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Has Mbeki's Quiet Diplomacy Brought Changes To Zimbabwe?

In recent years, South African president Thabo Mbeki has used what he calls quiet diplomacy to deal with the political situation in Zimbabwe. In recent days, as Zimbabwe’s parliamentary elections approach, some are questioning the effectiveness of that policy.

For an analysis, English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua spoke with John Stremlau, head of international relations at the University of Witwatersrand. Professor Stremlau, who’s visiting Washington, DC, spoke of the possible effects of the Mbeki policy.

He says, “It’s very hard to understand whether there’s been impact because we don’t know what quietly has gone on between the two countries. One suspects that Mbeki along the way had received assurances that movements toward a government of national unity would have been underway by now. But the wily ‘ol Mugabe, who has only his own survival at stake, doesn’t operate in as complex an equation as Mbeki, who’s worried about domestic constituencies, regional opinion and of course international opinion. And it’s hurt him to be perceived as soft on the failure of democracy next door in Zimbabwe.”

Does President Mbeki have much to lose with his policy? Professor Stremlau replies, “ It’s not so much what he has to lose, it’s what could he accomplish. His options are very limited. He’s not going to send in the military. The Zimbabwean military at this stage would give the South African forces a run for their money. He wouldn’t have the political support to do so in any event. And he would send in sanctions because the consequences of that are considered by Pretoria to be hurtful to those least deserving. No, he has a strategy in place right now it appears. It may be seen as cynical by some, but the expectation is if you can get beyond the March 31st elections that there is enough now political cross currents in play in Zimbabwe to ease Mugabe out and to move to a government of national unity and prevent a worse catastrophe.”

Professor Stremlau agrees that the ruling ZANU-PF Party will win the parliamentary election, but he’s not convinced the party will win big. He says in any case, the winner of the election will rule a country with many economic and political problems and may be looking for solutions with a possible government of national unity.