Zuma complicit in quiet diplomacy - DA

Opposition documents ANC president's longstanding support for Mbeki on Zimbabwe

Recently, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote a vociferous article attacking President Mbeki's approach to Zimbabwe in particular, and South Africa 's human rights record under Mbeki in general. In it, Gerson revealed that, in April this year, President Mbeki had written a vicious letter to American President George W. Bush - "a text packed with exclamation points" - in which he "criticised the United States ... for taking sides against President Robert Mugabe's government and disrespecting the views of the Zimbabwean people."

The article typifies much of the anger and confusion that people (both here and abroad) feel regarding Mbeki and his attitude to the ever-worsening situation in Zimbabwe . Towards the end, Gerson included the following paragraph:

" Zimbabwe is the most pressing case in point - reflecting a political argument within South Africa and a broader philosophical debate. The labour movement within the ANC, led by Jacob Zuma, is close to the opposition MDC in Zimbabwe (which also has labour roots) and is highly critical of Mbeki's deference to Mugabe. Zuma's faction has provided planes to transport MDC leaders. The labour faction of the ANC is using the Zimbabwe crisis to argue that Mbeki is ‘yesterday's man' - indifferent to the cause that gave rise to the ANC itself."

It is a paragraph indicative of a narrative that exists in certain circles - one no doubt fuelled by a deep desire to believe that Jacob Zuma is different to Thabo Mbeki; that, at heart, he is not a demagogue but a democrat and that, when it comes to issues like Zimbabwe, his approach will differ fundamentally from that of Thabo Mbeki's.

Those who subscribe to this belief (the term ‘belief', as opposed to a ‘view' or ‘analysis', is more accurate as the evidence does not support it) attach much weight - certainly much more than is deserved - to any statement made by Zuma which might be in any way interpreted as critical of Robert Mugabe, in a desperate attempt to believe that, somewhere beneath his populist exterior, there exists a true democrat, who will put human rights and rule of law above party political solidarity in a way President Mbeki has never been prepared to do.

This week, for example, Jacob Zuma told Reuters that "I think we'll be lucky if we have a free election" [in Zimbabwe ] and, when asked if he thought the vote would be fair, Zuma replied "I don't think so". It is true that this certainly represents a break with Zuma's past utterances on Zimbabwe, but it is highly unlikely that it will result in any meaningful change in policy, given how deeply entrenched his support is for ZANU-PF, Robert Mugabe and silent diplomacy. More likely, it is simply further evidence of Zuma's political filp-flopping, as he continues to try and be all things to all people.

In short, those who think - or want to believe - that Zuma differs from Mbeki on Zimbabwe are wrong. An examination of the evidence reveals that Jacob Zuma is not only complicit in Thabo Mbeki's approach to Zimbabwe - and, in turn, the consequences of its failure to address the crisis in that country - but, indeed, one of its staunchest defenders.

He has defended silent diplomacy and President Mbeki to the hilt; sought to legitimise and justify rigged elections; expressed his support for Robert Mugabe; feigned ignorance about the extent of the country's meltdown; and, without fail, refused to condemn or recognise the systematic destruction of Zimbabwean democracy, and the rise and actions of the tyrant behind it. Below this article there follows a comprehensive list of Jacob Zuma's key statements on Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe, the vast majority of which are drawn from his response to questions in the National Assembly - one of the rare occasions where a prepared text can be interrogated. They speak for themselves and, together, represent a fairly comprehensive set of evidence in support of this argument, thus there is no need to repeat much of what is set out below here.

Nevertheless, it is worth analysing the general attitude that has informed those positions. By doing so, one gets a very lucid idea of what Jacob Zuma feels about the situation in Zimbabwe and what form government's approach, under his watch, might take.

First, it is quite clear that Zuma fully endorses and supports silent diplomacy, and his recent interview with the Financial Times makes it quite clear that, should he become President, the policy would not change:

"...the policy of the ANC is what we have done in Zimbabwe . Because what has been done in Zimbabwe, many people think it was just Mbeki, but we discussed the matters about Zimbabwe and he was implementing what the ANC had decided we needed to do."

