ONE of South Africa’s most senior political leaders lent support on Wednesday to the idea of forming a national unity government in Zimbabwe to resolve its deepening crisis.
The politician, Jacob Zuma, the head of the ruling African National Congress and potentially a future president of South Africa, said both the United States and Britain had undermined their own ability to play a role in the Zimbabwe political crisis because of the vehemence of their criticism of the government.
Zuma was speaking in an interview in London shortly before Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged the imposition of an arms embargo on Zimbabwe.
In the interview, Zuma warned against any “forceful intervention” in Zimbabwe’s crisis.
Zuma was asked to comment on an article in Zimbabwe’s state-owned Herald newspaper on Wednesday proposing a government of national unity grouping President Robert Mugabe and his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai, but led by Mugabe.
The two bitter adversaries fought presidential and parliamentary elections on March 29 but the outcome of the presidential vote has not been announced, while Mugabe’s Zanu PF has challenged the results of 23 constituencies in the parliamentary ballot, most of which Tsvangirai initially seemed to have won.
The stalemate appears to have spilled into increasing violence with widespread claims by human rights groups and church figures that opposition supporters have been beaten and arrested in advance of a likely run-off in the presidential vote.
Zuma is visiting several European countries and has spoken out frequently in favour of renewed intervention by southern African leaders to restart some form of dialogue between Mugabe and Tsvangirai.
His readiness to comment has been taken by some analysts as a departure from South Africa’s previous “quiet diplomacy” followed by South African President Thabo Mbeki, which seemed to favour Mugabe and shield his oppressive regime from criticism.
But Zuma denied that “quiet diplomacy” had failed, saying South Africa had decided “not to stand on rooftops and criticise Mugabe” in order to be able to talk to both sides in the dispute.
“Quiet diplomacy has not failed,” he said. “Zimbabwe is our neighbour.
We need to engage Zimbabweans on both sides.
It would not have been prudent for us to stand there and criticise them.
How could we have engaged with both sides if we did so?”
He added: “We decided to engage Zimbabweans quietly and it was dubbed quiet diplomacy.
We can produce a better report than anyone else on what happened.”
Asked if the idea of a national unity government in Zimbabwe was premature, Zuma said: “I don’t think it is premature because you are dealing with a situation where we are almost three weeks after the election and there has been no announcement of the results.” Regional diplomacy had not resolved the crisis, he said, “so we have to say what do we do?”
“The natural thing is that there should be discussions,” he said.
The call for a unity government “is not premature, it is actually appropriate at this time”, he said.
Zuma said the presidential election appeared to have produced a very narrow margin between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, meaning that both men commanded significant support among Zimbabweans.
But he was keen to avoid the impression that he was initiating the call for a unity government, which was a model used to resolve Kenya’s bloodstained post-election crisis earlier this year.
“I’m not necessarily making a call,” he said. “This is what should be looked at as one option.”
He was speaking shortly before a scheduled meeting with Brown, who has accused Mugabe of stealing the Zimbabwean election.
Zuma said: “The unfortunate thing for Britain was the extreme position Britain took in relation to Zimbabwe.
It then became difficult for Britain to play any role without people being suspicious.”
The British attitude, he said, “in a sense undermined the role it could play in Zimbabwe” and the United States authorities “also took the same position as Britain”.
“I’m not saying they are disqualified” from influencing events in Zimbabwe, Zuma continued, but “their action undermined the possibility of their playing a meaningful role in Zimbabwe”.
Zuma spoke out firmly against South African military action against Zimbabwe.
“I don’t think Mbeki must apply force in Zimbabwe,” he said. “This is what countries in the world are urging South Africa to do and it is wrong. I don’t think if you are a stronger country you must then use force.
Negotiations and persuasions is a necessary thing to do rather than use force.”
“All that we should do from the outside is to help what the Zimbabweans do,” he said.
He took issue, however, with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, blaming it for the delays in publicising the results of the March 29 election.
Zuma said: “The electoral commission has discredited the elections.
It ought to remain as an independent body.
By the manner in which it has operated, it has caused a lot of doubt in its independence.
It has not explained why it is not releasing the results.”Â
He also suggested a role in mediating the Zimbabwe crisis for African elder statesmen such as former President Sam Nujoma of Namibia, former President Joaquin Chissano of Mozambique and others from Botswana and Tanzania.
And he acknowledged that Zimbabwe’s economic plight, which has forced hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans to flee across the razor wire frontier fence to South Africa, betokened a political failure.
“We need to govern a country in such a way as it does not lead people to cross under the barbed wire,” he said.
“Once that happens it means politically things have gone wrong and we have got to correct them.”
Zuma is widely tipped to succeed Mbeki as South Africa’s leader if he is acquitted on corruption charges at a trial later this year.
Asked if he believed the trial would exonerate him, he said: “Absolutely, I am innocent.” – New York Times.