SOUTH African President Jacob Zuma kept the Zimbabwe issue alive during this weekâ€™sÂ heated Southern African Development Community (Sadc) summit meeting in Kinshasa at which President Robert Mugabe pulled out all the stops to bury the matter.
Zumaâ€™s performance behind the scenes in a club of leaders bound by regional solidarity ensured Zimbabwe remained a burning issue despite spirited efforts by Mugabe to consign it to the backburner.
He raised the issue with the new Sadc chair, DRC President Joseph Kabila as soon as he arrived in Kinshasa on Sunday evening, in his official speech, during protracted closed sessions and in his press briefing shortly before departing on Tuesday night, Â ZumaÂ raised the issue in detailÂ on his report on Zimbabwe in which he said there was need to clear outstanding issues.Â
In the process Zumaâ€™s push gave Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, whose team was unable to mobilise effective support, a new opportunity to re-organise his strategy to fight for more power within the unstable inclusive government.
Diplomatic sources close to Zumaâ€™s delegation said Pretoria was convinced the Zimbabwe impasse could be cracked if there was a sustained and measured push on the outstanding issues. They said Mugabe could be moved on some remaining issues, although the weak link was that Tsvangiraiâ€™s hand inÂ government was not strong enough to help the concerted effort to force his rival to budge.
Sources said this was Zumaâ€™s conclusion when he visited Harare and held talks with leaders of the coalition government last month. He even insinuated in the meeting with Tsvangirai and MDC leaders the problem was that the power relations â€“ upon which the resolution of dispute hinges on â€” still favoured Mugabe who relies on the army, police and intelligence services for backing.
Sources said Mugabe frantically lobbied to block Tsvangirai and the MDC in Kinshasa by appealing to his allies in the region to ensure Zimbabwe was not on the Sadc official agenda. They said Mugabe roped in his traditional allies from Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Swaziland and DRC. Kabila, who was helped by Zuma to organise the summit, only dealt with the Zimbabwe issue in his press conference after the closure of the summit.
Sources said Mugabe also benefited by default from theÂ absence of leaders from Angola, Tanzania, Mauritius and Seychelles. These countries, including Malawi, were represented by foreign ministers who had limited leverage to push a head of state.
South Africa and Botswana â€” which stood firm in Tsvangiraiâ€™s support â€” wanted the Zimbabwe issue discussed and resolved once and for all. DRC, Lesotho and Madagascar, which is suspended, are however compromised as they are also considered trouble spots in the region. Â
Sources said that was why Mugabe managed to prevent Botswana from coming into the Sadc organ on politics, defence and security whereÂ President Ian Khama would have given him problems.Â Sadc leaders demanded that Khama and Mugabe beÂ excluded from the organ due to their war of attrition.
The Sadc organ is chaired by Mozambican President Armando Guebuza who is close to Zanu (PF) than the MDC, while Kabila, a Mugabe ally, chairs the summit. Next year Mugabeâ€™s allies, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba and Malawian President Bingu Wa Mutharika are taking over critical positions. Pohamba will be Sadc chair, while Wa Mutharika might be AU chair. Â
Despite Mugabeâ€™s manoeuvres, sources said Zuma pushed the Zimbabwe issue via other channels. The problem for Zuma, diplomats said,Â was that there seems to be anÂ agreement between Mugabe and Tsvangirai that the inclusive government was working.
Senior MDC officials are getting increasingly uncomfortable with Tsvangiraiâ€™s line. This started mainly during Tsvangiraiâ€™s visit in June to Europe and the United States and has been fuelling the MDCâ€™s below the surface succession struggle. When Tsvangirai returned from Europe and the US, the MDC released a statement which rebuffed everything he had said during the trip.
The MDCâ€™s position paper submitted to Zuma during his visit to Harare and which was also updated for the Sadc summit paints a picture that there are far more problems in the inclusive government than Mugabe and Tsvangirai, who meet every Monday to discuss government issues, have admitted.
The MDCâ€™s series of issues in dispute include the chairing of cabinet, Constitutional Amendment (N0. 19) Act, rule of law and selective application of the law including arrests and detentions of MPs, provincial governors, appointments of Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono and Attorney General Johannes Tomana, swearing-in of deputy Agriculture minister Roy Bennett and general issues of political reforms. The issue of Zimbabweâ€™s purported withdrawal form the Sadc Tribunal, which Zuma confirmed was discussed, has also become explosive. Â
Zanu (PF) is largely complaining about sanctions and foreign radio broadcasts.
On his arrival in Kinshasa, Zuma went to a meeting Kabila. â€œI discussed with him the agenda of the summit and outstanding issues which needed to be focused on,â€ Zuma told journalists.
Zuma also mentioned Zimbabwe in his official speech, calling for the removal of remaining â€œobstaclesâ€. He gave Tsvangirai a hearing when other Sadc leaders were slippery.Â Tsvangirai said he was pleased with Zumaâ€™s â€œspeedy familiarisation and energy with which he applied himself to the Zimbabwe issueâ€.
Zuma told journalists at the end of the summit at his Guest House that issues, including the Sadc Tribunal matter, were raised with Mugabe â€œfranklyâ€ and Sadc leaders â€œdemanded quicker implementationâ€ of the agreement.
Dumisani Muleya in Kinshasa