he got, especially from President Banda.

"The Troika was not ready to accept any nonsense. They were not willing to accommodate Mugabe’s usual lies that everything was okay on the ground. Actually the leaders already had a position before the principals made presentations," said a diplomat.

"What President Mugabe forgot was that the SA facilitation team has been travelling to Zimbabwe on a regular basis and some of the abuses have been happening to their faces. The regional presidents also receive intelligence briefings from their embassies.

"The SADC heads were well ahead of Mugabe. When he tried to say that everything was in order, he was immediately shot down and Prime Minister Tsvangirai stood up and emphatically spoke about violence, intimidation, arrests and other human rights crimes.

"Fed up by Mugabe’s hide and seek tactics in Zimbabwe’s political crisis, regional leaders escalated pressure on the 87-year-old leader to immediately reform to avert a catastrophic collapse of the inclusive government," said the diplomat.

The SADC communiqué released by Salomao confirmed that the region was no longer behind the octogenarian leader. According to the communiqué, the region no longer trusted Mugabe.

The other partners in the inclusive government, Arthur Mutambara and Welshman Ncube, also lashed out at Mugabe for abusing state apparatus to promote his party, Zanu-PF.

The insiders said Mugabe was so isolated and stunned that his coterie of ministers – Emmerson Mnangagwa, Nicholas Goche, Patrick Chinamasa and Simbarashe Mumbengegwi – failed to save their elderly boss.

Part of the Troika communiqué reads: "There must be an immediate end of violence, intimidation, hate speech, harassment and any other form of action that contradicts the letter and spirit of the GPA.

"All stakeholders to the GPA should implement all the provisions of the GPA and create a conducive environment for peace, security and free political activity. The SADC should assist Zimbabwe to formulate guidelines that will assist in holding an election that will be peaceful, free and fair, in accordance with the SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic elections."

The Troika will develop the terms of reference, timeframes and provide regular progress reports, the first of which will be presented at an SADC extra-ordinary summit, which is due in the next few weeks. It also pledged to help Zimbabwe come up with a roadmap that will result in credible elections.

Mugabe appeared so agitated by the outcome of the Troika meeting that he simply said: "It went very well. I am always happy with SADC outcomes."

Tsvangirai’s spokesman, Luke Tamborinyoka, said his boss was satisfied with the outcome and hoped that implementation would be without problems.

"This confirms what we have been saying together with the people of Zimbabwe. Hopefully the SADC will also be tough on the implementation of what was agreed on," he said.

Ncube told a press conference in Bulawayo: "Indeed President Mugabe’s response was to say: ‘President Banda, I am alarmed by this assessment’.

"Those were his exact words and they demonstrate the extent to which the Troika had spoken bluntly about our repeated failures, our repeated refusal to follow their resolutions summit after summit, and the fact that we continue to play games around the implementation of the GPA." – Sunday Times (SA)