Comrade Bob: Part 2
28/03/2008 08:08 - (SA)
Ahead of the March 29 Zimbabwe election, News24 is publishing an extract from William Gumede's Thabo Mbeki and the battle for the soul of the ANC (Zebra Press). In a Chapter called "Comrade Bob", Gumede deals with the issue of SA's quiet diplomacy towards Zimbabwe. This is the second and final part of the chapter.
Re-read Part 1 of 'Comrade Bob'
One of the most serious battles between the two men was over control of SADC's security apparatus.30 Mugabe used his position to justify the sending of Zimbabwean troops to the DRC, and it would not be until 2001 that Mandela's successor finally managed to break Mugabe's stranglehold on the regional alliance.
In truth, relations between the ANC and ZANU-PF had always been tense, even when both were fighting for liberation. The Soviet-backed ANC had a more comfortable alliance with Joshua Nkomo's Soviet-sponsored Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), while the Chinese-sponsored ZANU found common ground with the smaller Pan Africanist Congress. During Zimbabwe's first independent election, the ANC threw its support behind ZAPU. 31 ZANU-PF's victory rankled for a long time, and relations were not improved when Mugabe accused the ANC, during the first few years of his reign, of fomenting opposition to the ZANU-PF government. Hostilities run deep between Mugabe's and Mbeki's parties.
But the Mbeki government believed that if the MDC came to power, an even greater crisis would erupt, possibly even a full-blown civil war on South Africa's doorstep. Zimbabwe's security and intelligence services was packed with ZANU-PF hardliners, Pahad pointed out, and it was not impossible that they would mount a coup against an MDC government. In the interest of avoiding such a scenario, Mbeki had tried to persuade Tsvangirai that talks for a negotiated settlement should include blanket amnesty for Mugabe and his cronies, but the MDC leader was adamant that they would have to return the millions reportedly looted from the state.32
Ideally, the ANC would want to see ZANU-PF and the MDC sharing power, at least in the short term. The concept is not unlike the government of national unity that ruled South Africa in the immediate post-apartheid period, but Mbeki would want such a structure to exclude Mugabe and be led by someone new and moderate. The idea found no favour among ZANU-PF hardliners, for whom it amounted to a solution South Africa was imposing on Zimbabwe.
Mbeki viewed both the MDC and its leader with deep suspicion, questioning the solidity of the party's unity and Tsvangirai's leadership acumen.33 ZANU-PF's propaganda machine had effectively painted the opposition as puppets of the hated 'colonial masters' and, by extension, stooges of South Africa's white conservatives. Other African leaders were also wary of Tsvangirai, whose apparent focus on securing Western support had not struck a chord on his own continent. The image of former colonial powers ruling by proxy was bound to anger those still suffering the consequences of that earlier era.
Based on Tsvangirai's early foreign policy forays, some African leaders were even comparing him with Frederick Chiluba, who came to power in Zambia on the back of the trade union movement, but proved a great disappointment and was eventually accused of mismanagement and cronyism.
To outsiders, the MDC had the look of a one-man show, with prominent figures such as general secretary Welshman Ncube preferring to stay in the background. On occasion, Tsvangirai was his own worst enemy, as when he forged links with the DA and COSATU before trying to build a bridge to the ANC. At other times, the MDC seemed prone to deep internal division.
When Mbeki announced in mid-2002 that the MDC and ZANU-PF were in talks behind the scenes, Tsvangirai strenuously denied that it was so. In fact, talks had indeed been taking place between senior leaders of the two parties, but curiously, Tsvangirai was kept in the dark by his negotiators.
Mbeki's personal distrust of Tsvangirai created a blind spot on Zimbabwe.34 For him, it came down to better the devil he knew and could control - or so he thought - which meant Mugabe and ZANU-PF. The MDC was untested, and Tsvangirai reminded Mbeki of COSATU leader Willie Madisha, whom he had come to regard as a political foe. Importantly, the president was not convinced that if the MDC came to power it would refrain from taking revenge on ZANU-PF hardliners in the security forces and key business sectors, sparking renewed tension.
On visits to Harare, Mbeki pointedly refused to meet with Tsvangirai, other MDC leaders or civil society groups. This in itself was strange, since no matter how much he might have disliked the party or its leaders, there was no escaping the fact that it had commanded almost 45 per cent of the popular vote, even in an election that was almost certainly rigged.
