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Critics have said that Thabo Mbeki’s strategy of quiet diplomacy in Zimbabwe has failed. Mbeki’s ANC and labour ally COSATU are at odds with the South African president’s political strategy.
Professor Adam Habib believes that by appeasing Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, Mbeki has undermined his credibility as a mediator between ZANU-PF and opposition MDC.
The MDC has called for Mbeki to resign as mediator.

Story Transcript

ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: Zimbabwe’s disputed election could claim another casualty. South African President Thabo Mbeki has never openly criticized Mugabe’s policies, favoring what he calls quiet diplomacy, rather than megaphone diplomacy. Quiet diplomacy has been criticized as a failure. Mbeki’s own party, the ANC, and its trade union ally COSATU are at odds with Mbeki’s political strategy. Zimbabwe’s opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, has called for Mbeki to be removed as mediator between itself and Zimbabwe’s ruling party, ZANU-PF. I spoke to Professor Adam Habib, political analyst and a commentator in Johannesburg.

PROF. ADAM HABIB, POLITICAL ANALYST: Thabo Mbeki is careful not to be seen as the representative of the West on the Zimbabwean question. That would allow him to be outmaneuvered in the African context. And he’s wary of being seen to be voicing the same issues that of the UK or the United States is voicing on the Zimbabwean question. So he’s been at pains to distance himself, and it’s really a recognition of the historical enmity of African nationalism to western agendas.That’s the first thing that’s worth bearing in mind. The second is, I think, that one has to ask the question: what is possible for South Africa to do in Zimbabwe? Clearly, we are not in a position to invade Zimbabwe; clearly, the possibility of sanctions could create significant disruptions in Zimbabwean society with adverse consequences for the region. So the big calculation in Mbeki’s head is that he has to play the role of a mediation. And to play the role of a mediation, is required to have open door to ZANU-PF, and that’s only going to happen if he’s careful in his denunciations of ZANU-PF. I think there has been some historical merit. So, for instance, nobody can deny the fact that the relative transparency of this last election in Zimbabwe and the ability of the MDC to call the election has been largely a result of some of the reforms pioneered by Thabo Mbeki. So the fact that each of the polling booths was able to place what the results were for the MDC to be able to make the kind of calculations they did was a reform that was pioneered by Mbeki as part of the mediation efforts. The big dilemma, however, is since the election, Mbeki has been criticized quite severely, and in some senses correctly, because while I can understand him not playing too aggressive a role and undermining his capacity as a mediator, I do not believe he had to appease ZANU-PF in the form that he did. So suggesting that there was no crisis was completely unnecessary; holding Mugabe’s hand when he went into Harari was completely unnecessary. What Mbeki has done is alienate the MDC. So while he might have retained open-door policies with ZANU-PF, he’s undermined his credibility in the eyes of the MDC, and the net result is his role as mediator has been severely undermined. The MDC has now called for his removal as the mediator. By not retaining a relative independence from both sides and by appeasing Mugabe so much, he’s undermined his credibility.


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Professor Adam Habib is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Advancement at The University of Johannesburg. He is the founding Director of The Centre for Civil Society, and was previously appointed to The Human Science Research Council in South Africa. The author of numerous books and papers, he is also a well-known political analyst and commentator on South African television.