CONTROVERSY over former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa’s purported role as a mediator in Zimbabwe deepened this week after it emerged Southern African Development Community (Sadc) leaders were misled by Harare into endorsing his mission during th
eir recent summit in Lesotho.
Sources said President Robert Mugabe and his delegation to the summit in Maseru, carried the same message which they fed to delegates on the sidelines of the African Union meeting in July that Mkapa was now the intermediary between Zimbabwe and Britain over a claimed bilateral dispute dividing the two countries.
The sources said the Harare mantra that Mkapa was now the mediator was hawked to Sadc leaders behind the scenes in Maseru who then bought into it, leading to the group’s acknowledgement of the initiative.
As a result on August 22 after the Sadc summit, Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, the new Sadc chairman, announced Mkapa had been appointed mediator on Zimbabwe.
South African Deputy Foreign minister Aziz Pahad confirmed this at a press briefing in Pretoria a week later.
Last week Sadc executive secretary Tomaz Augusto Salomao was quoted as saying through his spokesperson Leefa Martin, that Mkapa was still Sadc mediator.
However, further information gleaned from Harare-based diplomats’ confidential briefing notes shows Mkapa is not a mediator at all between Zimbabwe and Britain. The notes suggest Mkapa is actually becoming increasingly irritated by the claim.
Although efforts to contact Mkapa were unsuccessful, information to hand indicates that he has made his position clear on the issue to several interested parties in recent weeks.
Diplomatic notes show Mkapa was approached to mediate but declined, saying he was busy with party business and other engagements.
Mkapa was first brought into the Zimbabwe issue by former Tanzanian ambassador to Harare, Brigadier-General Hashim Mbita, and the late Information minister Tichaona Jokonya. He was later approached by United Nations officials on the matter but turned down the offer to intervene.
Sources said Tanzania allowed Sadc leaders in Lesotho to acknowledge Mkapa as mediator when it knew the correct position because the issue was never formalised between Dar-es-Salaam and Harare. It had largely remained an informal matter driven by Mbita and Jokonya.
The adoption of Mkapa as mediator by United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan and Sadc, sources said, may well mean they have misled the world on the issue and continue to do so.
After the AU summit in Banjul, the Gambia, in July, Annan said he had met with Mugabe who had told him that Mkapa had been appointed as a mediator.
Mugabe was cited by Annan as the source of the claim in Banjul that Mkapa is now the mediator and sources say Zimbabwean officials repeated the same line in Maseru. This means Annan and Sadc leaders were misled in view of Mkapa’s position — at least as of early this month — that he was not a mediator between Zimbabwe and Britain.