Mbeki's relationship with Tsvangirai improved only in 2004, when it became more evident to Mbeki that the investment he had made in Mugabe would come to nought. Since then, Mbeki has made an extraordinary effort to charm Tsvangirai. It must've worked, for Tsvangirai sang Mbeki's praises in the spring of 2004.
In late 2004, Mbeki persuaded Tsvangirai to participate in Zimbabwe's April elections. The decision by the MDC to do so despite widespread intimidation and rigging by ZANU-PF caused deep divisions in the Zimbabwean opposition movement. From then on, Mbeki began to see the MDC and its leader as a real alternative in Zimbabwe. Ahead of the G8 meeting at Gleneagles, Mbeki met with Tsvangirai and promised greater political support. Towards the end of 2005, Mbeki publicly conceded that his 'quiet diplomacy' was not producing the expected results. This had already been acknowledged earlier by deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahad. However, just when relations between Pretoria and the MDC were starting to warm, an internal challenge against the MDC's leadership threatened to undo this new rapprochement. In 2005, the MDC split, following a dispute over senate elections. A dissident faction elected a new leader to challenge Tsvangirai.
Those who had doubts about Tsvangirai's leadership abilities most probably felt vindicated when the MDC leader went against a democratic decision by the party's National Council to contest the 2005 senate elections. He may have been right, but the MDC's leadership had resolved to participate in the senate elections by democratic vote. Tsvangirai should have abided by their decision. Instead, he defied it. It proved very costly, weakening the party at precisely the moment when Mugabe looked beaten and victory was finally a possibility.
The dissident group elected former student leader Arthur Mutambara, aged forty, to 'replace' Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai had been at the head of the MDC when it was formed in 1999 and when it narrowly lost the 2000 general election (even though it was only nine months old), all in the face of terrible state-sponsored violence. The Mutambara faction contested the disputed senate polls, while the Tsvangirai group refused to do so, saying they could not participate in an election while the majority of Zimbabweans were suppressed. The feuding groups are now working together in an umbrella movement of civil, trade union and opposition groups called the 'Save Zimbabwe Campaign'.
It appears as if Mbeki and the South African government have given up on Zimbabwe, and that a policy paralysis has set in - which is perhaps even worse than 'quiet diplomacy'. The refrain from government officials is 'they should sort themselves out'. The irony is that Mbeki has squandered countless opportunities to make a difference in Zimbabwe.
Senior ANC leaders, especially the leftists and parliamentary caucus members, were not comfortable with Mbeki and Mugabe's meetings in Zimbabwe, which the wily ZANU-PF leader shamelessly exploited as evidence that he was taken seriously by his eminent southern neighbour.35 Conversely, of course, Mbeki's initial refusal to meet the MDC leader was portrayed to Zimbabweans as a sign that South Africa's leader did not take the opposition in earnest.
Mugabe and his state-controlled media used every visit by Mbeki to drum up support and show images of ZANU-PF loyalists surrounding the two men. Mugabe made a point of warmly embracing Mbeki when they met, to demonstrate their 'close' relationship, and Mbeki never publicly objected.
Every well-publicised trip to Harare by Mbeki or members of his cabinet added legitimacy to Mugabe's land grab and brutalisation of his political opponents, but it was left to Dlamini-Zuma to spell out for the world that South Africa would never condemn him: 'It is not going to happen as long as this government is in power,' she said.36
Notwithstanding such lavish support, Mugabe spurned every overture from Mbeki with contempt. At their meetings, Mbeki expressed sympathy with Zimbabwe's land problem, but emphasised that it had to be resolved in accordance with the rule of law; he explained that the land issue was starting to have an adverse effect on investor sentiment throughout the region; he told Mugabe that he was under enormous pressure to apply punitive sanctions against Zimbabwe. Mugabe would mouth predictable agreements and then, like a wilful child, revert to his unacceptable behaviour as soon as his visitors had departed.
Mbeki was conveying the same messages during private meetings with key members of Mugabe's government, such as former finance minister Simba Makoni, parliamentary speaker Emmerson Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF chairman John Nkomo. Mugabe's broken undertakings severely embarrassed Mbeki, since they would inevitably become manifest soon after the president had assured the South African cabinet, ANC and even world leaders that Mugabe had - finally - seen reason. Blair, Bush and Nordic leaders were among those to whom Mbeki offered his personal assurances that Mugabe was a changed man.
