HomeCommentCandid Comment: Is Mugabe Concerned About Zuma?

Candid Comment: Is Mugabe Concerned About Zuma?

DOES President Robert Mugabe regard President Jacob Zuma’s state visit to Angola this week with satisfaction or concern?

It would be revealing to know. Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos and Mugabe have so far been major allies in the same camp in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc).


Former South Africa President Nelson Mandela fought bitterly with Mugabe over the latter’s determination to maintain his pre-1994 supremacy in the region, by clinging on to control of Sadc’s crucial security apparatus.

Mugabe was evidently trying to maintain his old Frontline States (FLS) dominance in Sadc, which he was then losing to South Africa, especially to Mandela. And Angola was with him while South Africa became the informal leader of a progressive, democratic camp.

Meanwhile, South Africa and Angola fell out separately over several other issues, including the ruling MPLA’s feeling that the ANC had never thanked it enough for its support during the liberation struggle, South Africa’s anger at Angolan military support to Laurent Kabila to help him conquer President Mobutu Sese Seko (when South Africa was trying to get the two to make peace), and Luanda’s suspicions of South Africa’s efforts to persuade it to make peace with its own rebel enemy, Jonas Savimbi.

Although former South African President Thabo Mbeki warmed towards Mugabe, South Africa’s quarrel with Luanda remained unhealed; the two biggest powers in the region were estranged.

This week Zuma will remedy that with his first state visit. It is possible to speculate freely, along the lines of the infamous Browse Mole Report by South African intelligence analysts that Zuma will be repaying Dos Santos for the help he received in defeating Mbeki for the ANC leadership at Polokwane.

But whether true or not, no such dramatic motive is really necessary to explain the visit. It can be seen as merely rectifying a diplomatic anomaly. And the visit is surely not mainly about Zimbabwe.

As Ayanda Ntsaluba, Director-General of the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, has explained, it is largely about building economic ties, and Zuma will be taking the largest business delegation that South Africa has ever sent abroad. South Africa hopes to get some of the major post-war economic reconstruction business under way in Angola.

South Africa also hopes to persuade Angola to harness its military prowess to Pretoria’s own peacekeeping efforts on the continent (rather, it remains unsaid, than Luanda using its military muscle on freelance adventures).

But if Zimbabwe is not high on the agenda or even officially there at all, it is hard to imagine that it will not be discussed during the visit. Early next month Sadc will hold its annual summit, and reviewing the progress of Zimbabwe’s unity government will be a major item on the agenda.

On the face of it, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change might be alarmed by the rapprochement between South Africa and Mugabe’s erstwhile close ally Angola.

But that assumes Zuma will fall under Dos Santos’s spell. What if the opposite occurs? Zuma has made it clear in private in the past that he disapproves of much of Mugabe’s undemocratic behaviour, though he has so far done nothing in office to confirm that.

Yet two weeks ago he told Tsvangirai that he would take up with Mugabe Tsvangirai’s complaints about Mugabe thwarting the full implementation of the unity government agreement.

Then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated, after meeting Zuma, her satisfaction with the way the Zuma administration was handling Zimbabwe, having said before that she would urge Zuma to curb Mugabe’s “negative influence” on the unity government.

This suggests that Zuma told her he intended taking a tough line with Mugabe. One presumes he would not want to mess with Clinton by offering her vague promises he did not intend to keep. Meanwhile, the Angolan government itself broke ranks with Zimbabwe somewhat last year by criticising the way Mugabe was re-elected. Perhaps Mugabe is also a little anxious about this week’s visit.

lPeter Fabricius is foreign editor of the Independent Newspapers group in SA.

Peter Fabricius

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