PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s election victory was endorsed at the just-ended Sadc summit in Lilongwe, Malawi, only after marathon canvassing by Malawian President Joyce Banda to convince sceptical regional leaders, especially Botswana’s President Seretse Khama Ian Khama, it has been learnt.
Sources told the Zimbabwe Independent — which first reported on Harare and Lilongwe’s deal on elections months ago — that it took Banda three days to canvass support for Mugabe starting with negotiations with the Botswana Foreign Affairs minister Phandu Skelemani culminating in a tense one-on-one meeting between Mugabe and Khama last Sunday.
Up until the summit, Botswana was the lone Sadc country disputing Mugabe’s victory calling for a forensic audit of the polls.
Although Banda might have convinced Khama to engage Mugabe privately in Lilongwe over his misgivings about the Zimbabwe elections process, the Botswana leader was conspicuous by his absence at Mugabe’s inauguration yesterday.
Botswana was represented by its Vice-President Mompati Merafhe and its two former presidents Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae
Sources said Banda kick-started her pro-Mugabe campaign last Friday before the Zimbabwean political leader’s arrival in Lilongwe. Banda told Skelemani she was pushing for Mugabe to assume the post of deputy chair of Sadc.
Banda is said to have told her counterparts that Mugabe’s elevation could only take place if Khama, South African President Jacob Zuma and Mozambican President Armando Guebuza all endorsed Mugabe’s victory and mend ties with him.
“Canvassing continued way into the night after Mugabe’s arrival on Friday with Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) chief Happyton Bonyongwe, outgoing Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa and Foreign minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi meeting Skelemani,” the source said.
The Zimbabwean delegation explained to Skelemani that the Sadc position was to support Mugabe and elevate him to deputise Banda, adding that upon his arrival in Lilongwe, Khama would have to be informed that the rest of the team was backing Mugabe.
Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba said he was not privy to the details of the meeting since it was a one-on-one meeting between the two leaders.
“What I know for a fact is that the meeting was at Khama’s request. However, it was one-on-one; so I’m not privy to the details,” Charamba told the Independent on Wednesday afternoon.
Clearly oblivious of the Malawi-Zimbabwe efforts, when Guebuza arrived he went off-side demanding the Zimbabwe elections saga be placed on the summit agenda.
The grand plan culminated in Mugabe and Khama finally meeting on Sunday morning in a 30-minute closed-door session organised by Banda.
Also in attendance were Bonyongwe, Mumbengegwi, Banda and Skelemani.
“Mugabe reportedly pleaded with Khama to accept his victory and highlighted his contribution to the peaceful climate under which the polls were conducted through his peace campaigns,” the source claimed.
“He (Mugabe) also told Khama that MDC-T’s claims of rigging and intimidation were baseless as demonstrated by the subsequent attempted withdrawal of their court petition.”
Banda reportedly took Mugabe’s side throughout the meeting prompting Khama to agree to withdraw his calls for an election re-run.
Khama, however, called on Mugabe to engage with MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai to ensure continued stability and relative progress ushered in by the four-year uneasy coalition government.
Efforts to get comment from both Chinamasa and Mumbengegwi proved fruitless at the time of going to print.