SINCE South African President Jacob Zuma took over the reins from his predecessor Thabo Mbeki on the mediation in Zimbabwe, many were hopeful that his outspoken approach would precipitate the contesting parties to the GPA into resolving the political logjam in this country.
He has treaded carefully since then ensuring that he is not seen as an appendage of President Mugabe, as Mbeki had become.
President Zuma through his set of negotiators had until last week played the role of arbiter fairly and in a manner Zimbabweans generally respected. But progress has been agonisingly slow for him. His view of the crisis in Zimbabwe now has a broader contest. The soccer World Cup is now just four months away.
Zuma wants to flex a stronger arm to bring finality to the issue. His statements last week have however betrayed the impatience of a leader who now wants the Zimbabwean issues resolved expeditiously even if it means making fatal mistakes in the process of doing so.
Zuma was extensively quoted in the media last week questioning why outstanding issues –– chief among them the contested appointment of the Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono and Attorney-General Johannes Tomana –– were “so fundamental that we cannot move without resolving them”? “Can we park them and proceed?” said Zuma lamely.
Park what and proceed where Mr President?
In addition President Zuma wants an election in Zimbabwe next year because this is what the people of Zimbabwe want. Tsvangirai was quick to respond to this.
“President Zuma cannot push for elections in Zimbabwe,” Tsvangirai told the German Press Agency dpa. “The elections in Zimbabwe will be defined by the GPA. The GPA says after the referendum the president and prime minister will set the date for the election.”
But Zuma’s real motive in trying to park AG Johannes Tomana and RBZ Governor Gideon Gono in a dark corner was revealed in a disclosure by his spokesman Vincent Mangwenya.
“For the sake of the people of Zimbabwe who have suffered a great deal, as well as for the sake of stability in the region, Zimbabwe cannot be in a permanent state of crisis,” Mangwenya said. “The region cannot be consumed by one country for such a long time.”
So this is about the World Cup. To mask this ruse, “people of Zimbabwe who have suffered a great deal” have now been roped in to give his project a sheen of national agitation to resolve the issue.
Indeed Zimbabweans want to see the impasse broken and the GPA implemented to the letter but they are not pushing for shortcuts. There is no doubt that Zuma wants to see the Zimbabwean issue resolved before the World Cup which starts in the middle of the year.
Zimbabwe is a dangerous distraction to the successful hosting of the World Cup. Zuma is therefore avoiding talking about Zimbabwe and blowing the vuvuzela to spur on Bafana Bafana in the same breath.
For the next few months he would be forced to blow the vuvuzela in the direction of Zimbabwe to urge the negotiators to get a positive result quickly. This louder form of diplomacy now replaces Mbeki’s largely discredited quiet diplomacy.
The vuvuzela diplomacy has however started on not so good a note. Zuma is parachuting onto the scene with what I feel is a wrong plan to solve the problem. Blotting Gono and Tomana from the political logjam is not the solution.
Postponing the resolution of the contentious issue does not solve the problem. Time cannot rehabilitate Gono and Tomana in the eyes of Zimbabweans. Critically also, Zuma should realise that this is not just about Gono and Tomana as individuals. It is about what they represent.
They are emblematic of the ghosts that need to the exorcised from the recesses of the government of national unity.
Zuma’s plan to “park them and proceed” is a discredited strategy that resonates with Zanu PF’s declaration that Gono and Tomana are not outstanding issues.
In fact the park-and-proceed plan will soon be adopted and adapted by Zanu PF as the way forward. It is the directive from the mediator, Zanu PF spin doctors would say.
The Zanu PF propaganda mill will soon be feasting on that statement to push an agenda that is not in the spirit of the GPA.
Zuma’s role in the mediation after the park-and-proceed plan could be compromised. The danger is him being accused of speaking the language of Zanu PF which has managed to trivialise the outstanding issues to the extent of making them mere footnotes in the debate.