Mbeki continues to shame South Africa

Our president remained silent yesterday, as the world condemned Mugabe

Yesterday saw a chorus of international condemnation of the Zanu-PF regime, following Morgan Tsvangirai's announcement that the MDC was pulling out of the presidential run-off election scheduled for June 27. President Thabo Mbeki remained silent, as South Africa's diplomats worked to dilute a non-binding UN Security Council resolution on Zimbabwe.

US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice issued a statement condemning in "the strongest terms the Government of Zimbabwe's continuing campaign of violence against its own people. It is abundantly clear that Mugabe is determined to thwart the will of the people of Zimbabwe as so clearly expressed on March 29."

In an address to the House of Commons yesterday British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated, "The international community must send a powerful and united message: that we will not recognise the fraudulent election rigging and the violence and intimidation of a criminal and discredited cabal." In his statement to the House of Commons after Brown had spoken, Foreign Secretary David Miliband noted that:

"By Sunday, only 84 election observers had been accredited [in Zimbabwe], when more than 10,000 had applied. It is also a matter of public record that Morgan Tsvangirai has been detained five times in the last 10 days, and that the secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, Tendai Biti, has been in prison and charged with a trumped-up treason offence since arriving back in Harare. The stage was set for the most rigged election in African history. The failure is not of the opposition but of the Government. Robert Mugabe and his thugs made an election impossible, and certainly made the notion of a free and fair election farcical. It is clear that the only people with democratic legitimacy are those who won the parliamentary majority on 29 March, and who took most votes in the first round of the presidential election, and that was of course the opposition.... We do not - repeat not - recognise the Mugabe Government as the legitimate representative of the Zimbabwean people."

In New York the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told reporters that the "conditions do not exist for free and fair elections right now in Zimbabwe. There has been too much violence, too much intimidation. A vote held in these conditions would lack all legitimacy...The campaign of threat and intimidation we have seen in Zimbabwe goes against the very spirit of democracy. Instead of openness, free competition and transparency, we have witnessed fear, hostility and blatant attacks against Zimbabwean citizens"

He warned added that "what happens in Zimbabwe has importance well beyond that country's borders. The situation in Zimbabwe represents the single greatest challenge to regional stability in Southern Africa today. The region's political and economic security is at stake, as is the very institution of elections in Africa."

British diplomats had drafted a statement for a United Nations Security Council meeting last night condemning "the campaign of violence conducted by the government and sections of the armed forces in Zimbabwe against the political opposition" ahead of the presidential run-off. It had also noted that "until there is a clearly free and fair second round of the presidential election, the only legitimate basis for a government of Zimbabwe is the outcome of the March 29 election."

The Under Secretary General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe told the Council meeting that Zimbabwe had experienced a "staggering degree of violence" following the March 29 elections. He said that although there had been some retaliation by MDC supporters, the vast bulk of the violence had been perpetrated by a combination of the security services, war veterans and youth militias.

Nonetheless, South African diplomats worked to have the draft resolution watered down. The Times (London) reported this morning, "South Africa blocked a British bid to get the 15-nation council to recognise the Zimbabwe opposition's claim to power, based on the results of the March 29 first round." The New York Times reported meanwhile that "South Africa and allies including China and Russia pushed to dilute [the resolution] somewhat."

Thus, the final version did not directly attribute blame for the violence on the Zimbabwean government or recognise the legitimacy MDC's claim to power. It stated instead, "The Security Council regrets that the campaign of violence and the restrictions on the political opposition have made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place on 27 June. The Council further considers that, to be legitimate, any government of Zimbabwe must take account of the interests of all its citizens. The Council notes that the results of the 29 March 2008 elections must be respected."

The statement also included a perverse line, presumably at South Africa's behest, welcoming "the recent international efforts, including those of SADC leaders and particularly President Mbeki." It is a sign of how low international expectations of this country have sunk, that British diplomats thought it "significant" that South Africa acquiesced at all to the statement.

South Africa still seems determined to try and broker a squalid little compromise whereby the "criminal cabal" that has ruined Zimbabwe, looted its wealth, and tortured and killed thousands, will be allowed to continue in power through a government of national unity. Yesterday, our government issued two statements on the situation in Zimbabwe, in an apparent effort to plug the void left by Mbeki's failure to speak out on the situation across the Limpopo.

The one issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs repeated brief remarks Mbeki had made to the press on Sunday that he hoped "that that leadership [in Zimbabwe] would still be open to a process which would result in them coming to some agreement about what happens to their country." In its statement the Presidency reported that Mbeki urged "both the MDC - T and ZANU-PF to work together in search of a solution to the political challenges in Zimbabwe. Only dialogue between the Zimbabwean political leadership can resolve the political challenges with which our neighbouring country is faced."

In the House of Commons yesterday various British MPs voiced their frustration at South Africa's approach towards Zimbabwe. The Conservative Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague asked Miliband, "Have we not also reached the point at which South Africa's willingness to prop up the Government in Harare is harming South Africa's image in the world and when all friends of that country should call on the South African president to live up to his regional responsibilities? There are between 3 million and 4 million Zimbabwean refugees living in neighbouring countries. The latest shocking violence and the economic collapse are expected to create another wave of desperate people fleeing the country."

The Labour MP Kate Hoey meanwhile urged "Her Majesty's Government to stop being quite so nice to President Mbeki of South Africa? Anyone listening to his remarks last night would wonder whether he was on the same planet as many of us."

Miliband was asked by the Conservative MP Nicholas Soames "what he attributes Mr. Mbeki's pathetically inadequate response to this terrible tragedy?" He replied that he did not "want to put myself into the mind of the leader of South Africa. As I said earlier, the burden borne by South Africa from the 2 million-plus refugees from Zimbabwe who are there is reason enough for any country-from self-interest, never mind moral interest-to speak out on the issue."

The great enduring mystery is why Mbeki continues to work in favour of Mugabe and Zanu-PF's interests and against "regime change" in Zimbabwe. After all South Africa has the most to lose from the continued implosion of the Zimbabwean polity, and the most to gain from an MDC-led economic recovery. It also has the leverage with which to effect change in that country.

Still, a related mystery is why the British government for so long subcontracted out its Zimbabwe policy to one T. Mbeki. As this blog noted in August last year, "For the British to place their trust in Mbeki in this way reflects a level of hard-nosed realism similar to that displayed by Ms. Puddleduck when she left all her eggs in the care of the foxy-whiskered gentleman."

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