PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is panicking over the extraordinary Sadc elections summit on Zimbabwe postponed from Sunday to a date yet to be announced following his anxious plea to the Sadc facilitator, South African President Jacob Zuma and his regional colleagues, to give him more time to put his house in order, it has emerged.
Owen Gagare/Faith Zaba
Diplomats said this week after failing to convince Sadc leaders the summit was unnecessary as there is now relative peace and stability before elections, Mugabe was under pressure over regional efforts to come up with a final roadmap to ensure free and fair polls at their next summit.
One Sadc diplomat said Mugabe — who was still out of the country by yesterday — spent the last 48 hours frantically trying to get the meeting postponed to give himself more time to prepare his defences ahead of the do-or-die summit.
“President Mugabe communicated with President Zuma, asking for the summit to be postponed and after extensive consultations, it appears the meeting will be held next week,” the diplomat said.
“President Zuma consulted widely because this is a critical meeting which every Sadc leader is expected to attend.”
Spokesperson of South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Co-operation, Clayson Monyela yesterday confirmed the summit had been postponed, but could not give the reasons and new dates.
Sadc executive secretary Tomaz Salomao said yesterday Zuma was still consulting to secure a quorum before new dates could be announced.
“We are still consulting so that we get a quorum. A statement will be issued on the issue,” he said.
Mugabe, who used to rule the roost in Sadc, was reportedly arm-twisted by Zuma and other regional leaders during the Sadc meeting held on the sidelines of the recent African Union general assembly in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on May 26 to accept an extraordinary summit to assess the situation in Zimbabwe before elections.
Diplomatic sources say the next meeting would be crucial, particularly after the Constitutional Court (Concourt) ruling ordering Mugabe to proclaim dates for elections by July 31, a development which dramatically raised the stakes ahead of the summit.
The sources say, fearing he would be cornered over the preparations for elections and the dates issues, Mugabe sought to delay the summit to mobilise his allies in the region, who mainly include Zambia, Malawi and Namibia. The other countries are allied to South Africa.
They say Mugabe is strongly against the summit as he does not want scrutiny before the crucial elections. After the Addis Ababa meeting, he returned home claiming the next summit will be limited to elections funding issues, a position Zuma and other leaders have rejected insisting it would take stock of the environment, looking into the Global Political Agreement (GPA), elections roadmap and reforms ahead of polls.
Diplomatic sources said Mugabe, who left the country for the Tokyo International Conference for African Development on Tuesday last week and is only expected back today, contacted Zuma on Wednesday requesting postponement. Mugabe’s call triggered a flurry of meetings and consultations both in Zimbabwe and throughout the region, culminating in Sadc leaders agreeing to postpone the summit.
“Mugabe contacted Zuma and told him he was not ready for the summit and needs time to receive briefings and consult over a number of issues, including the implications of the Concourt ruling. He basically said he was not ready for the summit and asked him to communicate with other regional leaders,” said a diplomat.
“Zuma then phoned his political advisor Charles Nqakula, who got in touch with negotiators from other parties to hear their views. After consulting other regional leaders, Mugabe was initially given 24 hours to prepare, but he said he could not make it.”
Sources said Zanu PF then wrote a formal letter to Sadc yesterday requesting for more time to prepare for the summit.
“President Zuma is still consulting to try and find a suitable day for the summit, which most heads of state and government are comfortable with. From what we have been briefed so far, it seems the Sadc leaders have domestic commitments between Monday and Wednesday. Remember these leaders were also in Japan with Mugabe,” said the diplomatic source.
Mugabe’s postponement request came at a time Zuma’s facilitation team was in the country to meet negotiators, the co-chairs of the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee and Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to assess the country’s preparedness for polls.
The spokesperson for the facilitation team, Lindiwe Zulu, this week said Sadc was still insisting on the full implementation of the GPA and the election roadmap despite the Concourt ruling.
Zimbabwe is still struggling with election preparations.