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

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora