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Mugabe Gets Breathing Space

ZIMBABWE President Robert Mugabe is beginning to breathe more easily as a Western diplomatic campaign against his re-election falters, leaving mediation efforts in the hands of his old ally, Thabo Mbeki.


With neither the United Nations nor the African Union showing much appetite for getting involved in the country’s post-election crisis, the opposition’s hope that the South African president could be sidelined is fading fast. Despite their failure to secure backing from the UN Security Council for a package of measures against Mugabe, the United States and former colonial power Britain are both threatening a tightening of already existing sanctions.

“I think we need to … analyse whether or not we can have more bilateral sanctions on the regime leaders,” United States President George Bush told reporters on Tuesday.

But analysts say the vetoing of sanctions in a Security Council vote last Friday and the African Union’s refusal to get tough with the continent’s oldest leader at a summit last month shows Mugabe’s enemies are losing momentum.

The Western-backed “approach to Zimbabwe has lost steam and it will be difficult to recover”, said Mugabe’s former Information minister, Jonathan Moyo, who is now an outspoken independent lawmaker.

“It’s the MDC which has been damaged by the double veto because theirs was an external strategy. Now they will have to engage Mugabe.”

The MDC, whose leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, pushed Mugabe into second place in the first round of voting but boycotted a run-off last month, has been pushing for greater UN and AU involvement in the mediation process.

Tsvangirai has previously called for Mbeki’s removal as mediator and more recently asked for both AU and UN mediators to get involved in a thinly-disguised bid to sideline the South African. But with the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), a 14-nation regional bloc, continuing to put its faith in Mbeki’s efforts, the MDC has had no option but to participate in preliminary talks with Mugabe’s Zanu PF party under the South African-led mediation.

South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad dismissed the idea of anyone else taking over from Mbeki, and called US criticism of the his leaders kid-gloves approach to Mugabe “unacceptable”.

“Our view has always been, and I am stressing it, we are being diverted by a fake argument about the expansion of the Sadc facilitation,” Pahad told reporters.

“I don’t believe that at this very crucial moment, adding new bodies, simply to sit in the same room, is what is required,” he added.

Mugabe’s camp, meanwhile, has shown it is more than happy for any mediation process to be led by Mbeki, with Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu praising him as an African leader “par excellence as he has not yielded to international pressure and to the machinations of the West”.

Lovemore Madhuku, a pro-opposition commentator, acknowledged that Mugabe was emerging as the winner of the recent diplomatic challenges.

“The international community is actually not succeeding against Mugabe and has created so many opportunities for Mugabe to be seen as if he is scoring some sort of victory,” said Madhuku.

With the Mbeki mediation the only show in town, Madhuku said that it gave Mugabe the ideal opportunity to offer the MDC a token role in government that he knows it would reject and thus enable him to stay in power.

“I think he is going to make offers to the MDC, which the MDC is going to reject,” said Madhuku.

“And if that happens Mugabe might win more friends (by making the MDC appear) unreasonable, unrealistic.” — AFP.

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