‘Mbeki prevented conflict in Zimbabwe’

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By Gift Phiri

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki’s mediation prevented Zimbabwe from descending into civil war as the Unites States and United Kingdom pressed for tougher EU or UN sanctions against President Robert Mugabe’s regime, a book authored by a top official reveals. 

(FromL) Zimbabwe's new Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and South African President Thabo Mbeki pose on the first row with King Mswati III of Swaziland (L) and Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete (R), after signing the power-sharing accord on September 15, 2008 in Harare.
(FromL) Zimbabwe’s new Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and South African President Thabo Mbeki pose on the first row with King Mswati III of Swaziland (L) and Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete (R), after signing the power-sharing accord on September 15, 2008 in Harare.

The book titled “Things that could not be said from A(ids) to Z(imbabwe)” penned by Frank Chikane, former director-general of the SA presidency, attempts to set the record straight on Mbeki’s contentious quiet diplomacy on Zimbabwe.

Mugabe described Mbeki as a man “with the patience of Job” when Zimbabwe eventually inked the Global Political Agreement in 2008, paving the way for a Government of National Unity.

But Mbeki’s policy of “quiet diplomacy” towards the protracted political crisis attracted scorn both domestically and internationally. Without giving too much detail about the actors, Chikane gives the reader a sense of the atmosphere of mistrust that marked those negotiations.

“As would be expected, the negotiating parties also came to the table in a fighting mood,” the book says.

“The language was bellicose. At times it felt like, as the facilitation team, we were the only ones who wanted peace for Zimbabwe. Representatives of the people of Zimbabwe seemed ready to continue to fight and halt the talks.

“Negotiators came armed with extreme positions that seemed irreconcilable. But as time went by, the dialogue partners — consisting of representatives of the three major Zimbabwean parties, namely, Zanu PF and the two MDC formations — began to realise that war, conflict and sectarian party interests could not save Zimbabwe and the only way to peace was through talking.”

More revealing are Chikane’s explanations on the role played by international actors, especially the former colonial power, in frustrating attempts to find a solution to the Zimbabwean political crisis.

Chikane says Mbeki’s “principled approach” incensed those who wanted to pursue the “regime change” strategy, which Mbeki refused to be pressured into.

“Those who pursued the ‘regime change’ agenda included major powers like Britain and the US, which rendered the contest comparable to that between Goliath and David,” Chikane writes.

“As stated, a multiplicity of strategies was unleashed, including various communication strategies and intelligence projects, to get the public to buy into the ‘regime change’ approach against the wishes of the Sadc and the AU member countries.”

And Chikane claims that some players even wanted foreign powers to invade Zimbabwe to effect regime change, even though he does not give specifics about such events. “Some people even thought of crazy and unthinkable things like an invasion by foreign forces,” the book says.

He says the regime change campaign also involved the lobbying of heads of State and AU leaders.

“In some instances the lobbying went beyond acceptable diplomatic practice to threats involving the withdrawal of development assistance to some of the more vulnerable countries.”

Chikane says the battle raged on until it reached the UN Security Council “where both the US and the UK lost twice on this matter against positions held by South Africa (as a country) supported by the Sadc and AU leadership.”

“In this regard China and Russia chose to support the Sadc and AU positions.”

But Chikane still does not explain why Mbeki was so patient with the Zimbabwean government when its approach to land reform caused him many a headache, except to hint at what might or might not be an apocryphal story about an ANC leader who urged Mugabe to delay land reform to allow the South African democratic transition a chance.

Chikane claims in the 80s, President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and ANC President Oliver Tambo asked Mugabe to delay repossessing land a decade after independence to allow South Africa to conclude negotiations to end the apartheid system.

“Having analysed political developments within the region, they made a special plea to Mugabe to delay action on the land matter until South Africa had concluded its negotiation processes.

“The fear here was that if Zimbabwe acted on the land issue, South African whites would be so terrified that the envisaged talks with the liberation movement could be jeopardised.

“Mugabe, I am told, graciously accepted the plea from the regional leadership and agreed to delay the redistribution of land in Zimbabwe for a while to save the envisaged peace process in South Africa.”

Chikane’s book claims the government of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair is responsible for the land crisis in Zimbabwe by back-tracking on the previous Conservative government’s plans to finance the purchase of land from the white farmers and thus redistribute it more fairly.

Zimbabwe’s demand that Britain be responsible for compensating the affected white farmers badly strained ties with the country’s former colonial ruler. Harare insists this had been agreed to under the 1980 Lancaster House accord that ended Zimbabwe’s liberation war.

The book also explores issues such as the unfinished business of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the fall from grace of former police chief Jackie Selebi. Daily News