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South Africa-Zimbabwe Mediation Unsuccessful says Analyst

As the year draws to a close – and Zimbabwe's political crisis continues – many are questioning whether South Africa's role as mediator has had any real effect. Critics are also saying that South Africa has failed to take advantage of its temporary seat on the UN Security Council to help resolve the crisis.

Darrel Glaser, professor of political studies at the University of Witwatersrand, spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about whether South Africa's efforts in Zimbabwe have achieved any results.

"I don't see that mediation as having been very successful at all. There have been moments when it looked as though our former president, Thabo Mbeki, was being reasonably successful in at least cajoling the parties to talk to each other, but essentially nothing's come of it. We've seen that in recent weeks the process has gone backwards, " he says.

Glaser says that the claims made regarding Mbeki's "quiet diplomacy" have "simply not been vindicated." When asked why, he says, "I think that the type of diplomacy that is needed in Zimbabwe is one where the third party is not simply going to be an entirely neutral mediator between the two sides but is willing to at least take sides to the extent of recognizing that President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is more a part of a problem than the solution and more of a problem than his opponents."

The professor says that if diplomacy is going to be successful there needs to be real pressure on the Zimbabwean leader, whether "behind the scenes or in public."

He says, "Mugabe has to be made to understand that he's lost the support of probably the majority of his people and that he has to make way for new forces in the country."

He also says South Africa could have done a better job this year in using its seat on the UN Security Council to deal with Zimbabwe's political crisis. "Throughout the period that it's had that seat…it has taken what some people have called a Third Worldist position, which has essentially been a tendency to side with countries in the Third World or the Global South against what is seen as the dominant imperial powers of the North. And I think unfortunately this has resulted in a kind of knee-jerk tendency to support Third World regimes no matter what their character simply because…(they) see themselves as historically victims of colonialism or neo-colonialism." He says.

For example, Glaser is critical of South Africa's vote in favor of the military junta in Burma. "This has been very tragic that South Africa has tarnished a great deal of the prestige that it acquired in the 1990s as a global champion of human rights," he says.

He doesn't see South African policy toward Zimbabwe changing much, if at all, if ruling ANC party President Jacob Zuma is elected South African president next year.

So what can be done if South African mediation efforts fail? "Well, this is a very difficult question to answer. For a start there has to be stronger symbolic and diplomatic pressure. There has to be some stepping up of economic pressure that is somehow separated out from the whole question of humanitarian aid," he says. Perhaps even intervention.

"If you're asking me personally, I wouldn't altogether rule out the sort of option that Archbishop Desmond Tutu was referring to, which is some kind of limited humanitarian-military intervention, provided it was conducted entirely under southern African regional leadership. I would not like to see Western powers having any role in that. I think that would discredit the whole exercise. But I think that things have become so desperate and this crisis has become so regional in terms of spreading disease across borders and sending floods of refugees in every direction that I think the region has to be willing to take concerted action, including, for example, if necessary, armed action to protect relief supplies and so on," he says.

The number of cholera deaths in Zimbabwe is nearing 1,000, with tens of thousands of cases reported overall. Many thousands of Zimbabwe have crossed the border into South Africa, for example, to escape the political turmoil in Zimbabwe or to seek treatment for cholera.