SWRA interviews Botswana Foreign Minister
BROADCAST: 30 OCTOBER 2009
VIOLET GONDA: My guest on the programme Hot Seat is Botswana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Phandu Skelemani. Welcome on the programme Mr Skelemani.
PHANDU SKELEMANI: Thank you.
GONDA: So much has been happening in Zimbabwe since the formation of the coalition government in February and as you may know, the latest is that the MDC has cut off ties with Zanu-PF, accusing Robert Mugabe’s party of refusing to fully implement the power sharing pact and Mugabe on the other hand says it is the MDC that has not fulfilled its promises of fighting for the removal of sanctions and the closure of external radio stations such as ours. So let me start with Botswana’s position on the unfolding events in Zimbabwe.
SKELEMANI: Well as you know, we are immediate neighbours of Zimbabwe. They are our brothers and sisters. What is happening there is, to say the least, most unfortunate. Right from the beginning it had been understood and we have prayed that it be understood, that the Agreement which the Zimbabweans signed would only have a meaning if it was implemented in good faith and there have been a number of events which casts doubts as to whether both or all the parties to the Agreement are genuine or some desire a failure. I think President Mugabe as the president of the Republic of Zimbabwe owes it to himself and Zimbabweans to be above what one would call partisan petty politics. That’s what we had expected.
As a hero of the liberation, one doesn’t understand how he could adopt an attitude that – look this is not in the Agreement – that’s not how you work for peace, by sticking to a comma, a ‘T’ or a little phrase. You look at the broader picture. What is it that will make Zimbabwe survive? It’s unfortunate that things have taken the turn that they have. That it has taken so long for the parties to be together I think is to the credit particularly of the MDC. Nobody not as strong might have disengaged much earlier but we don’t encourage disengagement. Obviously we think Zimbabwe is better off if all the Zimbabweans look at the country in the same way and want to give their best and not try to discredit each other.
GONDA: But as a member of SADC, and you were closely involved as Botswana, when this deal was made just a few months ago, why was this Agreement signed before all the critical issues had been resolved?
SKELEMANI: Well partly because the report from then President Mbeki was that these are matters which are going to be resolved quite easily with the help of SADC and then President Mbeki and we had no reason to doubt when everybody agreed, particularly the Zimbabweans, when they agreed we couldn’t be advising them not to sign. That would not be good. We had faith that both President Mugabe and his compatriots mean well. That is why, you know, we had our reservations which we made quite clear that the best thing to do would have been to go back to the people under international supervision and have a rerun of the presidential. We wouldn’t really be in this mess we are in now.
GONDA: And so what about this boycott – do you think though it was mature, or it is a mature move by the MDC to boycott Zanu-PF at this point in time?
SKELEMANI: My understanding is that it is a move which is the ringing of a bell, to say: ‘Look Mr President, President Mugabe please, please, please wake up – things are not moving, things are cracking, please wake up. Let’s engage meaningfully.’ That is how I understand the disengagement. As I say it is not something which we would encourage, but we do understand the frustration on the part of the MDC.
GONDA: So right now what has been happening is that it appears Mugabe’s reaction to the boycott has been more rhetoric coupled with what the MDC is saying is increased oppression and it also appears Mugabe is applying real pressure from the ground level by arresting members of the civil society and the MDC and just recently, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture was detained at Harare Airport by Zimbabwe security agents and deported even though he said he had been invited by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Now this was happening at the same time that the SADC troika was arriving for crisis talks in Zimbabwe. As a member of SADC, how do you respond to critics who say this is outrageous that it is happening in SADC’s face?
SKELEMANI: I don’t think one can gainsay the critics. Unfortunately one doesn’t want to be admitting failure, but you know, it’s true, it’s a fact – it’s disastrous! You can’t have a Prime Minister inviting people, inviting anybody and then have officials taking a totally different position, detaining and throwing out a person invited by the Prime Minister. I mean what could be more disrespectful? If President Mugabe goes along with that, that would be really unfortunate. I hope that President Mugabe doesn’t know or did not know what the officials were doing because that would really be unfortunate. And at a time as you say when the SADC troika is trying, following the summit in the DRC, to see what can be done to get the MDC and President Mugabe’s Zanu-PF working together much closely and not to have the Political Agreement falling apart. It seems that there’s a curse somewhere that every time when things appear to be moving, something, somebody wants the opposite. They want chaos, they don’t want anything to go right and that’s really unfortunate and I hope President Mugabe will listen to the Troika because all we want is that Zimbabwe should find peace.
GONDA: But Mr Skelemani why hasn’t there really been any reaction from SADC? Many have described this as a diplomatic incident, a major diplomatic incident and yet there’s no outcry, there’s no reaction from SADC. Why is that?