When they met at Victoria Falls in 2001, a desperate Mbeki had even offered to have the South African government negotiate concessions for Zimbabwe from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, if only Mugabe would apply the rule of law on land redistribution.37 He would also try to raise funds from the EU and Scandinavian countries, as well as international organisations, to fund the land reform programme.
Even though the Zimbabwean government owed South Africa's bulk electricity supplier, Eskom, millions in arrears, Mbeki agreed not to suspend the service and to explore the possibility of raising capital for Zimbabwe in the financial markets.
Even Mugabe's old friends question his sanity. Along with Edgar Tekere, Enos Nkala is one of the surviving founders of ZANU-PF. In fact, ZANU-PF was formed in his home in Highfield, Harare, in 1963. Nkala says Mugabe is a 'political Frankenstein'. Nkala met several times with Mugabe to get him to stop land invasions and refrain from blaming US President George W Bush and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair for all his woes - but to no avail.
According to Nkala, 'He [Mugabe] is impervious to reason. I would not want to use the word mentally sick - You do not counsel a man who is impervious to analysis and admitting mistakes, so why should I spend my time engaging in an unproductive exercise [by negotiating with Mugabe]?'38
When Mugabe and his financial advisors agreed to implement prudent economic policies similar to South Africa's, Mbeki once again took him at his word. However, the presidential jet had barely landed in Pretoria before Mugabe was up to his old tricks. Mbeki lost his patience and his temper, but Mugabe won the battle of wits, proving yet again that Mbeki was far too naive to deal with African dictators steeped in the Mugabe mould.
Business leaders now began to blame the dramatic weakening of South Africa's currency and the slow pace of investment on Mugabe's reign of terror.39 They argued that Western investors were unable to differentiate between Zimbabwe and South Africa, since to many of them Africa is just a homogenous land mass of interlinked chaos. Meanwhile, local business was already feeling the impact on their investments in farms and commercial ventures in Zimbabwe, as marauding 'war vets' systematically made their way across the length and breadth of the country.
On 24 February 2001, Mbeki's international business advisors warned him that Zimbabwe was at the root of negative perceptions about South Africa, which were blocking foreign investment, prompting him to make his toughest public statement on Mugabe to date: 'Some of the things that have been happening recently are to all of us as South Africans matters of serious concern: things that have been affecting the judges, affecting the press, apart from earlier questions having to do with land redistribution. Apart from anything else, it impacts negatively on this country.'
COSATU and the SACP were Mbeki's harshest critics on Zimbabwe, especially after the ANC leadership had been cowed into submission. At COSATU's 2000 May Day rally, Madisha had attacked Mugabe's oppression of workers and civil society to thunderous applause, and in Mbeki's presence. He called on the government to take a tougher stand against Mugabe, and endorsed the lament of trade unionists that black farm workers were suffering massive hardship as a result of intimidation by the war vets.
In November 2004, COSATU sent a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe to establish at first hand just how bad the situation was. Mugabe and his security thugs turned the visit into a headline event by physically throwing them out of the country on trumped-up allegations that they had contravened immigration laws. Mbeki and his loyalists, notably ANCYL president Fikile Mbalula, were livid, and accused the trade unionists of 'adventurism' and 'grandstanding'. Worse, he accused COSATU of undermining his quiet diplomacy, but the unionists stood firm and pledged to return to Zimbabwe and complete their mission. 40
Africanists such as Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, KwaZulu-Natal ANC leader Dumisani Makhaye, former ANCYL president Malusi Gigaba and ANC election coordinator Peter Mokaba were unshaken in their support of ZANU-PF. Mbeki's influential legal advisor, Mojanku Gumbi, a member of AZAPO, had made it clear to Mbeki that the Harare government should be fully supported on the land issue. Defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota, on the other hand, called publicly for condemnation in the strongest possible terms of the human rights violations in Zimbabwe, and slammed quiet diplomacy as totally ineffective.
Mbeki angrily demanded that Lekota withdraw his comments, but he refused, saying he had expressed a personal opinion. Gigaba quickly responded that, as ANC chairman, Lekota had 'no such thing as a personal view', and should be disciplined. 41
When Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu entered the fray, senior ANC leaders demanded that Mbeki do more in public to make it clear that South Africa and Zimbabwe were two entirely different matters, and to unequivocally condemn the lawlessness that had taken hold north of the Limpopo.
