HARARE – There was a frenzy of diplomatic caucusing within Sadc on Saturday as the region sought ways to respond to President Robert Mugabe’s insults primarily directed at South Africa, as well as the growing perception that the political climate in Zimbabwe is deteriorating rapidly.
The Daily News on Sunday learnt last night that a number of telephone calls had been exchanged, first within the membership of Sadc’s Organ for Politics, Defence and Security, and later on with the office of the chairperson of Sadc itself, Mozambican President Armando Emilio Guebuza.
This followed Mugabe’s vitriolic attack on Sadc and the South Africans in particular during the launch of Zanu PF’s election manifesto at Zimbabwe Grounds on Friday.
Mugabe not only threatened to pull Zimbabwe out of Sadc at the rally, but also tore into South African President Jacob Zuma’s trusted international relations advisor, Lindiwe Zulu, who is also one of the facilitators to Harare’s political crisis — describing her as “an ordinary, stupid and idiotic street woman.”
Zulu’s crime appeared to be her recent suggestion that Zimbabwe should have postponed its forthcoming elections to pave the way for the implementation of agreed, but outstanding media and security sector reforms.
A diplomat based in Maputo said regional leaders, particularly the South Africans, had been riled by Mugabe’s “reckless utterances”.
“It is very surprising that president Mugabe chose to behave this way after what we all thought was a good recent regional summit on Zimbabwe here in Maputo. What is he (Mugabe) trying to achieve?
“Unfortunately, he has managed to upset even his few backers in the region, but more importantly the South Africans who have been at the centre of trying to honestly assist our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe.
“This is why there has been this flurry of consultations to try and understand what is happening and how the region can respond appropriately,” he said.
However, a South African official said as angry as they were, it was important that both Pretoria and Sadc didn’t allow “the predictable lapses of a mature and desperate citizen to take the whole of Zimbabwe down with him,” — in apparent reference to Mugabe.
“Make no mistake, we are very angry. But JZ (Zuma) wants a measured response so that ordinary Zimbabweans are not negatively affected by the folly of some of their leaders.
“What is important is that the coming elections are peaceful, free and fair so that there is no repeat of the anarchy of 2008, which would not help anybody in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Sadc,” he said.
Zulu refused to comment on Mugabe’s insults against her when she was contacted by the Daily News on Sunday’s sister paper, the Daily News, on Friday.
“I have no comment. I don’t think commenting on that will solve the situation,” she said.
However, an SA government official who requested anonymity said Pretoria was “appalled” to hear that Mugabe had “stooped this low to attack both Sadc and one of our officials at his rally today (Friday)”.
“If he did indeed, let this old man be warned that we are all capable of acting very badly. After all, it was Sadc and South Africa who made sure that he is able to enjoy the status of being acknowledged around the world as the president of Zimbabwe.
“So, like the laughing stock that he is making of himself, he is effectively biting the hand that feeds him.
“He clearly has become oblivious to the fact that whether he wins or loses, Sadc and South Africa will still be here and that he will probably still need our assistance.
An analyst described Mugabe’s utterances as “ill-advised and unpresidential”, whatever his personal views of Zulu were.
“It is very likely that as a direct result of this poor behaviour and choice of words by President Mugabe that relations between South Africa and Zimbabwe will plummet over a fairly frivolous issue.
“If this analysis is correct, this will have a deleterious effect not just on Mugabe, Zanu PF and the government, but also on all Zimbabweans given South Africa’s political and economic standing within Sadc and the international community.