PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa’s special envoys arrived in Zimbabwe yesterday and immediately went to work — meeting President Emmerson Mnangagwa and other key stakeholders in the country, the Daily News reports.
Interestingly, Ramaphosa’s two initial envoys — former South African vice president Baleka Mbete and ex-minister Sydney Mufamadi — were accompanied by another former minister, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, as well as Pretoria’s ex-ambassador to Ethiopia, Ndumiso Ntshinga.
Ramatlhodi, who is still a senior member of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC), is very familiar with Zimbabwe and its politics — and has a working knowledge of Shona.
He was the head of the ANC’s regional political and military council in Zimbabwe from 1986 to 1988, where he obtained a Masters degree in International Relations from the University of Zimbabwe. In the hotly-disputed 2005 elections, Ramatlhodi led the ANC delegation that observed those polls.
The envoys had a lengthy meeting with Mnangagwa at State House in Harare and were scheduled to meet with opposition leaders Nelson Chamisa and Thokozani Khupe today, to further discuss the country’s myriad crises.
Following the meeting with Mnangagwa, Mufamadi — who was often tasked with delicate diplomatic missions when former South African president Thabo Mbeki was still in power — revealed they had discussed Zimbabwe’s difficulties, as well as some possible solutions to the problems.
“Myself and two of my colleagues (Ms Baleka) Mbete and (Advocate Ngoako) Ramatlhodi we came here as envoys of the president of the Republic of South Africa.
“We had an exchange … In other words we listened to the rhythm of the situation and what is being done, and the intentions to do extra things and so on.
“I know you will not ask us to report to our president through the media. We will be reporting to the president (Ramaphosa) who will then interact with the public, in part through you, in due course,” Mufamadi said.
All this comes after Ramaphosa conferred with Mnangagwa before he appointed the special envoys last week — amid allegations of human rights violations in the country.
The special envoys’ remit, Ramaphosa said, was “to identify possible ways in which South Africa can assist Zimbabwe”.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba told the Daily News at the weekend that Mnangagwa had “nothing to hide” — and would thus engage with the envoys in an “open and transparent manner”.
“The two leaders (Ramaphosa and Mnangagwa) have been communicating and what you are seeing is a result of an agreement which they reached to send the envoys into the country to discuss various issues.
“That is how we do diplomacy. That is how it is done by following proper and clear channels.
“You don’t stand on top of a roof and shout whatever you want to see happen and expect to see things being done your way. That is not proper diplomacy,” Charamba told the Daily News.
This came as the government has been under huge local, regional and international pressure over alleged human rights violations, and a recent crackdown on government critics.
However, government has dismissed the claims, saying that gory videos and images circulating on social media have been “doctored” to smear the image of the country.
“To set the record straight, there is no crisis or implosion in Zimbabwe. Neither has there been any abduction or war on citizens.
“Like any other country in the world, Zimbabwe has been enforcing Covid-19 lockdown regulations intended to safeguard and protect the lives of all citizens. Where necessary the law has been fairly applied.
“The deliberate attempt to smear the country’s image is betrayed by the use of doctored images, old video clips and highly exaggerated claims on social media, all intended to paint a picture of a burning Zimbabwe,” the permanent secretary in the Information ministry, Nick Mangwana, has said.
Ramaphosa’s intervention in the Zimbabwean crisis got off to a rocky start, with the opposition warning at the weekend that they would not be railroaded to accept any deals that they disagree with, as had happened a decade ago when the country’s unity government was put in place.
This came as well-placed sources in South Africa told the Daily News’s sister paper, the Daily News On Sunday that Ramaphosa’s surprise move to appoint the special envoys had followed tentative discussions within his government and the ANC about how Pretoria could encourage national dialogue among Zimbabweans — including between Zanu PF and its self-exiled former officials.
But the opposition said on Saturday that it expected any dialogue that may take place as a result of South Africa’s intervention to lead to comprehensive political and economic reforms — including sweeping changes in the country’s security sector.
Tough-talking MDC Alliance vice president Tendai Biti also said they would not make the same mistakes they made in 2008 when the MDC was forced into an uneasy coalition government with Zanu PF, having won the hotly-disputed elections of that year.
“We now look forward to the agenda and the mandate of the team. We know Mufamadi very well from the time we negotiated the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in 2008.
“We are curious to know their mandate and how that will interconnect with Sadc and AU (African Union), because any mediation outside the two will be difficult because we need impartiality.
“We have not been formally approached, but we know it is the people of Zimbabwe who have made Ramaphosa to act.
“So, we cannot be ignored. Zimbabweans cannot be ignored,” Biti told South African television channel eNCA.
“In 2008 we negotiated a very difficult agreement, the GPA, which focused on stability more than democracy — doing a disservice to the agenda of democracy. It skirted the issue around security sector reforms.
“This time around, anyone who wants to be involved with Zimbabwe must understand that the problems are structural and that they cannot be white-washed,” he said further.
“Mufamadi must know that the task ahead is huge because Zimbabweans are not going to take anything short of respecting their will.
“So we emphasise democracy over stability because the former is the guarantor of the latter,” Biti added.
At the same time, political analysts and the Church have also cast doubts on the latest mission by Ramaphosa, to try and finally end Zimbabwe’s worsening crises.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure warned that Ramaphosa’s mediation effort was likely to fail because the government did not accept that there was a problem in the country.
“Ramaphosa holds an important position as AU chairperson, and he has thus been forced by circumstances to act.
“He cannot afford to fold his arms when a neighbour is burning … this is also an indication that the continent has heard the cries of Zimbabweans and there is an appetite to act.
“However, the fact that the Zimbabwean leadership does not agree that there is a crisis makes it difficult for him. How does he proceed when their interpretation of the problem is running parallel?” Masunungure told the Daily News last Friday.
“The envoys will gather data from all stakeholders and what they will get in terms of the interpretation of the problem will most likely be contradictory and conflicting.
“They will compile their report and it will be up to Ramaphosa to say if there is a crisis worth mediation or not. But how to proceed will be a difficult task for him given that Mnangagwa’s government thinks the crisis is being concocted by the opposition,” he added.
Similarly, churches have also warned that SA’s mediation efforts would not necessarily resolve the country’s socio-economic and political problems if Zimbabweans did not take the government to task and speak with one voice.
The secretary general of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), Kenneth Mtata, said the solution to the country’s long-standing problems could only come from Zimbabweans.
“It is commendable that President Ramaphosa has taken interest to respond to the situation in Zimbabwe. But South Africa can only do so much.
“We as Zimbabweans must shape our destiny together. Even if we get an envoy from heaven, if we are unrepentant, the envoy will go back empty-handed,” Mtata said.