South African President Thabo Mbeki has been involved in political mediation efforts in Zimbabwe on behalf of SADC, the Southern African Development Community. However, an analyst says despite that mediation, South Africa has an illogical and inconsistent foreign policy towards Zimbabwe. In fact, he likens it to the mental illness known as schizophrenia, which is described as a chronic, severe and disabling brain disease.
Guy Lamb is head of the Arms Management Program at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. He spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about South Africa’s dealings with Zimbabwe.
“On the one hand, South Africa has pursued a human rights-based foreign policy, not only in Zimbabwe, but across the African continent, pursuing peaceful conflict management approaches, adopting mediation approaches. And this is the particular approach to Zimbabwe with South Africa as the official Southern African Development Community mediator in terms of the Zimbabwe crisis.
“However, South Africa also has an arms industry and is the largest arms exporter on the African continent, that as an African country. The problem with respect to Zimbabwe is that South Africa recently provided approval for a shipment of arms and ammunition from China to be shipped across South African soil to Zimbabwe. And this in a way runs contrary to South Africa’s human rights-based approach to foreign policy. In a way, there is a bit of schizophrenia there,” he says.
Some call the arms shipment a simple business transaction. But Lamb says, “South Africa does have legislation. It’s the National Conventional Arms Control Act, which governs South Africa’s arms trade, which doesn’t only relate to the export of South African arms, but also relates to the shipment or the transfer of arms from other countries across South African soil. And when that happens, the South African government, namely the National Conventional Arms Control Committee, which is a cabinet committee, they have to apply their minds using particular criteria. And within that criteria, which is stipulated in this arms control act, is [a stipulation] that they should seriously consider restricting the movement of arms to another country across South African soil when they may contribute to human rights abuses or internal repression. And the concern here is given the uncertainty and insecurity within Zimbabwe at this current point in time…the potential for those particular arms and ammunition from China could contribute to internal repression and human rights abuse.”
The United States Monday pressured South Africa to do more to help end the political crisis in South Africa but stopped short of openly criticizing President Mbeki.
Lamb says, “The challenge for South Africa as being a mediator in this particular process is that…it’s difficult for President Mbeki as a mediator to be critical. He can be critical of certain principle issues, but he can’t be seen to be taking sides. And [that’s] why there hasn’t been a considerable amount of criticism on what’s been going on by (the ruling) ZANU-PF (party).”