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South Africa, Zimbabwe in behind the scenes talks

by Staff reporter
06 Sep 2023 at 18:56hrs | Views
The South African government and the governing ANC under President Cyril Ramaphosa are engaged in new secret talks with Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa's freshly-minted administration to resolve the neighbouring country's protracted, simmering and complex problems destabilising the region.

Zimbabwe's problems are also fuelling social discontent south of the Limpopo River, in South Africa.

This comes in the aftermath of Zimbabwe's recent sham elections rejected by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and some influential international election observers.

The latest charade of flawed elections has become a new catalyst for engagement in Zimbabwe.

Further, renewed engagement on Zimbabwe led by South Africa comes ahead of the country's 2024 elections that are a do or die for Ramaphosa and the ANC who are now fast-losing popular support amid social unrest due to governance and economic problems at home.

The South African situation is worsened by the damaging ripple effect of the intractable crisis north of Limpopo River.

Various sources have told The NewsHawks that South Africa and Ramaphosa are now under renewed pressure from growing internal problems and a tireless international diplomatic lobby to decisively tackle the Zimbabwe situation.

Further information emerged yesterday when confusion broke out over Zimbabwean academic Professor Ibbo Mandaza's planned public lecture at the ANC-affiliated OR Tambo School of Leadership.

Mandaza is scheduled to deliver the timely address under the topic: The State of Democracy in the Sadc Region: A Reflection of the National Elections in Zimbabwe, to a wide regional audience.

The invite says Mandaza will deliver the lecture on Thursday.

However, a letter apparently  written by ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula to the Principal of OR Tambo School of Leadership David Masondo emerged saying the lecture has been postponed as the ANC leadership is locked in "delicate engagements regarding the situation in Zimbabwe".

The letter says if the address  goes ahead now on an ANC platform, which OR Tambo School of Leadership is, that would "complicate these initiatives".

To avoid that, the address must be delayed, it says.

But a statement issued by the OR Tambo School of Leadership after the letter was leaked says the lecture is going ahead.

Mandaza is a proponent of a transitional authority in Zimbabwe to break the deadlock.

The development reveals a tussle on the issue within the ANC political axis.

Yet the cat is now out of the bag: Ramaphosa and Mbalula who were in Harare on Monday for Mnangagwa's inauguration are privately pressuring Zanu-PF  for a new deal in Zimbabwe to fix the country's problems and stop a spillover into their own struggling economy, especially ahead of their own elections.

The deal involves an inclusive governance framework taking into account various political and civil society formations, especially the main opposition CCC led by Nelson Chamisa.

Both Zanu-PF and CCC, which are battered by the gruelling election battle, want to talk.

Zanu-PF hardliners don't want to, fearing being sidelined from the patronage feeding trough but they they in the minority.

The CCC is eager, even though not happy with how Ramaphosa and Mbalula have been handling the Zimbabwe situation, especially labelling them "puppets of the West".

Yet in a bid to prove good faith and restore some confidence to engage Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF, Ramaphosa and the ANC have gone to the extreme in defending the Harare regime which is under siege for failing to resolve Zimbabwe's crisis following the 2017 coup that ousted the late former president Robert Mugabe.

Ramaphosa and Mbalula have of late been aggressively fighting in Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF's corner to maintain contact with Pretoria and Luthuli House in an attempt to act as an "honest broker" - a contradiction in terms.

The ANC says as a liberation struggle ally of Zimbabwe's liberation movement, initially represented by Zapu and now Zanu-PF, it is firmly on the side of Harare's ruling party.

This makes it impossible for it  to be seen as an honest broker by CCC, but it wants to play that role started by former president Thabo Mbeki before Zimbabwe's Government of National Unity in 2009 at the height of political and economic meltdown amid hyperinflation.

The CCC now seems the ANC as engaging in bad faith, but South Africans think that's a means to an end, not to be whined about too much.

There is a new clamour for Zimbabwe to form a similar arrangement in the aftermath of another disputed election.

The calls for that reverberate in Zimbabwe and the region, as far as Kenya.

Professor Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba has delivered a loud and clear appeal on the issue.

The disputed polls have left Zimbabweans, the region and international community more divided, necessitating a new intervention.

Ramaphosa and Mbalula's approach has angered many sections of Zimbabwean society that feel they are not helping the situation, but complicating things by aiding and abetting Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF misrule, particularly because people don't know what's happening now.