Just how grave the situation had become was evident when Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni abandoned protocol - central bankers generally refrain from pronouncing on political issues - and asserted that the government's stance on both AIDS and Zimbabwe was having a negative impact on South Africa's currency. When Mboweni accused Mugabe and other tyrants of being responsible for a rising tide of Afro-pessimism, Mbeki-ites like Trevor Manuel and Alec Erwin realised that something had to be said and done, if only to protect South Africa's economy. Erwin noted in Harare: 'In a short period in Zimbabwe, industrial capacity has been destroyed. What is happening to ordinary people and workers is absolutely devastating.42
Ahead of Zimbabwe's March 2002 presidential election, divisions in the ANC deepened. The left wing made it clear that going to the polls in the prevailing climate of repression would be a joke, and many mainstream ANC leaders agreed. Mbeki himself believed the election would be a farce, but felt he could not support calls for the process to be suspended. He sent ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe to persuade Mugabe to wait until the explosive situation had been defused, but Mugabe spurned the overture. Mbeki next sent Jacob Zuma, but he, too, failed. All that Mbeki could do was despatch a team of monitors to ensure that the elections were free and fair, though how anyone could imagine they would be, given the relentless bludgeoning of the opposition in the run-up to the ballot, was a mystery.
Controversially, the South African parliamentary observer group stood alone in declaring Mugabe's re-election free and fair. All other observers dismissed the outcome as a fallacy.
Mbeki had carefully selected the members of the South African group, and they knew going in that the president expected a final report that would vindicate the inevitable result. However, as insurance, Mbeki also sent a second, secret observer team, consisting of high court judges Dikgang Moseneke and Sisi Khampepe, to report on conditions in Zimbabwe before the elections. When they turned in an account of widespread violations, Mbeki simply ignored their report.
Following Mugabe's re-election, Mbeki quietly began to sponsor secret talks between select senior leaders of ZANU-PF and the MDC, with Motlanthe acting as mediator. Their task was to set an agenda for formal negotiations, which Mbeki firmly believed would be the quickest way to solve Zimbabwe's problems.
While the ANC tried to strengthen the hand of ZANU-PF moderates, Mbeki held secret talks with the security establishment in the hope of bringing them round to the possibility of an MDC government or co-government. South Africa also spied on key ZANU-PF officials to stay on top of what was happening within Zimbabwe's ruling party. The concept of an interim GNU proved to be the major obstacle during informal negotiations, along with the question of whether the MDC should be brought into government even before the next election. The one point on which the two parties seemed to agree was that presidential and parliamentary elections should take place at the same time in future.
Obviously, the biggest obstacle is Mugabe himself. What to do with the autocrat is dividing both ZANU-PF as well as the MDC. Mugabe and his most partisan supporters insist on a 'dignified' exit - a misnomer in itself for the man who has brought his country to its knees. His leading ZANU-PF supporters, such as Didymus Mutasa, the secretary for administration, are still conniving to have him installed as president for life, but Mugabe fears the 'Charles Taylor option'. A United Nations Special Court indicted Taylor, the former Liberian president, in March 2003 on seventeen counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for stoking civil war in Sierra Leone through an illicit trade in guns for diamonds. Now that Mugabe appears to be close to the end of his term, questions are being asked within ZANU-PF itself about his role in the 1983 Matabeleland massacres. Mugabe created the Fifth Brigade, a special paramilitary unit, to brutally put down anti-government dissent. In the terror campaign known as Gukurahundi, more than 20 000 civilians died. Many Zimbabweans are now demanding a truth and reconciliation commission along South African lines.
All along, Mbeki's strategy was based on the concept of a ZANU-PF government with a moderate leader who would steer the country through a transition phase leading up to a fresh election. But he never envisaged a quick fix, and took the precaution of drawing comparisons with the protracted negotiations on Palestine and Northern Ireland.
Hardliners from both ZANU-PF and the MDC viewed the process with deep suspicion. One of the chief reasons Mbeki persisted with his quiet diplomacy was the threat of internal military intervention. Several times, South African intelligence reports indicated that a coup was imminent in Zimbabwe, but given the notorious lack of credible intelligence from South Africa's agencies, it would be almost impossible to make an accurate threat assessment. Unfortunately, South African intelligence has proved reliable only when harassing domestic critics of the Mbeki government, such as journalists, trade unionists and civil activists.