Not only would the policy continue, for reasons elaborated on below, but Zuma clearly believes it to be a remarkably successful approach. Indeed, in that self-same interview, Zuma even went so far as to argue that, "nobody in the world can say they have done better on Zimbabwe [than South Africa]" - a statement as remarkable as it is disturbing.

So, what does this mean? There is a strong case to be made that the biggest problem with the policy of silent diplomacy is not the strategy in and of itself, but the attitude that underlies it - party political solidarity. The ANC and Zuma himself often imply that silent diplomacy is just the means through which the ANC pursues democratic ends, but that is disingenuous. The ANC's relationship with ZANU-PF is one that trumps a commitment to human rights and democratic values (if one considers that Zuma places the ANC above South Africa 's Constitution, why would the ANC not place party political solidarity with ZANU-PF above democratic elections and principles?).

Here again, Zuma's own track record speaks for itself. He has said about Robert Mugabe: "...The people love him. So how can we condemn him?"; after being sent by Mbeki himself to oversee the 2002 Presidential election, Zuma was one of the first to endorse the election - clearly rigged in favour of the ruling party - describing it as "legitimate, valid, free and fair"; and as the atrocities of the Mugabe regime have systematically escalated and the country's fortunes plummeted, so Zuma has feigned ignorance at every turn: "...If I were to ask a question, it would be: What is it about Zimbabwe that makes everybody feel so agitated? I do not know."

This then, is the crucial point: it is not a commitment to ensuring a democratic outcome that underlies silent diplomacy, or the attitude of Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma towards Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe, but allegiance to a political party it describes as "progressive" and a tyrant it embraces as a struggle icon.

In the face of such a strong bond, one is forced to ask: what real chance do the negotiations under President Mbeki's leadership have? And, perhaps more pertinently, what prospect is there of a change in direction under a Zuma Presidency?

On the evidence, the answer in each case is a bleak one.


2000: On Mbeki's approach to Zimbabwe :

"The President of this country has taken a stand. Firstly he said that he was engaged in opening up discussion through the diplomatic channels. That was his first statement on the Zimbabwe issue. He has moved to become part of the process of finding a solution in Zimbabwe...Now I do not know why we should insist on saying that South Africa has not taken any position....In practice, we are, in fact, engaged to defuse and solve the problem. Our President is not about to do political propaganda. He is about to ensure that things are done. He has moved....I think that to keep on raising the issue, in a sense, exposes some political interest other than the interest of our region."

(HANSARD; [17 May 2000]; Column 1696.)

2000: On what Zimbabwe and silent diplomacy has done for President Mbeki's credibility:

"All I know is that the President of this country, since his election, has grown in stature in the world. He is the leading President on the continent, and is invited by all international organisations to come and put the views of the country and of the continent... In our view, our President today is towering. He is, in fact, at the level of presidents in the developed countries. He has brought innovation in the debates that have taken place... Indeed, he has attracted investments to this country, because he has been recognised as a serious thinking President and head of state who knows exactly what he is doing."
(HANSARD; [4 October 2000]; Columns 3724 - 3726)

2000: On criticising Robert Mugabe:

"...it is not in my nature to correct, run and monitor presidents of other countries. It is not the duty of this country to do so... If South Africa were to comment on every other president in the world, I am sure we would be a mad country."
; [1 November 2000]; Column 4334.)

2002: On the 2002 Zimbabwean Presidential Election:

"This election was legitimate, valid, free and fair."
(SAPA-AFP; [15 March 2002]; " Summit in London to weigh Zimbabwe 's suspension from Commonwealth".)

2002: On Robert Mugabe's 2002 victory:

"Amandla!" "We sent observers here, who were observing each and every detail. They have reported... the elections were legitimate, are valid. They were free and fair and we have got to respect that."
(Daily Telegraph
; [15 March 2002]; "South African deputy hails Mugabe victory".)

2002: On following the lead of other countries, who have acted to protect their citizen's interests in Zimbabwe :

"The hon. member has a problem, a very serious and arrogant problem of thinking that one can move from one country and run the affairs of other countries. That is very arrogant. The South African Government cannot go to some country and say: why are you mistreating this particular farmer? Where has the hon. member ever heard that? He can say that if he is not running any country. He has no responsibility and that cannot happen... we have a problem because the hon. member wants us to emulate France and Germany . We cannot do that. We cannot do that. We are South Africa and we will remain South Africa , with our clear policies on how to relate to other countries."
(HANSARD; [11 September 2002]; Column 3272 - 3276.)

