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Mbeki considered ditching ‘unreliable’ Mugabe

By Chris Goko and Gift Phiri

HARARE – Ex-South African leader Thabo Mbeki’s government was so frustrated with President Robert Mugabe that it reportedly considered ditching him prior to the 2008 harmonised elections, excerpts from a confidential memo on Zimbabwe show.

Mbeki considered ditching unreliable Mugabe
Mbeki considered ditching unreliable Mugabe

In its bid to contain the country’s never-ending problems, the then Pretoria administration set up a task-force led by Sydney Mufamadi, former presidential chief of staff Frank Chikane and Mojanku Gumbi to engage Zimbabwe’s political protagonists on various topics, and scenarios, including the formation of a coalition government.

“South African government (SAG) has come to the conclusion that RGM (Robert Gabriel Mugabe) never meant to keep any of the promises made to SAG,” read the paper from one of the key meetings between Welshman Ncube’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) faction and Mbeki’s aides.

“This was seen as the highest level of abuse of the person and office of the presidency, as commitments made at such levels though not written should form a binding undertaking/decorum accorded to heads of state,” it said, adding there was widespread belief in South Africa (SA) that Mugabe had “deliberately led Mbeki along the garden path”.

“TM (Thabo Mbeki) has been abused by RGM who has played him a fool in this regard,” the paper noted.

While the explosive observations reflect Mbeki and the South African government’s exasperation with Mugabe’s intransigence, analysts say this was a long and widely-held view of the regime north of the Limpopo, hence a different mediation effort or approach by President Jacob Zuma’s new government.

The South African-initiated dialogue was taking place after Mugabe was attempting to push for fresh elections even before the finalisation of the Kariba draft constitution, which the three main political parties had agreed to put in place.

Although Ncube acknowledged holding several consultative meetings with the South African delegation prior to 2008, he said he could not recall any meeting in which the late deputy Foreign Affairs minister Aziz Pahad was in attendance as the paper alleges.

“We had dozens of meetings with the trio (Mufamadi, Chikane, Gumbi) and not Pahad (and) we did touch on literally everything under the sun concerning Zimbabwe and the obtaining situation then,” Ncube told Weekend Post on Wednesday.

“We held dozens of meetings, but they refrained from talking about Zanu PF or the MDC-T and which is why I am saying if it was a record of their own meetings… I would say it’s possible,” he said of the alleged minutes of the meeting he is supposed to have attended along party secretary-general Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and Moses Mzila-Ndlovu.

The meetings were also allegedly attended by the Zimbabwe Institute of Isaac Maposa and Nozipho Ndebele — facilitators of the ongoing dialogue, which eventually led to the signing of the Global Political Agreement.

Asked if he believed the then Pretoria administration and its advisors held views contrary to Mbeki’s stated quiet diplomacy or “softly-softly” approach, Ncube said: “It’s quite possible that in their own discussions they could have expressed that view, but they never expressed it to us.”

According to the record on motivating factors for the dialogue, Pahad wandered loudly if it was time to use the “trump card” and change policy on Zimbabwe.

“This would be a last ditch approach, and if it fails close shop on Zimbabwe. Stop providing a buffer or protective shield of the Harare regime,” it said.

The paper also allegedly shows the parties discussing — in detail — Zimbabwe’s fast-deteriorating socio-political environment, including Zanu PF divisions, which had taken some “military overtones and capability that has dangerous implications.”

“This presents the stakeholders with an opportunity to re-craft the framework around elections and the constitution,” it said.

In the meetings, Mbeki’s officials said Zimbabwe desperately needed a way out, but Mugabe’s Zanu PF was in denial as it failed to accept that there was a crisis.

“SAG wondered if the Zimbabwe government was ready to be helped and whether Zanu PF leadership was prepared to do something to get a solution,” the minutes say.

“SAG felt that whatever action taken needs to be strategic and not one that is likely to worsen the situation. SA needs to be strategic.

“Zimbabweans need to assist SA by working on Sadc/AU. These bodies need to be convinced that they need to act on Zim.” The SA government emphasised that a timely intervention was critical but needed to be informed by a proper analysis of the balance of forces in Zimbabwe.

The meeting discussed Zanu PF succession, with the SA government officials keen to assess Joice Mujuru’s capabilities to succeed Mugabe in Zanu PF.

“Mujuru seen as brave and with military support but nor wise,” the confidential minutes say.

“Mujuru never had the numbers to beat the Mnangagwa camp at the last congress. If anything they had three provinces against Mnangagwa’s seven. RGM had to step in and campaign for Mujuru and endorse her candidature against Mnangagwa.”

The SA delegation emphasised that whatever it does, “there is need to ensure that a positive outcome occurs,” the minutes say. The SA government officials also expressed worry about the MDC-T policy, and wanted the UK government to take sides with SA on the Zimbabwe situation.

“Need to bring MT (Morgan Tsvangirai) group into the dialogue process with SA to avoid problems in the future with MT,” the minutes say. Mufamadi is reported to have told the meeting that there was “overwhelming demand for change in Zimbabwe.”

“RGM’s political capital is all but finished,” the minutes say. The balance of opinion in Zimbabwe is that there is need for change. Ever since Zuma took over the mediation effort in Zimbabwe, there has been a marked shift in Pretoria’s policy towards Zimbabwe. — Weekend Post

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