Zim silence Mbeki's demise?
28/04/2008 08:16 - (SA)
Cape Town - South African President Thabo Mbeki's failure to criticise neighbouring Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe has weakened his international stature, analysts said.
Once hailed as a leader focused on Africa's democratic and economic revival, Mbeki's silence on Zimbabwe has been blamed either on misplaced loyalty or crippling deference.
A smiling Mbeki was photographed holding hands with Mugabe even as Zimbabweans had been waiting for weeks for the final results of a March 29 election.
He was further slammed for saying there was "no crisis" in Zimbabwe after meeting the 84-year-old Zimbabwean strongman two weeks ago.
"The election was a crisis (...) for everyone to see. He denied that was the case. He went against his own logic," said Ebrahim Fakir, a researcher at the Johannesburg-based Centre for Policy Studies.
Historic victory in parliament for MDC
Susan Booysen, political analyst at the University of the Witwatersrand, put it bluntly: "One cannot come to any other conclusion than that he has botched (...) his legacy," she said.
"People expected statesmanship. But at the end of the day, he didn't have the guts to stand up to a fellow liberation movement leader," referring to the pair's shared background in anti-colonial politics.
A partial recount of ballots in Zimbabwe handed the main opposition party a historic victory in parliament over Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF but results of the presidential poll have yet to be announced.
While the country waits, rights groups have reported an upsurge in violence by pro-Mugabe militias and the military.
The main voice in South Africa that has criticised this violence has been that of Mbeki rival Jacob Zuma, who denounced Zimbabwe's "police state" during a European tour in which he met Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
While Mbeki tried to evade the issue at a recent meeting of the UN Security Council, which South Africa chairs for the month of April, Zuma called for a speedy release of Zimbabwe's election results.
Booysen questioned Mbeki's commitment and that of the continent to democracy and human rights, as outlined in the New Partnership for Africa's Development, a continental revival plan he helped blueprint.
"This was a case where every emergency signal was going up saying: 'Help this democratic project'. He didn't step up," Booysen said. "He has suffered irreparable damage, irrespective of how the election turns out," she continued.
Mbeki's own party, the ANC, and its labour ally, Cosatu, have each contradicted his analysis.
Zimbabwe's MDC, meanwhile, has asked for him to be removed by the Southern African Development Community regional bloc as mediator.
The main US envoy for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, failed to meet Mbeki on a recent tour of the region that included talks with two other heads of state on Zimbabwe.
The media has also been scathing of Mbeki. The Washington Post published a commentary this month which described Mbeki as a bankrupt democrat and accused him of complicity in "stealing" the Zimbabwean election.
The Economist magazine said Mbeki's actions were "unconscionable".
Fakir said Mbeki had lost respect not only in Western countries, but also on the African continent for pushing issues of state independence and sovereignty at the expense of legitimacy.