2002: On standing up for democratic principles and values:

"I can tell the hon. member that if, one day, any country tries to suggest how South Africa must run its affairs, we would have a serious problem with that country. We cannot do that. That is very clear. We cannot help that hon. member. We cannot go to Zimbabwe and tell Zimbabweans to do this and not do that. That is not our duty. That is not what we were elected to do. We were elected to run South Africa not Zimbabwe ."

(HANSARD; [11 September 2002]; Columns 3272 - 3276.)

2002: On standing up for the democratic principles contained in the African Charter on Human Rights:

"... South Africa has done something that other countries have not done: it has engaged the Zimbabwean government in quiet diplomacy. The [African Charter on Human Rights] guides us on how we should handle our affairs in the continent. I am sure that it should be left to the country that will take action to reach a point where it feels it is necessary to take that particular action with regards to that charter."

(HANSARD; [11 September 2002]; Columns 3272 - 3276.)

2002: On whether the problems in Zimbabwe have reached a critical point (six years ago!):

"If South Africa has not reached that point and if it is engaging Zimbabwe , and if it has not come to the point that it should do that, why should it do it? There is no reason why we can do it when we are not convinced we have reached that time. As I say, we have been engaging Zimbabwe and we have not come to a point where we have to look at that charter. We think that the manner in which we are dealing with Zimbabwe , at the moment, is sufficient."

(HANSARD; [11 September 2002]; Columns 3272 - 3276.)

2002: On the problems in Zimbabwe :

"...If I were to ask a question, it would be: What is it about Zimbabwe that makes everybody feel so agitated? I do not know. Let us deal with the matters without mentioning Zimbabwe , and mention Zimbabwe when it is necessary."

(HANSARD; [13 November 2002]; Column 5036.)

2004: On the effectiveness of silent diplomacy:

"I don't think South Africa could do more than what it is doing in terms of engaging Zimbabweans to discuss the issues that affect Zimbabwe and which, in the final analysis, will have to be resolved by the Zimbabweans... We believe that progress has been made in that direction. So, insofar as Zimbabwe is concerned, we are certain that perceptions will be dealt with or addressed very soon."

(HANSARD; [25 February 2004]; Column 117.)

2005: On criticising the Mugabe regime:

"...we are not in the business of condemning countries because it is not our business to run other countries."

(HANSARD; [2 March 2005]; Column 54 - 57.)

2005: On the possibility that the 2006 Zimbabwean elections might not be free and fair:

"[Inviting observer missions] clearly is an intention of a country that is preparing to have free and fair elections, that wants its neighbours and everybody else to come and observe. I do not know why we should be talking about the elections, that they are not free and fair when they have not happened. I do not know. I absolutely do not know."

(HANSARD; [2 March 2005]; Columns 54 - 57.)

2006: On Robert Mugabe:

"...The people love him. So how can we condemn him?"

(Der Spiegel; [20 December 2006]; "‘The West is bent out of shape'".)

2008: On who is responsible for silent diplomacy:

"...the policy of the ANC is what we have done in Zimbabwe . Because what has been done in Zimbabwe, many people think it was just Mbeki, but we discussed the matters about Zimbabwe and he was implementing what the ANC had decided we needed to do."

(Financial Times; [6 March 2008]; "Jacob Zuma interview".)

2008: On how effective silent diplomacy has been:

"And I can tell you, nobody in the world can say they have done better on Zimbabwe than us. Because nobody can produce any report of any significance as to what it is they have done to help Zimbabwe out of the problem. Some will tell you they've applied sanctions - have they helped? Some will say, we have condemned him - has it helped? We engaged with Zimbabweans, partly precisely because of that concern that we knew that to us, the Zimbabwean issue was not remote."

(Financial Times; [6 March 2008]; "Jacob Zuma interview".)

This article first appeared on a newly launched Democratic Alliance weblog "The Real ANC Today" June 20 2008