Even those who feel South Africa has a genuine case to broker a deal and complain about immigrants now say by supporting and subsidising Zanu-PF mismanagement for some nebulous diplomatic initiative that is ineffective, Pretoria is now part of the problem - not the solution - and should not complain when immigrants flood its country in new rising waves that are sure to come in months ahead.

In fact, some Zimbabweans say immigrants must now flood South Africa more to make Ramaphosa and Mbalula appreciate the gravity of the problem and act holistically; a cynical approach.

This also increases and justifies Zimbabwean immigrants' sense of entitlement on being in South Africa, which angers poor and marginalised South Africans, the impoverished subaltern that stoke xenophobic fires.

That will almost certainly fuel renewed xenophobic conflict.

Ironically, the ANC has moved to the right on the immigration issue to be anti-immigrants ahead of elections for votes, joining reactionary parties like Gayton Mckenzie's Patriotic Alliance and Herman Mashaba's ActionSA while inflaming the situation through an equally vocal and state-sponsored Operation Dudula.

In the South African diplomatic chessboard, Pretoria thinks the only way to handle Zimbabwe is to keep Zanu-PF and its leaders on the leash through measured secret engagements behind the scenes, with gratuitous public appeasement to ensure private rapprochement.

Although South Africa has huge leverage on Zimbabwe given its economic and military muscle, its capabilities are however not deliverable on this due to its internal lack of capacity and liberation struggle fraternal brotherhood now under challenge from Zambia and other subtle shifts on the balance of forces in this dramatic state of flux.

South Africa's vast economic interests loom large in the whole matrix as the country remains Zimbabwe's biggest trading partner.

Ramaphosa is using Mbeki's controversial quiet diplomacy template in that regard to further Pretoria's economic interests.

This strategy is guided by South African economic interests of the elites which Ramaphosa represents.

Mbeki allowed Mugabe to steal the 2008 presidential election after he had been defeated in the first round of polling by the late main opposition MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai. He even defended Mugabe when he withheld first round results for six weeks, infamously saying there was no crisis in Zimbabwe.

After that Mbeki emerged presenting himself as an "honest broker" and forced Tsvangirai to sign a skewed deal, badly mismanaged by the opposition itself later to give Zanu-PF a new lease of life in 2013.

With Israeli security company Nikuv rigging the elections for millions paid by government, Zanu-PF cruised to a landslide.

Pretoria has been consistent on that. This continued under the brief Kgalema Motlanthe reign and later the Jacob Zuma administration.

Hence, Zuma did not condemn the coup against Mugabe and helped Mnangagwa secure  regional and international acceptance and legitimacy.

Picking from that, Ramaphosa started his own engagement in 2020, sending two missions to Harare that were thwarted by Mnangagwa and his hardliners.

Ramaphosa walked away and let Mnangagwa dig more while sinking in a hole until he was grounded there.

When Mnangagwa became isolated, Ramaphosa came back with a lifeline, making loud pronouncements on sanctions on Zimbabwe.

The recent election rejected by the Sadc election observer mission, with the support of Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema and many others behind the scenes, gave Ramaphosa new leverage.

Hichilema is also chair of the Sadc troika of the organ on politics, defence and security cooperation, a key regional instrument of intervention currently unleashed on Zimbabwe.

South African ally Angola is the Sadc chair, making things earsier. Zambia is also close to South Africa from a historical perspective despite the new shift under Hichilema.

The current contradictions in Sadc provide a new golden opportunity for regional leaders to tackle the Zimbabwe crisis, but only if there is decisive leadership and statemanship which clearly Ramaphosa hasn't offered yet.

Having secured re-election through a sham election and fraud, with many Sadc leaders except three snubbing his much-hyped inauguration, Mnangagwa is vulnerable now and wants to talk.

Ramaphosa knows that and has moved in, but his strategy is questionable.

However, Ramaphosa, a former trade unionist who knows how to bargain, is an experienced negotiator with impressive credentials in that area, having led far much more complex negotiations for a new South Africa and other missions abroad.

Yet Zimbabwe is the biggest test of his presidency in that regard, made all the more difficult by problems back home, with power outages being emblematic of that challenge now back on the regional and international diplomatic radar.

Source - newshawks
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