Where ignorance fears to tread.
17 September 2014 11:20 (South Africa)
South Africa

Zulu down: SA diplomacy or Bob’s puppetry?

  • Greg Nicolson
  • South Africa
greg-zim-subbedM.jpg

Lindiwe Zulu was sacrificed on the alter of diplomacy so South Africa can continue trying to ensure Zimbabwe holds free and fair elections. Neither the ANC nor the presidency will defend her. GREG NICOLSON asks whether South Africa buckled to a tyrant or acted within the diplomatic reality.

Speaking to media on Monday, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe decided not to defend the head of the ANC NEC’s communications subcommittee, Lindiwe Zulu. “Should we condemn the street girl insult on Lindiwe?” he asked. “The relationship [between SA and Zimbabwe] is beyond what is announced in the public sphere… If President [Robert] Mugabe insults Lindiwe there is a way of talking to him.” Mantashe commended Zulu on her work supporting President Zuma in his role as SADC facilitator to Zimbabwe, but that’s as far as he was willing to go.

In a particularly stern statement on Sunday, Zuma’s spokesperson Mac Maharaj indirectly condemned Zulu for imposing her views on Zimbabwe by making unapproved comments on the country. “A number of statements have been made during the facilitation process which have been unauthorised and which are regrettable and unfortunate. Some of the utterances have also been inaccurate,” said Maharaj.

Zulu’s problems stem from her refreshing openness. Last week, she told Reuters, “We are concerned because things on the ground are not looking good.” She was right: two days of early voting was a shambolic mess. Zulu also claimed Zuma had phoned Mugabe to talk about the problems ahead of the 31 July ballot.

Her forthright character clearly irked Mugabe. Earlier this month, he called Zulu, the president’s international relations advisor, a “stupid idiotic street woman”. On Saturday, he criticised Zuma for allowing her to speak out. “We were given one facilitator with one mouth and that is President Zuma himself. That is the voice, the only voice, we want to hear.”

Mugabe’s demands were clear: “May I say that the persistent negative voice from South Africa… could it pleased be stopped? I appeal to President Zuma to stop this woman of theirs from speaking on Zimbabwe.” Zuma complied and South Africans woke Monday to headlines describing the situation between the two countries. (Sadly, Daily Sun skipped the story and missed the opportunity to lead with “Zuma sacrifices Zulu street woman!!!!”).

Speaking on Talk Radio 702 and ECNA on Monday, Maharaj denied Zuma had become Mugabe’s whipping boy. He again said there was no phone call between the two leaders and explained that as a member of Zuma’s facilitation team, Zulu must advise Zuma who can then address the public, he said. Asked whether Zuma acted to appease Mugabe, Maharaj replied, “No! He has looked at the larger issue of the necessity of Zimbabwe to look forward. [It’s] not the issue of any individual here, not the issue of any political party.”

In short, Zulu has been humiliated (the presidency and the ANC never spoke out against the “street woman” slur and seemed fine with Zulu’s comments until Mugabe shook his rattle) so South Africa could continue working with Zimbabwe. Independent, Johannesburg-based, political analyst David Monyae said it was “unusual” for a president to distance himself from a senior advisor, but the situation might be “so grave” that Zulu was a necessary sacrifice for South Africa and the SADC to continue trying to improve the country’s situation. “It’s a continuation of soft diplomacy,” he explained. It allows Zuma to appease Mugabe in public while taking him on behind doors to secure long-term gains.

It’s been a long time coming, said Monyae. Zulu’s return to Zimbabwe could have poisoned the environment and a continued feud would harm South Africa’s image across the continent. The president likely distanced himself from her to “save the entire facilitation”, he added. That’s diplomacy.

“I certainly think [Zulu] was being sacrificed,” Professor Susan Booysen from the University of Witswatersrand told Daily Maverick. She said Zulu had been principled and had tried to keep the SADC process on track, but her outspoken character had irked Zanu-PF.

Asked whether the move shows South Africa’s vulnerability on the issue, Booysen said, “It certainly is a sign of weakness.” Because the SADC’s attempts to reform the country’s politics have failed, she reasoned, Zuma has little choice but to buckle to Mugabe if he wants to stay involved. “[Zanu-PF] have proven that in the case of Zuma they can really run roughshod over South Africans on this front.” Other options to intervene have been exhausted and the mutual gentlemen’s agreement between the two countries not to infringe on issues of sovereignty puts South Africa in a tough spot.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) wants Zuma to forget the soft approach that has defined relations with Mugabe. In a statement on irregularities in the election process and Mugabe’s comments on Zulu, the DA’s Shadow Minister of International Relations Ian Davidson wrote on Monday: “This is indicative of the South African government’s failure to ensure peaceful democratic elections by the exercising of soft diplomacy in their approach towards Zimbabwe. This has since led to panic in the South African government ranks as there is no clear strategy to maintain free, fair and peaceful elections on July 31.”

Zanu-PF would distance Zimbabwe from South Africa if the government adopted such an approach and it would likely harm SA’s relations with countries across the continent. The ANC’s approach leaves little option but to appease Mugabe, even if it means humiliating someone who has been open and honest with the public about the challenges Zimbabwe faces.

The country’s politics have not reformed and there’s no way it will hold free and fair elections, said Booysen. Ironically, however, acting against Zulu might give South Africa the legitimacy to once again help negotiate a contested election and continue diplomatic relations after the poll. DM

Read more:

  • Zuma sacrifices top aide in yet another Zimbabwe capitulation in Daily Maverick

Photo: Lindiwe Zulu at the ANC's Mangaung conference, 18 December 2012 (Daily Maverick)

  • Greg Nicolson
  • South Africa


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