SKELEMANI: Maybe it’s a slow reaction. Maybe other people have not gotten the news. Much earlier I spoke to the BBC earlier than you on the same matter and told them our position, that our position is that it is most unfortunate. It shouldn’t happen that way. Even if this gentleman had gone there uninvited, to try to find out what has happened, why are there allegations of torture, you would have thought that the Zimbabwean government would have been cooperative and accommodating but I hope that SADC is going to take a position. I do accept that SADC is aware that the Troika is in Harare and probably diplomacy requires that you shouldn’t say anything which might just complicate the mission of the Troika and that I would respect. But that they should condemn, I think should become clear sooner rather than later.
GONDA: But when you say this is our position as SADC, who really, whose position is it really because it’s increasingly appearing as if Botswana is a lone voice on this matter in terms of criticising what is happening in Zimbabwe. Out of the countries in SADC, how many actually support your position on Zimbabwe?
SKELEMANI: Well I suppose that question could be answered by the other people. We don’t go caucusing for support because we speak from a position of principal. What we consider right is right, what we consider wrong in our view is wrong and we hope that our SADC compatriots also see things that way. As I say, it’s probably too early to say that they are not going to react to what is happening because you know we’ve got people in Harare on the ground who should report back.
GONDA: I’m not just talking about what has happened with the UN Rapporteur, I’m just talking in general, people in Zimbabwe are increasingly getting frustrated at how the region, how SADC has been dealing with the situation in Zimbabwe and so the question is how come your position is not being implemented, even in terms of seeing statements? Since the formation of the coalition government in February, SADC has not even had a review on the progress of this government. Why is it we are not getting any action or any response from SADC, or even statements?
SKELEMANI: As I say I don’t know, I wouldn’t know whether the other SADC countries are talking to the Zimbabweans on the quiet but I do know that the Right Honourable Prime Minister Tsvangirai has been going round in SADC soliciting support – and there’s rather been some quietness on what you’d have expected as a reaction from SADC. Maybe this mission is the answer of SADC, why they are going there, to try and find out. It’s a balancing act; I don’t think we should be too harsh if in fact there appears to be movement. But from where we sit in Botswana, we clearly don’t think that things are moving as they ought to.
GONDA: But isn’t it strange that SADC, who brokered this Agreement and obviously have a vested interest in terms of… interrupted
SKELEMANI: Well we are supposed to be the guarantors.
GONDA: Yes, so surely, isn’t it strange that there’s not been a review of the progress of the unity government?
SKELEMANI: I hope that when the present mission, the people who are in Harare come back, they will say when the SADC Summit should meet. I think what is happening in Zimbabwe calls for a Summit to really review and see whether things are moving. The last when we were in the DRC, yes everybody thought – well the Prime Minister and the President were working well, it wasn’t smooth but they were working and everybody hoped that they would succeed. As it turns out I think it’s only frustration that has come out. And so SADC ought to meet really to review and to take a position.
GONDA: You know there are some who have said that SADC is very weak and has, in most cases, sided with dictatorships. So how do you respond to critics who say SADC is not taking the situation in Zimbabwe seriously because there are criminal elements in SADC, involved in criminal activities in countries like the DRC and that is why there would be support for people like Robert Mugabe?
SKELEMANI: Well you know the position of SADC really is quite clear. Whatever criticisms may be levelled against anybody, they clearly wanted peace for Zimbabwe. The way of going about it is where we differed. The others thought that well President Mugabe really had won and we said no he hadn’t won anything. And so you could see that from the beginning that the others would have thought that the Botswana position was rather on the harsh side, we were too critical but really it wasn’t our intention to be critical. Our intention was to try and point out what in our view was wrong and the best way of resolving it. Each country had its own approach and probably they will review their position when it’s now clear that this thing is not going anywhere.
GONDA: And as an insider, isn’t SADC concerned about the negative effect the crisis in Zimbabwe is having on the entire region?
SKELEMANI: Of course SADC would be. We are worried. We were now breathing a sigh of relief that the Zimbabweans were going back, we were arranging for credit lines for Zimbabwe and for the sole reason that we wanted Zimbabwe to succeed as a Republic. To take its place, which really it should have taken way back, so SADC has taken that attitude that Zimbabwe should be helped and we extended credit. Maybe other people think well, what is half a billion, it’s nothing but that’s all that we could and it was to show our belief, our desire that Zimbabwe should succeed. The economy should pick up, the people of Zimbabwe should return home and run their economy. That is what we still want. Whatever we may be accused of, I think we should be given credit that we desire for Zimbabwe that we desire for ourselves – good governance.
GONDA: So what about this crisis right now, what is the best approach, what options are there for the regional bloc?
SKELEMANI: Well as I said, we probably, better to wait for the mission from Harare in order to examine and see what is the best way forward.
GONDA: But is there any hope though that SADC can effectively deal with this crisis?
SKELEMANI: As I’ve said before the one thing we cannot afford is to lose is hope, because then I don’t know for the life of me what would happen to the Republic of Zimbabwe. We can’t lose hope.
GONDA: I was actually going to ask that, what can SADC do or what will it do if the Global Political Agreement in Zimbabwe breaks down?
