PRESIDENT Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has come under fire ostensibly for failed diplomacy on Zimbabwe. Mbeki’s critics blame his so-called ‘quiet diplomacy’ for alleged failure to deliver political change and direction in Zimbabwe. Mbeki himself has asked those spitting fire at him to show him something called ‘loud diplomacy’.
Seemingly, Mbeki has to conduct his diplomacy on the public domain and rebuke President Robert Mugabe at every turn. This is what would please the hard-to-please Mbeki critics who see fault in every move he makes on Zimbabwe.
Attacks on Mbeki have come from expected and unexpected quarters, including the ruling African National Congress of South Africa (ANC). The position taken by the ANC to deride their man in public is understandable though not plausible. It is both a vendetta by those who have personal scores to settle with their president, while also providing a perfect ‘shower’ for others to cleanse themselves given the heavy baggage that they carry into office.
Bashing Mbeki and Mugabe is a way to earn acceptability and credibility, particularly from the West. Turning Mbeki and Mugabe into punchbags may also be calculated at earning foreign aid by some.
Those jumping to pass harsh judgment on Mbeki are playing a game of poker. They want to score cheap political points while trying to entice the West to embrace them because Western support is conditional to the pursuit of a subservient foreign policy that toes its line.
Back to Mbeki. Can Mbeki’s mission in Zimbabwe, in all fairness, be described as a failure and if so in what sense? What was Mbeki supposed to mediate, what was his original mandate and why is he still having his job as mediator if he has failed the mission?
We hope there is consensus that Mbeki’s mission was never to negotiate Mugabe out of office. He was not to become judge, jury, prosecutor or policeman over Zimbabwe. That is not his mandate. Why he is expected by some to have acted outside the scope of his mandate is baffling to say the least.
Mbeki’s mission was to bring the parties to the political dispute in Zimbabwe to a negotiating table to hammer an agreement on all disputed issues pertaining to the March 29 elections. His mission was to facilitate, through consensus, a peaceful and credible election in line with SADC principles.
The elections are now history and no one in his/her right mind disputes the fact that the elections in Zimbabwe were credible and by and large free and fair. The parliamentary elections whose results are out so far have delivered victory to opposition Movement for Democratic Change and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai is falling over himself about the victory.
There is no doubt that Mbeki’s mediation efforts have paid dividends in this regard. If not, Tsvangirai and his backers would not have been on top of the clouds as is the case. It is hard to imagine that without Mbeki’s mission, this scenario would have been possible.
Tsvangirai and company would probably have boycotted the entire electoral process like he threatened to do ahead of the elections but thanks to Mbeki the process has run its course.
The fact that the presidential election results are not out yet cannot be blamed on Mbeki. He, like everybody else, must be keen to hear the results.
History will judge Mbeki for what he has achieved not only in Zimbabwe but also in other trouble spots on the continent.
Mbeki’s diplomatic skills honed over many years in the ANC are unquestionable and have produced results in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Ivory Coast where South Africa has helped bring peace.
Mbeki has proven that he is a troubleshooter contrary to the thankless few that continue to lambast him over non-issues in Zimbabwe. He has a lot to show and has done so much to bring peace to the continent.
He has probably done much more than anybody else on the continent to end conflict and has no equal as a peacemaker on our troubled continent.