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Questions over Mbeki’s role in talks

By Sebastien Berger

THE South African president, Thabo Mbeki, who has been entrusted with finding a solution to Zimbabwe’s political crisis, sees Robert Mugabe as

his father figure, according to a new biography. As one of the last independence leaders still running his country, the Zimbabwean leader enjoys elder statesman status among many Africans.

But, according to Mark Gevisser, author of Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred, his relationship with the South African president is personal, and it is “undoubtedly” affecting the talks Mbeki is chairing between Mugabe’s government and the opposition. The negotiations are aimed at reaching agreement on holding free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections next year. But every deadline for agreement has passed without a deal being done, and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has made concessions in parliament without receiving anything in return.

“Even though I’m certain Mbeki believes Mugabe needs to go, he has proven he is not the right person to facilitate Mugabe’s departure,” Gevisser told The Daily Telegraph. “Because of the history of their relationship it’s not just a father but a father who he sees some allegiance to. I would question whether he would be able to be as cold and as hard-nosed as he needs to be as a mediator.

“Mbeki is unable to bring enough pressure to bear on Mugabe to force him to some sort of resolution. The opposition doesn’t have any trust in him and the government doesn’t fear him enough to listen to his hard words.” Gevisser’s claims will alarm the British and American governments, which regard the talks as the best hope for a peaceful end to Zimbabwe’s political crisis. Mugabe’s misrule has seen the economy collapse, with inflation at 8 000% and more than four million people — a third of the population — likely to need food aid.

Gevisser’s book, published by Jonathan Ball, details how in the 1970s the ANC was allied with a rival movement to Mugabe’s Zanu PF in the war against Ian Smith’s Rhodesia. But Mbeki recognised that Zanu PF represented the majority Shona-speakers in the country and “maintained some kind of informal contact” with them during the armed conflict — anathema to ANC orthodoxy.

“Thabo Mbeki seems to be the only man in the ANC who expected — and even approved of — Robert Mugabe’s victory,” Gevisser writes. Mbeki later led the ANC’s efforts to build bridges with the new Zimbabwean regime. Mbeki’s main contact, Emmerson Mnangagwa, would go on to lead the massacres in Matabeleland in the early 1980s, and later be minister of state security. — The Daily Telegraph (UK).

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