SKELEMANI: Well if it breaks down, as we have said before, the only answer is to go back to the people because they are the only authority in Zimbabwe and for that matter in any country, to determine who should form the government. The government in Zimbabwe now it’s a make-do; it’s not a proper government. It hasn’t been put there with the agreement of the people. It’s really a stopgap! So if it collapses, our position right from the beginning is that let’s go back to the people under international supervision and let them choose who their president should be.
GONDA: But isn’t that going back to square one? Isn’t this the same problem that the political rivals had before this unity government was formed? Mugabe has always chosen who supervises or observes the elections and do you really think this would work especially as the conditions on the ground are far from suitable for holding free and fair elections, and still there’s no new constitution and there are no major reforms?
SKELEMANI: If there’s a collapse I think even President Mugabe would know that the only solution really, if he’s not prepared to work with Prime Minister Tsvangirai, the only solution is to go to the people. I wouldn’t understand why you’d be afraid of that.
GONDA: And of course President Ian Khama said recently that the unity government in Zimbabwe is on the brink of collapse and that if it collapsed, Botswana would not recognise Robert Mugabe…
SKELEMANI: Yes that’s true.
GONDA: That still stands?
SKELEMANI: That still stands absolutely. If it collapses there’s no basis for recognising Mugabe as President of Zimbabwe, there’ll be none.
GONDA: And Tsvangirai?
SKELEMANI: Well if it collapses, there’s no Prime Minister, there’s no President, we are back to square one. Zimbabwe is being ruled by force by somebody who doesn’t respect an agreement, we’ll really be back to square one.
GONDA: You know I’m sorry to go back to this same issue because just listening to Zimbabweans every day and the responses we get about the crisis in the country, you know people are really getting tired of this and they’re also asking isn’t SADC tired of hearing the same things about Zimbabwe every single time? Why don’t they want to solve this problem once and for all?
SKELEMANI: I suppose dealing with State matters is probably not the same as dealing with a mob, which is just standing there. You are dealing with a whole country. Even if you don’t like what is happening you must find a way that is not going to add more disruption. I think that is when you really get criticised that – oh why didn’t you go and clobber them? Well I don’t think we should act that way, that is why SADC should come together put its heads, the Heads of State, put their heads together and admit the reality that what they thought they got under the auspices of President Mbeki has really not worked.
GONDA: Right and as we said, the SADC Troika is in the country right now, but how powerful is this Organ and what can they really achieve?
SKELEMANI: Well in terms of the Treaty they are in charge of the peace in the region and they of course have to report to summit. Alone the Troika can hardly do anything. I mean they could send people to go and find out what is going on but as for definitive action I don’t think they can take any that will bring a resolution. They can certainly recommend to SADC summit, which is what I think they ought to do now.
GONDA: And when do you think a SADC summit on Zimbabwe will likely be held?
SKELEMANI: I really don’t know. We will have to be informed by the mission which is in Harare but you know the sooner the better because if things are really going bad, the longer you wait the more complicated it becomes and the more intractable. It becomes just intractable. As I say our aim is that there be a resolution to the Zimbabwean crisis and it is becoming a crisis.
GONDA: Now can you as SADC incorporate more support from outside the region?
SKELEMANI: I think the AU is waiting. Remember the AU had said, you go back SADC, you deal with the Zimbabwean issue. That meant that we have their support. If in fact we fail, we ought to go back to the AU and report our failure and ask for their assistance. We shouldn’t be ashamed of doing that.
GONDA: And before we go, you know Zanu-PF accuses Botswana of bias and meddling in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe, what is your response to this?
SKELEMANI: We are not biased. That I deny. That we should agree with the position taken by the MDC is not to show bias, it just shows that we don’t agree with Zanu-PF on how they reacted right from the time of the elections. We have no reason to be as it were in the corner of the MDC but we have good reason to be in that corner, which we think is right and I don’t think we should apologise for that. We should be able to speak frankly with our brothers in Zimbabwe and hopefully they will understand that we mean no harm to them, not to President Mugabe, not to any Zimbabwean. But we deny completely, and remember there were accusations that we were training the MDC. We are waiting for the release of the investigation which has been completed so that the world can be told whether in fact Botswana meant harm to Zimbabwe because we never intended any harm and I’m quite certain that there’s no evidence to show that we did anything wrong with respect to Zimbabwe.
GONDA: What would be Botswana’s policy on the thousands of Zimbabweans living in Botswana right now if things were to deteriorate in Zimbabwe or if this unity government was to collapse?
SKELEMANI: Well the Zimbabweans who are here obviously would remain. As I said we had hoped that with the economy picking up in Zimbabwe they would go back to join their compatriots to develop that country but if things collapse we don’t expect them to be rushing to Harare. In fact and this is what we don’t want, there is a real danger that those who have gone back may run back again to Botswana and that would be very unfortunate. But what do you do to somebody who is running away, who is being brutalised? You give them whatever you have for protection. That is what Botswana would do.
GONDA: And a final word Mr Skelemani.
SKELEMANI: Well really it is more a prayer than a final word – that God should help us find peace in Zimbabwe.
GONDA: Thank you very much Mr Phandu Skelemani, Botswana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
SKELEMANI: Thank you, madam.
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