HomeCommentCandid Comment: Zuma’s speculative silent diplomacy

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PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma is a man of few words.  This would perhaps explain the brevity of his press statement at the end of his two-day visit to Zimbabwe, a visit that was intended to ensure a resolution of Zimbabwe’s inclusive government’s problems.  He also decided, true to fashion, not to field any questions from the eager press corps that had been patiently waiting to hear something substantive from the Sadc-appointed facilitator.
But perhaps apart from his lack of a willingness to talk to anyone other than the three political principals, Zuma went one further than his predecessor Thabo Mbeki.  He went from quiet diplomacy to the previously unexplored waters of “speculative and silent” diplomacy.  And in saying this I am not attempting an immediate comparison of the style or substance of either Zuma or Mbeki.
But given the character of the nearly three-year mediation in Zimbabwe’s political crisis, Zuma, like Mbeki, cannot escape criticism, even though he has not as yet asked that now infamous question: “Crisis? What crisis?”
I have referred to Zuma as having brought into my mind a new phrase, that of “speculative and silent” diplomacy.  And this is primarily for a number of reasons.  The first being that given the hype about his visit to Harare, and for two days at that, public expectations of either finality or concrete progress on outstanding issues were high. These expectations were also in anticipation of firm leadership vis-à-vis his facilitator’s role.  Depending on which side of the political divide one is on, this role would have been either that he firmly reins in President Robert Mugabe or alternatively assuages Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. 

Well, given the short nature of his statement, as well as its vagueness, Zuma did not assert that expected leadership. This is not to say diplomacy is about stamping your foot down, but surely something to that effect was needed. But perhaps this would be to expect too much of the president of another country.
And because one cannot realistically have expected messianic feats by Zuma over a Zimbabwean problem, analysis must therefore focus on the full import of what in my view is “speculative and silent” diplomacy.
In reading Zuma’s statement, the reference that is made to a “package of measures to be implemented concurrently as per the decision of the Sadc troika in Maputo”, without even as much as hinting what this is or at least what this means is potentially beyond even the phrase “speculative”. If it means we are back in Maputo Zuma’s visit was therefore unnecessary. Further still the vague belief that Zuma expresses in the implementation of a “package of measures” that no one apart from the political parties know about is puzzling. 
Assuming that there is a package that is reasonable in the view of the political parties, the fact that it has to be discussed on three days (March 24, 26, 29 and 31) speculatively assumes that whatever was agreed while he was here will hold firm.  But given the character of the Zimbabwean negotiators it is unlikely they will carry through what Zuma wants, even over the days announced.
The silent diplomacy component of Zuma’s visit and statement is to be found in the secrecy of both the talks and their outcome.  In previous negotiations where the facilitator has been in attendance, the secrecy would have been confined to the process of the talks.  Following these, there would have been a somewhat elaborate statement on the results of these talks and journalists would have been permitted to field questions. In Zuma’s instance, secrecy was both during the process as well as in his final statement.  Even when the political parties meet on the designated days, it is evident that they will take a leaf from Zuma’s conduct.  And perhaps we will never know what the “package” entails until the next Sadc summit. 
In the final analysis, Zuma’s latest round of direct mediation in Zimbabwe’s crisis was primarily impolitic.  This is because the facilitator did not in any way seek to demonstrate his understanding of the political expectations of his role to the Zimbabwean people.  It may be agreed that many Zimbabweans never had confidence in the talks, but surely they have come to accept them as necessary together with at least limited feedback from the facilitator.  Zuma did not account to anyone but the political parties; neither did he demonstrate a sense of urgency for the Zimbabwean public to have confidence in his ability to bring matters to a head. But perhaps that is his business, and he is particularly under no obligation to ingratiate himself with the people of Zimbabwe.
Whatever the secrets over what happened during his visit, he has indeed allowed students of international relations to begin to worry whether their lecturers will introduce a new assignment question: “Speculative and silent diplomacy”. Discuss.

Takura Zhangazha is a Harare-based political analyst.


Takura Zhangazha

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