HARARE – President Robert Mugabe, who two weeks ago threatened to pull out of Sadc, has made a sudden U-turn, assuring regional leaders that Zimbabwe cherishes being part of the regional bloc.
Mugabe told a State banquet hosted on the eve of Lesotho’s King Letsie III’s 50th birthday celebrations on Wednesday night that he remained committed to working with the regional bloc.
The 89-year-old had earlier told a Zanu PF manifesto launch rally: “Sadc has no power. Let it be known that we are in Sadc voluntarily. If Sadc decides to do stupid things, we can pull out.”
But he was singing a different tune at King Letsie’s birthday, saying he craves for African unity.
“Let me take advantage of this gathering to inform you that the processes leading to our harmonised elections on July 31, 2013 are moving smoothly in the full glare of Sadc and African Union observers and those from other well-meaning countries,” Mugabe is quoted as saying in the State media.
“As leaders of political parties in Zimbabwe, we have been and still call on our people to refrain from political violence and to maintain peaceful coexistence. I am happy to inform you that so far, the electoral environment has remained peaceful.
“As Zimbabweans, we remain committed to working with the region to further regional and continental unity and to advance our common cause on the broader international platform.”
Mugabe’s latest somersault vindicates perceptions by his opponents and analysts that the octogenarian was selling his supporters bottled smoke when he threatened to walk out of Sadc.
At the manifesto launch, Mugabe described South African President Jacob Zuma’s international relations advisor Lindiwe Zulu as “an idiotic, street woman” who should not interfere in the country’s domestic affairs.
But in Lesotho he was all cosy as he heaped praises on regional countries he said were instrumental in the fight for Zimbabwe’s independence.
Mugabe was speaking ahead of an African Union (AU) summit scheduled for Addis Ababa today to discuss the poll timetable and another Sadc troika meeting scheduled for South Africa.
While the MDC formations are adamant they will not attend the AU summit, Zanu PF yesterday said it will dispatch Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC says Mugabe and his Zanu PF party approached the AU seeking to have an extension of poll dates.
However, Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo dismissed the MDC claims saying Zanu PF was ready for elections.
“It is all nonsense to say we approached the OAU (AU predecessor, Organisation of African Unity),” he said.
“How can we request for a meeting when we are ready for elections? Zanu PF was merely advised and we met and decided that we would send (Justice Minister Patrick) Chinamasa.”
Jameson Timba, MDC secretary for international relations and a top aide of the premier, said the MDC never approached the AU, saying for now the election issue is in the hands of South African President Jacob Zuma, whose tough mediation on Zimbabwe has caused consternation within Zanu PF.
“The MDC has never written to the African Union seeking a meeting, and those who approached the AU are Zanu PF who now want to seek an extension of the election date to save face because the rigging strategy of railroading police officers to vote for Zanu PF has crumbled like a deck of cards,” said Timba.
Government sources, close to the unfolding drama, told this paper yesterday that Mugabe prefers to work with the AU not only because of its soft stance on his regime as compared to the Sadc’s firm mediation, but also because the 89-year-old ex-guerrilla leader is a member of the AU’s Peace and Security Council.
“This meeting has been initiated by the AU Peace and Security council where Mugabe is a member,” said a source.
“The political intention is to try and undermine president Zuma. By hoping that the AU as a superior body would come up with resolutions different from the Sadc resolutions of June 15, this move to engage the AU is in preparation for pre-empting any Sadc action in two weeks time in the event that Zanu PF successfully rigs the elections.”