Privately, most senior figures in ZANU-PF have long conceded that Mugabe is a liability and that it is a question of when, not if, he goes. The longer he clings to power, the more terrible the suffering of his people and the more devastating the damage to his country's economy. One of Mugabe's litany of broken promises to Mbeki was that he would have resolved the question of succession between July 2004 and ZANU-PF's national conference in December. He gave a similar undertaking to the party's central committee,43 but, typically, he did not indicate that he would retire immediately, or even announce a date on which he would do so. Nor did he offer any hint as to his future role.
In fact, it is clear that Mugabe wants to cling to power for the rest of his life, but there have been signs of opposition within even the very lame ZANU-PF top leadership. Having failed to secure a formal resolution to extend his term for another two years at the annual ZANU-PF conference in December 2006, he found himself in a tussle with the top party leadership over just when he should step down. The party's politburo - in opposition to Mugabe - formulated a resolution that will be put to ZANU-PF's 2008 conference, calling for the top leadership to appoint a prime minister with extensive powers as the head of government until Zimbabwe combines its presidential and parliamentary elections in 2010.
This new premier would, to all intents, be the heir apparent. Mugabe is opposed to the very idea of a prime minister, which he rightly argues will dilute his powers. He insisted at ZANU-PF's December 2006 conference that his deputy, Joyce Mujuru, would automatically take over from him at a date he deemed appropriate. However, having lost out to the politburo, which is controlled by the hard-line faction led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, he now wants to appoint the prime minister himself, and thus stage-manage the succession. As it stands, though, the politburo will elect the prime minister, hence attempts by Mugabe and his cronies to amend the resolution so that he can become president for life. But it is clear that Mugabe is fast losing his grip, and that he might already have stayed too long to be able to direct his own departure. Such has his control of ZANU-PF been that whether his exit is enforced or voluntary (which is unlikely), the party will be plunged into an orgy of in-fighting, and could even split. None of his likely successors appears to have the authority to hold the different factions together.
Meanwhile, ZANU-PF was effectively paralysed as competing factions fiercely jockeyed for position in a post-Mugabe era. This compelled Mugabe to bluster that would-be presidential candidates were 'waiting impatiently as witches' to see him go. 'Even before the term of the president [is over] they [presidential hopefuls] want the seat. I haven't completed my term, but you are already waiting by the door like a witch.'44 Mbeki's strategists were hard at work behind the scenes to influence the succession, but no one would hazard a guess about whether or not the battle would turn bloody.
None of the possible contenders could openly announce their candidacy, as to do so would invite immediate retribution by Mugabe. Whatever his decision, it would be designed to safeguard his and his wife Grace's future.
While Mugabe retained the right to anoint his successor, the balance of power was vested in the ZANU-PF hardliners and their control of the security apparatus. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the brash parliamentary speaker, was considered the frontrunner until the middle of 2004, when he was accused of corruption. Just eighteen months earlier, he had scored a major public relations coup when Mbeki gave him the chance to address the ANC's national conference. Afterwards, he never missed an opportunity to remind his rivals that he had Mbeki's ear, a crucial requirement for whoever steps into Mugabe's shoes.
The trump card held by ZANU-PF hardliners is that they have the power to destabilise any transition or future administration. They have amassed vast profits from illicit deals during Zimbabwe's ill-fated military involvement in the DRC, and fiercely oppose Tsvangirai's bid for election because he has made no secret of the MDC's expectation that their ill-gotten gains would be forfeited to the state.
John Nkomo is one of the mainstays of the party's moderate wing. As chairperson of ZANU-PF, he is almost neck and neck with Mnangagwa in the popularity stakes, despite residual ethnic prejudice against him, an Ndebele, in a party dominated by Shonas. Many of the hardliners would brandish the race card if pushed into a corner, and talk with ease of Zimbabwe not yet being ready for an Ndebele president.
Vice-president Joseph Msika could have an outside chance, but lacks the party machinery and state apparatus available to either Mnangagwa or Nkomo. As Mugabe's deputy, he should have an almost automatic claim to the presidency, but Mugabe has kept him in suspense, playing him off against the other likely candidates. If Mugabe surprised everyone by quitting politics before his term expired and named Msika as the interim president, Nkomo and Mnangagwa would probably toe the party line. However, should Mugabe decide to serve his full term, the fight to take his place could turn extremely ugly.
Other possible candidates include moderate former finance minister Simba Makoni, anti-corruption minister Didymus Mutasa, defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi and central bank governor Gideon Gono.
