On Friday our government brought dishonour upon our country. The South African permanent representative to the United Nations, Dumisani Khumalo, voted against a resolution in the Security Council which would have placed an arms embargo on Zimbabwe, and which would also have sanctioned thirteen key Zanu-PF figures - all directly responsible for the horrors we have witnessed over the past few months.
On Saturday the Department of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying that: "South Africa welcomes the decision... not to impose sanctions against Zimbabwe including a travel ban and asset freeze on President Mugabe and other individuals."
Despite Kumalo's vote against it, the resolution garnered the nine out of the fifteen votes it needed. It failed to pass after Russia and China vetoed it. This does not exorcise South Africa from moral responsibility. Our government lobbied against the resolution and provided all the excuses those two states needed to vote the way they did. If we had supported the resolution - or remained neutral - it would have passed.
The proposed resolution demanded inter alia that the Government of Zimbabwe "Immediately cease attacks against and intimidation of opposition members and supporters"; "Begin without delay a substantive and inclusive political dialogue between the parties with the aim of arriving at a peaceful solution that reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people and respects the results of the 29 March elections"; and, "end immediately all restrictions on international humanitarian assistance and support international aid organizations' access to all parts of the country for distribution of food, medical assistance, and other humanitarian aid." [Read full text here.]
It called for the appointment by the Secretary General of a special representative to Zimbabwe who would assist with the negotiation process. And would have required that all member states take "the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to Zimbabwe... of arms or related material of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned."
The resolution would also have obliged member states to "prevent the entry into or transit through their territories" of thirteen named individuals responsible for the repression, abuse of human rights, disrespect for the rule of law, and the undermining of democracy in Zimbabwe. All states would have had to "freeze without delay all funds, other financial assets and economic resources that are in their territories on the date of adoption of this resolution or at any time thereafter, that are owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by these individuals or entities."
As the British envoy to the United Nations John Sawer pointed out, the resolution "would have put some countervailing pressure on the ruling regime, to balance the appalling pressure and intimidation that they continue to exert on the political opposition." Sawer noted that its' scuppering meant the loss of various opportunities:
"We have missed the opportunity to impose a legal obligation on Mr Mugabe's Government to end the violence and intimidation which have scarred Zimbabwe, made normal politics impossible and which is de-stabilising the region... we have missed the opportunity to strengthen the mediation efforts, giving them the full weight of the international community by the addition of a United Nations envoy... we have missed the opportunity to back up South Africa's mediation efforts with something more than words. That is why the Resolution included carefully targeted sanctions, aimed at those who have brought about the current crisis, with a clear message that they would be lifted once an inclusive political settlement is reached; and finally, we have lost an opportunity to impose an arms embargo. The last thing Zimbabwe needs now is more arms." [Full statement]
Most of the anger of Britain and the United States was directed at Russia, which had indicated at the G8 that it would support the resolution but then reneged on this commitment. China, apparently, just followed their lead. However, in comments to the press the US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was also harshly critical of the role played by the South African government.
It was particularly disturbing, he said, for South Africa "to be protecting the horrible regime in Zimbabwe - a regime that is responsible for not only a political crisis, but a humanitarian crisis in the country - and to work with that regime to fragment the opposition to it. There isn't anything serious going on with the negotiations. President Mbeki's effort so far has been a failure." Mbeki, he added, seems to "be working hand-in-glove with [Mugabe] at times." While Mugabe "uses violent means to fragment and weaken the opposition", he said, Mbeki was pursuing the same ends by using diplomacy to foster internal divisions within the MDC.
In his gleeful response to the defeat of the resolution Zimbabwe's Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu confirmed much of Khalilzad's assessment. He told AFP:
"We would like to thank countries that supported us at the United Nations and we would like to tell them that we would not disappoint them as we would address our problems ourselves. We would like to thank President Thabo Mbeki, who is a leader par excellence as he has not yielded to international pressure and to the machinations of the West led by Britain and United States."
For its part a clearly demoralised MDC noted the decision and expressed "its gratitude to countries and organisations that continue to support the Zimbabwean people in their struggle for freedom and stability."
Mbeki's stance was predictable. What was truly disappointing was that COSATU and the new ANC leadership did not press for South Africa to reverse its opposition to the resolution at the UN. If the ANC leadership can order the dissolution of the Scorpions, or the installation of Kgalema Motlanthe as a cabinet minister, then presumably they could have demanded a shift in our government's stance at the UN. They did not even try.
On Friday this website noted that many individuals in the new ANC leadership had come out in support of Mugabe in the early years of the crisis in Zimbabwe, and it remained an open question whether when the same individuals would "support the hard actions - such as targeted sanctions - needed to effect meaningful change in Zimbabwe." On Saturday, the ANC National Executive Committee said that it had had "deep reservations" about the UN resolution and added that "The AU mandated dialogue should be given an opportunity to succeed."
This failure to support real action against Zanu-PF has shown up the new ANC leadership - and to a lesser extent, COSATU (which said nothing) - to be all mouth and no trousers on the Zimbabwe issue. As a result of their inaction weapons can still be legally sold by China to the regime; the money senior Zanu-PF cadres have looted from that country will remain at their disposal; Mbeki will remain sole mediator; the Zimbabwean people have been deprived of hope; and, we have all been shamed.