News / Africa

Diplomatic Hiccup Shows Delicacy of Harare, Pretoria Ties

South African President Jacob Zuma and President Robert Mugabe, right, shake hands after discussions in Harare, March 18, 2010.
South African President Jacob Zuma and President Robert Mugabe, right, shake hands after discussions in Harare, March 18, 2010.
South Africa has generally had strong relations with Zimbabwe, but some say a last week's hiccup over criticism of election preparations reveals the diplomatic fine line the southern African nations walk.
 
Last week, Lindiwe Zulu, a top international advisor to South African President Jacob Zuma, voiced concern that Zimbabwe was not well-prepared for the July 31 election, saying Zuma had spoken to Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe by phone about the matter.
 
President Mugabe responded quickly, calling Zulu a "stupid and idiotic street woman" who should be restricted from speaking about the vote.
 
Zuma's office then released a statement saying it regretted the unauthorized statements and denying there had been any such phone call in which Zuma criticized election preparations. Clayton Monyela, South Africa's head of public diplomacy, said only Zuma would speak on matters relating to his responsibilities as a facilitator bilateral mediation.
 
"There was a concern obviously raised by the president of Zimbabwe with regards to who speaks on behalf of the mediation facilitation team," said Monyela. "So that matter has been dealt with. ... It's an exaggeration to say [it] translated into tensions. We've got good, healthy, cordial, friendly, historical relations with the government of Zimbabwe as a country, on a bilateral level."
 
But experts suggest the relationship has its own share of complexities.
 
Gilbert Khadiagala, who teaches at the University of Witwaterand's Department of International Relations, said Zuma's predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, had used what many called a quiet diplomacy with Mugabe, rarely criticizing him in public, though sometimes arm twisting in private.
 
Unlike Mbeki, he added, Zuma has been harsher on Mugabe. "I'm saying the recent incidents around Lindiwe Zulu show that he's departing from that line of toughness," Khadiagala said. "When you lose that toughness, you undercut all these efforts by the regional actors. So I think Zuma has been doing very well until very recently, [and] I think he's now beginning to look like he's kowtowing to Mugabe."
 
Caving to Mugabe's demands on Zulu, Khadiagala says, indicates Zuma's unwillingness to upset relations.
 
"I can imagine that Zuma doesn't really want to rock the boat, because he's the leader of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) group on Zimbabwe," Khadiagala said. "And they are interested in a soft landing during these elections. I don't think they want to antagonize Mugabe."
 
But he also says that position weakens South Africa and the SADC, which is helping to facilitate and oversee the elections.
 
"When Lindiwe Zulu is rebuked by Zuma it looks like South Africa is actually looking very weak," he said. "And that weakness is translated into a very weak SADC, that has been weakening every day. My point is that SADC is becoming even weaker when it comes to Zimbabwe and that's not a very good sign."
 
There is also a historical pressure for mutual support, as the parties of Presidents Zuma and Mugabe are linked through liberation movements.
 
"The historical links between the liberation movement parties — ZANU-PF [and] ANC — is very much a cozy relationship," he said. "There's a lot of pressure here in South Africa within the ANC not to criticize Zimbabwe, because they look at Mugabe as the freedom fighter."
 
That pressure, he said, makes behind-the-scenes diplomacy an easier route.
 
"These are single party mentalities that have been historically forged over the years," he said. "It's essentially a continuation of the quiet diplomacy under Mbeki, that South Africa should not be seen to be too harsh on Mugabe, because maybe if you talk to him quietly, maybe he's going to change."
 
Khadiagala is predicting a win for the 89-year-old Mugabe.

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: siyabonga khumalo
July 28, 2013 10:15 AM
quiet diplomacy/arm twisting has cost many people their lives in zimbabwe, gilbert - please dont bluff people, coziness has cost far too many people their lives and you know this - maybe a teaching
spell there will help you understand better how the people are struggling to live

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid