Diplomatic sources said this week the potential row pits President Robert Mugabe’s Sadc allies against those who support Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mugabe usually resists having Zimbabwe on the agenda of such meetings, while Tsvangirai wants it to be discussed.
A similar battle erupted last year just before the Sadc summit in Kinshasa on September 7-8.
Mugabe is said to have an edge on the issue as the incoming Sadc chair, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, is his ally just like current chair, DRC President Joseph Kabila. Throughout his one-year tenure, Kabila did not significantly step up efforts to resolve the Zimbabwe situation. He was not even there at the extraordinary summit of the Sadc organ on politics, defence and security in Maputo on November 5 last year although he later attended the double troika of Sadc heads of state and government in Maputo on January 14. Madagascar and Zimbabwe were discussed at that summit.
Kabila only sent his special envoy for Sadc affairs Leon Jean Ilunga Ngandu to Harare.
Zimbabwe has moved into the Sadc spotlight and up the agenda ahead of the bloc’s summit in Windhoek from August 16-17 because of the endless power struggles within the inclusive government and its failure to fulfil the Global Political Agreement (GPA) which led to the formation of the coalition regime last year in February.
Ministers connected to the directorate of the organ on politics, defence and security meet in Maputo from August 3-6 to discuss the regional situation and prepare for the Sadc summit. Zimbabwe could use that platform to ensure nothing is discussed about Harare affairs in Windhoek.
To show that he was no longer under regional pressure, a top Sadc diplomat said Mugabe was actually pushing to either go into the troika of the organ on politics, defence and security or the troika of the summit which would then allow him to host the next Sadc meeting.
Mugabe was humiliated in 2002 after a disputed presidential election when Sadc leaders refused to allow him to host their summit due to the political and economic crisis engulfing the country. Tanzania stepped in and hosted the summit in 2003.
Sources said Zimbabwe could be removed from the Sadc summit agenda which includes Madagascar and Lesotho. The Democratic Republic of Congo situation is also on the Sadc radar.
“There is an attempt by Mugabe and his allies to ensure Zimbabwe is not on the Sadc summit agenda,” a top Sadc diplomat said. “The pretext being used is that the economic and political situation has now stabilised.
“The other excuse is that the political principals of the inclusive government resolved a number of outstanding issues last month. However, the problem is now the issue of the appointment of new ambassadors.”
Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara last month discussed the report of their political party negotiators and compiled their own report outlining areas of agreement and disagreement. The report, sent to Zuma, indicated that most of the outstanding issues had been dealt with except three – the swearing-in of Roy Bennett and the appointment of Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono and Attorney-General Johannes Tomana.
However, just as progress was being made, Mugabe pulled a shocker last week when he re-assigned diplomats at the country’s foreign missions in different countries without consulting Tsvangirai as required by the GPA. This followed a similar appointment of judges without consultation.
Mugabe made at least seven diplomatic appointments without consulting Tsvangirai despite the fact that the constitution now requires him to make “key appointments” in terms of the constitution and any Act of Parliament “in consultation with” the prime minister.
The issue of whether Zimbabwe would be on the agenda in Windhoek would be a test of diplomatic savvy between Mugabe and Tsvangirai.
Mugabe and his allies last year succeeded in getting Zimbabwe off the official agenda in Kinshasa although South African President Jacob Zuma, as Sadc chairperson, raised the issue in his official opening address behind closed doors and in a briefing with journalists at his presidential guest house quarters after the meeting.
Zuma’s push led to the holding of an extraordinary Sadc troika of the organ on politics defence and security meeting in Maputo on November 5 last year to discuss the Zimbabwe issue. The meeting saved the inclusive government from collapse after the MDC-T had withdrawn from government, citing Mugabe’s refusal to address outstanding GPA issues.
The need to finalise the remaining issues and the appointment of ambassadors prompted Zuma to dispatch his special envoy, Mac Maharaj, to Harare this week to meet Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara to try to resolve the disputed issues.
Maharaj met the principals on Wednesday. Tsvangirai’s spokesman James Maridadi confirmed the meeting.
Mutambara was unable to comment yesterday as he was in a meeting. Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba yesterday said he was unable to comment because he has been away at a funeral. Yesterday he was at another funeral, that of Mugabe’s sister, Sabina who died early yesterday morning.
Sources said because the Zimbabwe issue is looming large before the Sadc summit, Zuma himself could visit Harare unless Maharaj brought back positive news.
Zuma was expected to return to Harare to finalise the remaining issues after the African Union summit in Kampala, Uganda, this week.
Zuma was in Harare two weeks ago to pay his condolences to his in-laws, the family of one of the negotiators, Professor Welshman Ncube, who recently lost his father. Zuma’s daughter is married to Ncube’s son.
During his visit Zuma also paid a courtesy call on Mugabe where he apparently indicated he might come back for business before the Sadc summit. — Staff Writer.