Makoni, one of the last remnants of the party's progressive wing, does not have Mugabe's support. Moyo, who left Johannesburg's Wits University under a cloud involving alleged misappropriated research grants, had a meteoric rise up the ZANU-PF power ladder. He invested a great deal in buffing Mugabe's tarnished image and expected to be handsomely rewarded. But many ZANU-PF stalwarts considered him a snooty upstart, and his fortune depended on the whims of a fickle Mugabe. Indeed, Mugabe ousted him late in 2004, following allegations that he was preparing an internal party coup for ZANU-PF's December conference. In the first week of December 2004, ZANU-PF's old guard, including General Solomon Mujuru, suddenly added new spice to the mix by supporting the old soldier's wife, Joyce, as Mugabe's new vice-president. A heroine of the liberation struggle, she was one of Mugabe's original cabinet appointments and his long-serving minister of water affairs and rural development.
Significantly, thanks to both her own struggle experience and that of her husband, Mujuru commands the support of the country's security establishment, the very group that could make or break the next Zimbabwean president. However, her star appears to be dimming, in spite of all Mugabe's efforts to prop her up. Moreover, Mujuru could be swept away by the pent-up forces that will be unleashed when Mugabe's iron grip is finally prised open. On the other hand, the star of Gono, appointed governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in 2004, shines brighter by the day, despite the darkness engulfing the country's economy. Inflation is still the highest in the world and the currency loses value daily. However, Zimbabweans hope that the former head of a commercial bank and devout churchgoer will finally bring some economic respite. If he succeeds in panelbeating the Zimbabwean economy back into shape, he will be a popular candidate to replace Mugabe. He has campaigned vigorously for an end to land grabs in a desperate bid to stabilise agricultural production and rein in runaway inflation. This alone has already made him a host of political enemies eager to plot his downfall.
Yet, the trouble is, the tussle inside ZANU-PF over who should take over from Mugabe may actually prolong his stay. It was partially because the two biggest factions, those supporting Joyce Mujuru and those in favour of her rival, Emmerson Mnangagwa, were unable to agree on one mutually acceptable successor that the Zimbabwean strongman stepped out of the party's 30 March 2007 politburo meeting still the president. Because of the squabbling, Mugabe secured a last-gasp face-saving compromise at the meeting. It not only assures him a smooth, gradual passage out, instead of an abrupt, immediate exit, but he will also be the party's 2008 presidential candidate.
However, Mugabe was also humiliated at the politburo meeting. He sternly demanded to stay on until 2010, when he wanted the elections to take place, and to hand-pick his successor. On this he was forcefully rebuffed. Most importantly, the ZANU-PF leadership got Mugabe to accept that he will step down. Of course, since 2000, he has privately promised Mbeki repeatedly that he will leave office, but he never does. Why would anyone take his word for it now? But this was the first time he was forced by his own allies, and the leadership of ZANU-PF, to agree to leave office. In order to 'preserve the leader's honour' - what a delicious irony - as one ZANU-PF politburo member put it, the party leaders couched this dramatic step in a seemingly innocuous resolution, which read: 'If a presidential vacancy occurs in between elections, an acting president would be chosen by parliament to complete the term.'
This is the public relations part. What was really decided was that Mugabe will front the 2008 elections and retire immediately thereafter. It would have been more reassuring if his opponents had pinned him to an exact date and an exit timetable. Nevertheless, some of Mugabe's fiercest opponents within ZANU-PF were worried that if they pushed him out immediately, they would appear to have succumbed to Western pressure. This is in addition to their anxiety that a power vacuum might be created, as they could not agree on a compromise successor. Ironically, if Mbeki had abandoned his ineffective policy of quiet diplomacy earlier, Mugabe's opponents in ZANU-PF would have had more room to manoeuvre. A positive move is the fact that SADC leaders have finally taken a stand - albeit privately - and told Mugabe that he is a threat to the subcontinent's economic growth and political stability; that he should leave office; and that he must negotiate with the opposition. In the past, apologists in ZANU-PF were persuaded that Mugabe could boast the support of regional leaders, China and key developing nations in his phoney war against the West. But now the Chinese are putting pressure on him, as they are on their ally in Sudan, who, as a result, is starting to compromise.
