As Zimbabwe gears up for elections later this year, Robert Mugabe’s opponents are welcoming the re-election of South African president Jacob Zuma as leader of the ANC. Unlike his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, Zuma is seen by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) parties, pro-democracy civil society groups and private media as less sympathetic to the Zimbabwean president. “Mugabe stuck with Zuma”, ran one banner headline after the ANC conference in Mangaung.
Mbeki’s negotiation of the 2008 power-sharing agreement that left Mugabe’s powers largely intact and Morgan Tsvangirai in a poorly defined and weaker prime ministerial post was considered a betrayal of the democracy cause in Zimbabwe by critics of the former South African president. For his part, Mugabe once described Cyril Ramaphosa, the new deputy president of the ANC, as “a white man in a black man’s skin”. His return to top-level politics is therefore regarded by the opposition as a bonus.
Zuma’s victory allows him to remain South Africa president until the 2014 elections when he will seek a second and final term, which is all but guaranteed given his party’s electoral dominance. Crucially, this means he retains his role as the southern African regional facilitator of political reforms in Zimbabwe. The reforms are part of a power-sharing agreement the Southern African Development Community (SADC) brokered in 2008 to resolve the crisis that followed the controversial presidential election earlier in the year.
Zuma recently denied having any differences with Mugabe, claiming that they “were freedom fighters together”. But some members of Mugabe’s party, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), would have welcomed a Zuma defeat in Mangaung.
According to an insider, “Mbeki is a hero for protecting us from western regime change. Zuma did not oppose western regime change against (Muammar) Gaddafi (in Libya), so we know he is capable of giving us up to the west”.
Moreover, Zuma is accused by some in Zanu-PF of supporting the reformation of the party’s oldest rival, the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (Zapu), under the leadership of Dumiso Dabengwa. Zapu, a close ally of the ANC during southern Africa’s liberation struggle years, will challenge Zanu-PF in the upcoming elections.
Conversely the Zuma camp alleges that Zanu-PF secretly aided former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s various bids to undermine Zuma’s presidency and his campaigns for nationalisation of mines and takeover of white-owned commercial land in South Africa.
These suspicions and allegations underline the testy nature of the Zuma-Mugabe relationship, despite the recent public denials by Zuma and Zanu-PF’s national chairman, Simon Khaya Moyo.
Mugabe’s enemies are hoping for external help to ensure an effective transfer of power in the election. The MDC trade minister, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, went as far as to claim that SADC member states would intervene in Zimbabwe if the vote was not free and fair. “I have no doubt that if things went to the worst in Zimbabwe there would be a military intervention… The mood I see in SADC summits is that they will not allow a situation where Zimbabwe will go through an election that is not free and fair again. And they will be right in order to do that intervention, which is why some of us believe that there is still hope”, Misihairabwi-Mushonga said.
But, realistically, the likelihood of a SADC-led military invasion in Zimbabwe is low. Even if there was the political will, member states do not have the necessary military or financial capacity.
Zuma has insisted on the implementation of political reforms before new elections, with the adoption of a new constitution being a benchmark Ã¢â‚¬â€œ much to the chagrin of Zanu-PF. However, elections are constitutionally due in June and Zuma is unable to speed up the pace of reform. Zanu-PF is counting down the clock, as an election under the old rules would suit Mugabe’s party. The fear among the pro-democracy camp is that reforms guaranteeing an even campaign field will not have been completed by June.