The communiqué issued by the troika – Zuma, Zambia’s Rupiah Banda and Mozambique’s Armando Guebuza – was a remarkably forthright statement by the normally mealy-mouthed standards of the SADC (Southern African Development Community).
In all but name, it condemned Mugabe’s Zanu-PF for the political violence once again rising in the country and the arrests, intimidation and hate speech.
It also rejected his evident intention to rush into elections as soon as possible, which he could win by hook or by crook. Instead, the troika insisted that Zanu-PF and its Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) partners in the troubled unity government should properly implement all the agreed steps towards elections, mainly drafting a new constitution – which would level the political playing field – and putting this to a referendum.
That would push back the elections which Mugabe hoped to have soon, to a year from now, Zimbabwe-watchers predict, and make it far less likely he would win them.
The troika leaders also chided the Zimbabweans – and again this was clearly aimed mainly at Mugabe and Zanu-PF – for their tardiness in implementing all such commitments, and imposed a new level of supervision to ensure they did so.
This supervision is clearly intended to be more onerous; the new team to be appointed for this task will set terms and timetables for the Zimbabweans.
In all of this the troika was clearly just adopting Zuma’s recommendations, as South African officials made clear.
The troika communiqué was also remarkable for what it omitted – the inevitable call on Western nations to lift their targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his Zanu-PF cronies. So the troika meeting was clearly a comprehensive defeat for Mugabe, as he made clear when addressed Zanu-PF’s Central Committee on Friday, railing against the SADC and South African interference in Zimbabwe’s sovereignty.
He expressed particular dislike of the troika decision to appoint officials to set terms and timetables for the Zimbabwean parties to stick to in implementing their commitments in the unity government and in their road map to proper new elections.
Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba, in his weekly column under the pen name Nathaniel Manheru in the pro-Zanu Herald newspaper, also noted with dismay the absence of the usual condemnation of sanctions, suggesting that this meant that Zuma and the SADC had now fallen under the influence of the dreaded Western imperialists.
He saw the troika communiqué as the continuation of a trend in South African foreign policy more starkly illustrated in its decision to back a no-fly zone and military action against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.
Zuma’s tough report on Zimbabwe to the troika, which clearly shaped the strong communiqué, adds another interesting piece to the puzzle of where South Africa’s foreign policy is going now.
Probably most commentators have seen confusion and inconsistency, citing, for example, contradictory positions on the post-election crisis in Ivory Coast and on Libya.
They especially note Zuma’s strong criticism of the coalition forces for their attack on Gaddafi, just two days after South Africa had voted for such attacks at the UN.
There was food for the proponents of the chaos theory in the SADC troika communiqué too, as it condemned the “obtrusive measures” taken by come countries in Libya and called for “adherence to the political track that was initiated by the AU”.
But one can also see the troika meeting outcome instead as further confirmation of an emerging trend towards a stronger, more independent foreign policy.
What the SADC will do next, now that Mugabe seems to have rejected its tougher line, though, will be telling.
Jakkie Cilliers, head of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, is not too impressed, believing the troika communiqué was more rhetorical than substantive and that Pretoria and the SADC are not yet ready to get really tough with Mugabe.
But it’s hard to deny that they seem at least to have taken the first step, by making their displeasure clearly felt.