In March 2007, Mugabe told regional leaders at a SADC meeting that he will leave 'soon' after the 2008 elections. Again, he gave no date. He apparently told SADC leaders that he needed to ensure a smooth transition both in ZANU-PF as well as in the country. But other forces are now also combining to push Mugabe out. ZANU-PF's politburo - the powerful organ in charge of party affairs between national conferences - which has hitherto been packed, dominated and manipulated by his supporters, is now hostile towards him. In February 2007, Mugabe had tried, unsuccessfully, to regain control of his cabinet by reshuffling it and promoting key supporters into influential positions.
The security forces, which have been so crucial to Mugabe's long reign, now view his leadership as a danger to their economic interests. In January 2007, Mugabe was compelled to send a memo to senior police commanders in the provinces, threatening to harshly discipline them if they rebel - as they have threatened to do. Zimbabwe's Central Intelligence Organisation - notoriously loyal to Mugabe, and used to great effect to neutralise the opposition - told the ZANU-PF leadership in a secret briefing in February 2007 that extending Mugabe's term of office beyond 2008 will destabilise both ZANU-PF and the country, as well as damage the electoral fortunes of the party, as many of its supporters would abscond and vote for the opposition.
Even the party's old guard and so-called 'elders' - in liberation movements, their opinions are almost always taken seriously - are rebelling. For example, Enos Nkala and Edgar Tekere, the surviving founders of ZANU-PF, have both denounced Mugabe. His hold on the provinces - from which he has drawn his support so far - has been broken. In fact, the rebellion against his rule at the December 2006 ZANU-PF conference was engineered mostly from the provinces. Even Zimbabwean business leaders who have been sympathetic or, at least, remained silent to safeguard their assets, are now openly defiant.
Furthermore, diplomatic failure in Zimbabwe has now, for the first time, become a political issue in the ANC's succession battle: the anti-Mbeki faction is ridiculing the president, because Mugabe's continued staying power is a glaring failure of his policy on Africa and a blight on his diplomatic legacy. In March 2007, during a summit in Tanzania, SADC appointed Mbeki to act as mediator between Mugabe and the MDC, following the Zimbabwean government's violent crackdown on political opponents earlier that month. In the past, Mbeki had blamed his stance on the fact that he had no mandate from other African countries to act against Zimbabwe, and that South Africa could not act alone, lest neighbours perceive it as a Big Brother intervention. Now there was no excuse.
The battle for control of the ANC between pro-Mbeki supporters and his opponents is very delicately balanced. As such, attending the ANC's seminal December 2007 national conference, where a new generation of leaders is going to be chosen and policies decided on, without reporting that progress has been made on Zimbabwe, could mean political humiliation for the proponent of the 'African Renaissance'.
Whoever takes Mugabe's place would have to reach some kind of accord with the MDC, and that, indeed, has been Mbeki's hope all along.
It does appear as if the universally reviled Mugabe has outplayed the silky Mbeki at his own game. Quiet diplomacy has failed abysmally to stop the rot in Zimbabwe, but it is not in Mbeki's make-up to admit defeat. What did surprise observers, however, was Mbeki's apparent myopia on NEPAD. His grand blueprint for an African Renaissance was thoroughly discredited by his handling of the Zimbabwe situation. Blair and Bush continued to pay lip service to the idea of an economic renewal throughout the continent, but funds were not forthcoming, 45 and some of Mbeki's strongest African allies have quietly distanced themselves from Zimbabwe.
Mbeki alienated even his closest ally in African politics, Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, because of his insistence on quiet diplomacy. After initially buying into the strategy, Obasanjo urged a tougher approach against Mugabe's obstinacy. Mbeki refused, causing possibly irreparable damage to his relationship with Obasanjo.
Botswana's Festus Mogae did not want his country's spotless democratic record tainted by association, and Mbeki was shocked to discover at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in late 2003 how many of his other regional allies refused to side with him on Zimbabwe. Mbeki, of course, continues to believe that he will yet be proven right, but in the meanwhile, his NEPAD dream is in danger of falling on the sword of Zimbabwe.
Perhaps the greatest indictment of South Africa's 'softly-softly' approach is its gross betrayal of blacks in Zimbabwe and everything that the liberation movement fought for. As Tutu reminded the former warriors of the struggle: 'What has been happening in Zimbabwe is totally unacceptable and reprehensible, and we ought to say so. The credibility of our democracy demands this. If we are seemingly indifferent to human rights in a neighbouring country, what is to stop us one day being indifferent to them in our own?'46