At the beginning of February, Omega organised its 12th Euro-African conferences in London and Munich on investment into Sub-Saharan Africa; and one of the most talked about presentations came from a leading Zimbabwean Sibusisiwe (Busi) Bango. She presented the case for investment into Zimbabwe now. But in her argument she called for the ending of targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his henchmen.
This was an influential and knowledgeable audience, and while it appreciated all the other reasons she gave for investment and commercial involvement in Zimbabwe, the reaction to her proposal regarding the ending of targeted sanctions was vociferously negative. Her whole case went down the drain on the basis of this proposal - which she strongly presented. Present in the audience was South African High Commissioner Dr Zola Skweyiya, who opened the event, and top aides from the Embassy. At that very time, their attention was fixed on organising the important visit which President Jacob Zuma was to make in less than a month's time.
I thought of this as prominent commentators attacked Zuma for making the withdrawal of sanctions the main political talking-point of his visit to London. Clearly, we now realise this was - although radical at the time - part of a bigger plan. His visit to Harare last week - setting aside three heavy days for negotiations - was important in getting Robert Mugabe to agree on the outstanding points in his bilateral relationship with Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDF. Although nothing was signed or put in place last week in Harare, the fact is that the time-scale is such that it will be very difficult for the Zimbabwean parties not to agree and take forward what was accepted. And what was accepted includes the following:
* The resignation of Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono. Gono has been seen by everybody other than ZANU-PF as a major stumbling block to the economic revival of the country.
* The appointment of Attorney General Johannes Tomana as a High Court judge (ironical given his partisan record) and his replacement by someone acceptable to all three parties.
* The dropping of treason charges against MDC MP Roy Bennett, and his appointment to a position in government.
* The sharing of ten provincial governorships among the parties; and
* The involvement of all parties in lobbying activities for the lifting of targeted sanctions.
Let's not say that the Zim situation is solved. Far from it. But getting all parties to adopt the above positions is a very important step toward finding a workable solution. What distinguished Zuma's approach from previous mediation attempts is that he engaged not just the principals but the controversial players themselves - Central Bank Governor Gono, Attorney General Johannes Tomana and Roy Bennett, who until a week or two ago faced charges of treason.
If Zuma deserves Brownie points for his robust diplomacy in Harare, he deserves Brownie points for some other things he has done over the past ten days.
Some people would say the strong action Zuma took at last week-end's ANC National Executive Council (NEC) meeting was overdue. But we will give him credit for this. Aside from demanding that Cabinet Ministers apply themselves fully to their responsibilities, and warning them of possible demotion, he clearly spoke out against the ANC Youth Leader Julius Malema, when he said: "We have witnessed in recent weeks very unbecoming behaviour.... this leadership collective must ensure that nobody gets away with that type of behaviour."
Malema is not simply a problem to the ANC and its alliance, where he has alienated and continues to alienate COSATU - something which President Zuma can't afford to have happen. As The Sunday Times put it in an editorial: "With his flair for irresponsible, populist rhetoric, Malema easily mobilises the resentment of those whom the transformation of this maimed, ex-apartheid state has yet to reach. But in doing so he is gambling with the future of everyone outside the mutually enriching circle which he is fighting so hard to remain a member of." Tough talk but very apt.
What Zuma did at the NEC was to make it possible for other ANC politicians to take stronger public positions. For example, South African Communist Party (SACP) Jeremy Cronin, who is Deputy Transport Minister, in the week after the NEC conference told a Press Club meeting that: "The ANC should realise overwhelmingly that the honeymoon is over", noting that there was a risk of losing popular support - much like ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe had done. Justifying his statement Cronin said Zuma had issued a "strong message about abusive power, and the carnival of demagoguery, sexism, racism. It is costing us all, not just the ANC but also the country."
President Zuma's assertion of authority, which so many commentators and others have been calling for, comes precisely as the main opposition political parties begin to join ranks. This last week-end saw the Democratic Alliance, the Independent Democrats, and the Congress of the People (COPE) join forces at a significant public meeting. This is an important development which deserves a separate brief.
Dr Denis Worrall
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