Zuma’s office issued a statement on Sunday which noted that relations between the two countries remained “warm and cordial” but told Zimbabwean officials to use normal channels if they wanted clarification on South Africa’s policies.
“Governments have their own channels of communication … Should the Zimbabwean government wish to understand our position on Libya or any other, they will contact the South African government through the normal channels as they always do,” read a statement issued by President Zuma’s office of Sunday.
The statement was issued in response to criticism of President Zuma by the state-run Sunday Mail newspaper which described the South African leader as “erratic” and “duplicitous” in his handling of the Zimbabwe dialogue.
The newspaper also blasted Zuma’s decision to back a United Nations resolution authorizing air-strikes against Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.
"President Jacob Zuma’s erratic behaviour is the stuff of legends," the Sunday Mail claimed in an editorial. "The problem with Mr Zuma now is that his disconcerting behaviour has become a huge liability, not only to South Africa but also to the rest of the continent."
Again, writing in the same newspaper, Zanu PF politburo member, Professor Jonathan Moyo said: "President Zuma is now tainted beyond recovery by the Libyan situation and his commitment to the African cause has become questionable.”
The South African leader apparently struck a raw nerve when he, along with the leaders of Zambia and Mozambique, demanded an end to the violent crackdown on the opposition which is blamed on President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.
Stung by the rebuke, President Mugabe said Zuma, who is the regional body’s point-man on Zimbabwe, could not tell him what to do.
"We will not brook any dictation from any source. We are a sovereign country. Even our neighbours cannot dictate to us. We will resist that,” the Zanu PF leader charged at a recent party meeting in Harare.
"The facilitator is the facilitator and must facilitate dialogue. He cannot prescribe anything. We prescribe what we should do in accordance with our laws and our agreement."
Meanwhile, South African officials mounted a robust defence of Zuma’s role in the Libyan conflict
“South Africa’s position on Libya is clear and unambiguous. Other than responsibilities as a member of the African Union, South Africa also has strong historical ties with Libya forged during the liberation struggle. It is for this reason that we stated that Resolution 1973 should not be abused, and should be implemented in letter and spirit to protect Libyan civilians and not to advance other objectives,” the statement read.
“President Zuma has spoken out unambiguously against the killing of civilians in Libya and reaffirmed the country’s rejection of regime change and the foreign occupation of Libya.”