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Ramaphosa: Quiet diplomacy 2.0

05 Sep 2020 at 09:32hrs | Views
ZIMBABWE is in turmoil. It is facing the twin political and economic challenges again. Political tensions are high and activists are paying the price. Inflation, while now a bit stagnant, but it is above 700%, the highest in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region. Workers are struggling to meet their basic needs. South Africa once again is trying to help stabilise the situation in its northern neighbour.

Each time things go haywire in Zimbabwe, South Africa had been there to mop up the mess. South Africa has a big population, a staggering 56 million at last count. This is a mammoth figure considering her neighbour's population. Lesotho and Botswana have slightly above two million each, Namibia around 2,5 million, Eswathini 1,3 million, Mozambique 25 million and Zimbabwe around 16 million.

South Africa has the highest white population in Africa more than 5,5 million one in 10 of its citizens. It has the biggest, diversified and most sophisticated economy in sub-Saharan Africa. It is that big that the European Union had a separate economic partnership agreement (EPA) with South Africa while all the remaining Sadc member States were lumped together.

South Africa has developed mining, construction, manufacturing, entertainment, tourism, telecommunications and agriculture industries. It also has relatively the best tertiary education, health, roads and housing facilities in the region or continent. Its economy while sometimes it wobbles still remains among the best emerging markets, hence its esteemed membership of BRICS an economic bloc headlined by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

South Africa's social and economic conditions make it an attractive migration spot. People migrate to it from as far as Ethiopia in the east, Nigeria in the west and the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. It is a miniature version of the United States a land of opportunities. Many Africans migrate to it, building its economy and at the same time stretching it for social services.

Zimbabwe has had a long political and economic relationship with South Africa both in colonial and post-independence period. South Africa is its largest trading partner. Zimbabweans suffering both economic and political challenges find it easier to legally or illegally settle in South Africa. To date, an estimated three million Zimbabweans are estimated to have settled in South Africa.

South Africa feels the strain from any instability in its political and economic turbulent neighbour. More often than not, it has to jump into the fray to stabilise the situation. Post-independence, South Africa first came to Zimbabwe in 2007 after then President Thabo Mbeki the philosopher king asked and got a mandate from Sadc to intervene in Zimbabwe's deteriorating economic and political situation.

Mbeki embarked on "quiet diplomacy" as opposed to "megaphone diplomacy" that the British had adopted towards Zimbabwe. Mbeki would not denigrate the Zimbabwe administration in public, but would behind the scenes nudge it in a good direction.

It took him two years to get Zimbabwe's political parties to talk and hammer out a political settlement global political agreement that helped create a coalition government that ran Zimbabwe between 2009 and 2013.

Mbeki seemed to have realised early that Robert Mugabe, then Zimbabwe's leader, was a proud man. He realised that talking down to Mugabe in public would not help the situation.

Whenever Mugabe felt attacked, he used the public spaces to hit back and hard.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was called a "little bitter bishop", Tony Blair was reminded "to keep his little cold island" and George W Bush was told "United States is not the world prefect".

Enter 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa acted like the big brother to Zimbabwe.

He announced he was sending a fact-finding delegation to investigate the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Ramaphosa made the mistake of calling it special envoys and the Emmerson Mnangagwa administration latched on to it. It refused the envoys to see anyone else.

Ramaphosa had made an elementary mistake unlike Mbeki who sought Sadc mandate to intervene.

Ramaphosa is trying to salvage his dignity, lick his wounds and has made another error of judgment.

On Monday he announced the African National Congress (ANC) was sending a delegation to meet Zanu-PF over issues in Zimbabwe.

This is a stance drawing on filial liberation credentials. He hopes Mnangagwa would this time give him an ear.

The problem with this arrangement is it is refined "quiet diplomacy". This is "quiet diplomacy 2.0", and its effectiveness has never been tested.

The development makes the discussions "private" between two sisterly/brotherly organisations. ANC will not account to the South African government and the opposition in South Africa cannot question progress on the initiative in Parliament.

A smart move, but filled with potential obstacles, especially when the Harare dispensation is not sincere in its dealings.

Hopefully, Ramaphosa learns this quickly and move to have Zimbabwe on the Sadc agenda. Being on the regional agenda gives lots of leverage to his diplomatic efforts, it becomes a regional issue and avoids it being framed as a bilateral issue.

The longer he takes, the more it festers and with the COVID-19 pandemic South Africa is on the edge as its economy slows down and many of its workers thrown into the streets with a local government election looming in 2021.

Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.

Source - newsday
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