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‘Mbeki prevented conflict in Zimbabwe’

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

  • Hamadziripi

    He brewed by defensive to Zanu selfish imperialistic ideology and ingoring the real issue.In fact we blamed him for initiating such a dull GNU which helped to recuperate
    Zanu thugism.

    • Skyheart72

      The MDC were not forced to sign the GNU, they could have simply boycotted all the meetings as they did the re run presidential elections. They could have moulded their party outside the GNU and take another shit at the elections and if they really commanded the support they claim to have, they could easily win the elections with a wider margin than what they gotin march 2008. The parliamentary results gave a clear parameter to gauge the support enjoyed by the political parties in 2008. Mbeki actually afforded Tsvangirai a chance to be in government which chance he might never have again coz the outcome of future elections is not guaranteed that he will win

      • munzwa

        mugabe is only president by virtue of the GNU, no one recognized his violent re run election. Is the democratic system not regime change if the incumbents loose? Mbeki clearly tried to circumvent the democratic process. Because one party continues to threaten violence if they loose then why must the regional leaders always accommodate them, listen to the will of the people.

    • Amunyela Mulungu

      How I agree with you Hamadziripi. Mbeki actually sold out Zimbabwe by his so called “quiet diplomacy”. It later turned out that he was immensely benefiting from protecting mgabe and zanu at the expense of the 13million people who were being abused by the (zanu) regime.

  • Ricky Matako

    This is rubbish from Chikane


      learn to read and study political and international strategies then you will understand that politics is not a petty street job nd lastly why do you think tsvangirayi agreed to form aGNU with zanu pf ahhhhhhh ricky think deep …..kabishhhh

  • lucky kuts

    What conflict and with whom. The only conflict was Zanu against the majority. Why didn’t Mbeki tell Mugabe to respect the wishes of the masses . This guy Chikane wants to sell his books by peddling cheap propaganda.Oneday the thruth shall come out

    • Skyheart72

      Fact , Lancaster agreement was that land redistribution in Zimbabwe will be done after 10years from Indepence, with willing buyer willing seller option. British government was to compensate for land lost and zim government to pay for improvements.
      This was done at a slow pace and this saw several resettlement areas popularly known as mind mirefu, Fact SADC regional leaders then asked Mugabe to delay the process so as to help the South African and Namibian talks. Fact Conservative got out of power before fulfilling the Lancaster agreement. Fact labour government refused to honour the Lancaster agreement saying it was not part of the agreement. This was a first for a present government to denigrate on an agreement entered into by a previous government. International law requires that all governments honour agreements entered into by their predecessors as these agreements will have been done on behalf of a state and not a political party. Just as the labour led government inherited all the debts to IMF , World Bank etc that were caused by the Conservative led government . Imagine what would have happened if theLabour led government had said they will not honour any debts UK owed to all its debtors because the borrowings were done by a Conservative led government . It would have resulted in mayhem.


        good facts

  • Ytrdf

    Chikane’s chicanery exposed!

  • Gidza

    mbeki is a thug. This is what peace-loving Zimbos know very well


    people must learn to separate the weak and obsolete when commenting on political issues you must be able to tell real from fake, politics is much more a game of ducking up or down and looking for light rather than war and violence look at west africa and give your comparison VS SOUTHERN AFRICA WAR IS THE REASON WHY THERE WAS A MASS EXODUS OF BLACK PEOPLE FROM CENTRAL AND EAST AFRICA DOWN TO SOUTHERN AFRICA so l beg check your logic people

  • Retch

    Sometimes we invite fate to intervne. ZANU(PF)’s stance on Zimbabwe will see it go under. I fear for those young enough to live in the next 10-20 years as there are the ones to bear the back-lash.

  • Makate

    Chikane, undestandably, left out some issues pertaining to events that occurred during and after election time, he i s a diplomat so he is quite sensitive to the prevailing political temperatures home and away. But all in all he is telling the truth, and someday we will realise how this country is deeply indebted to Thabo Mbeki and the so called quiet diplomacy that the west and the right wing media are still hotly condemning. The GNU, while not the ideal solution to our hassles, is a blessing in disguise and has helped to force all our politicians into a reality check. ZANU PF have realised that they are not at all invincible, and MDC T have realised that the white man is not a friend after all. The man in the street has also realised that the west is frothing at the mouth about WHITE FARMERS’ RIGHTS and definitely not because of the BLACK MAN’S RIGHTS. RSA have realised that they are in a fake uhuru situation and that they can do things to change the status quo (eg Marikana).