By Andrew Gowers, David White, and John Reed
Financial Times: A country that is not so far away, Zimbabwe: you made great efforts to
take it upon yourself to try to get the two sides talking. Has that now irretrievably broken down?
Mbeki: No, it hasn’t… You see, you are quite correct, this is what we’ve been insisting upon all the time, that it’s really the Zimbabweans who must find a solution to their own problem, and what was critically important was that they should get together with none of the two saying (any) particular matter is excluded from the agenda…And that’s how we’ve proceeded since 2002 after the presidential elections…They have been very reluctant to explain to the world what they have been doing.FT: How close do you think they are, in these elections coming up, to fulfilling the minimum criteria agreed by Sadc (Southern African Development Community)?
Mbeki: The one complaint I have had has to do with the register of voters, that it is defective… With regard to the rest, what we’ve said, what I’ve said, is that we should send in a Sadc team there as quickly as possible before the elections.FT: But that’s not even happening, Mr President, is it?
Mbeki: It’ll happen….I would expect that actually we could have a Sadc delegation in Zimbabwe this coming week…Not observers, in the sense of “We’ll come there and observe and we’ll see bad things being done, we’ll write them in our notebook so that at the end of the process we can then say, uh-uh, this election was not free and fair because the following bad things happened,” it’s not that. Because our interest indeed is to have free and fair elections in Zimbabwe and therefore to go there with a view to assisting, to ensure that we have those free and fair elections….to be able to be around the country as much is as possible, so that we’ll be able to intervene in instances where there is violence and intimidation and so on…That team would have to be there, ready to receive any complaint in the event that (access to state media) has not been granted, I’m saying, not in order to record that it’s not been granted but in order to intervene to make sure that it is granted. So that’s the approach that we want to take to this. My view is that we can do it.FT: To intervene in cases of intimidation suggests some kind of policing role…
Mbeki: No, it doesn’t, we did this last time, in the presidential election.FT: I suppose the underlying question that we’ve been trying to get at is at what point do you, as the outside actor with the most potential to influence the situation, say, well, this quiet approach hasn’t worked and we really need to take a more forthright, critical approach? One of the things that people far away are struggling to understand is that you’ve played it so quietly, and there are commentaries that this reflects ill on the credibility of Africa putting its own house in order.Mbeki: Yes, I know. The point really about all of this from our perspective has been that the critical role we should play is to assist the Zimbabweans to find one another, really to agree among themselves about the political, economic, social, other solutions that their country needs. We could have stepped aside from that task and then shouted, and that would be the end of our contribution…They would shout back at us, and that would be the end of the story…I’m actually the only head of government that I know anywhere in the world who has actually gone to Zimbabwe and spoken publicly very critically of the things that they’re doing… We agree that there must be land redistribution but the manner in which it is being handled is incorrect, and the way the conflict has arisen between black Zimbabweans and white Zimbabweans is not what we want…But, you see, to take a posture which would say — which I think could be quite easy— we would sit here and say we are going to shout at the Zimbabweans, that’s the beginning and the end of any contribution we would make…It was a choice for us. The easier route was to sit in Pretoria and say whatever we like.FT: How would you characterise your feelings about, or your relations with, Robert Mugabe?
Mbeki: I think they’re very good.FT: Do you see him often…How often are you in contact with him?Mbeki: As regularly as I want to.FT: When did you last see him?Mbeki: The last time I saw him was when we were in Maputo for the installation of the new president (in early February).
FT: Do you respect him?
Mbeki:…The relationship is very good, there’s no problem about it. There are certain things which have gone wrong in Zimbabwe, which we’ve said publicly…They’ve run a budget deficit of 10% for 20 years…You end up with the economic crisis that you have now. It derives from an economic policy that had good intentions in the sense of raising standards of living of the people, educational levels, improving health and so on and so on. But it produced particular consequences, economic consequences which then also had political consequences…Part of what then happened was that when opposition emerged, essentially emerging out of the economic crisis…they responded to it in a wrong way…When I was in Harare I said to them publicly this business of using the war veterans is incorrect. You can’t solve these problems by beating up people. So there were things that went wrong there. Do you respect Bob Mugabe? Of course, yes. That doesn’t mean do you approve of the policies that were implemented.FT: Do you see the US putting Zimbabwe on a list of “outposts of tyranny”, does that make any difference?Mbeki: No, I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration.
FT: Do you think they’re going after Zimbabwe unfairly, and if so why?Mbeki: No, I think that it’s an exaggeration and I think that whatever your government wants to do with regard to that list of six countries, or however many, I think it’s really somewhat discredited…FT: A discredit to whom?
Mbeki: The concept, the US concept.FT: Lumping them all together…Mbeki: Yes, to put all these countries together and say Zimbabwe’s one of these outposts of tyranny, how do you justify that? It doesn’t mean that there’s nothing that’s gone wrong in Zimbabwe, but to describe it as an outpost of tyranny…
FT: You don’t think they belong in the same category as Burma?
Mbeki: Of course not. — Financial Times.