The South African President is on record as having said the Zimbabwe problem is a distraction to development and should be resolved sooner rather than later for the benefit of Zimbabweans and the region in general. It is true that the change of leadership in South Africa which resulted in the widely expected election of Jacob Zuma as new president was greeted with song and dance. This was so especially in the ranks of the former opposition MDC party, the politically disenfranchised and the poor in both Harare and Pretoria.
The political enigma that ensued Zuma’s election is clear testimony of the extent of despair and frustration that had developed amongst the people on both sides of the Limpopo. This frustration and discontent was mainly directed to former SA president Thabo Mbeki, who many believed abused his country’s quiet diplomacy by allowing a drift in the resolution of the political crisis in Zimbabwe. There are strong sentiments that his inefficiency or reluctance to resolve the Zimbabwe puzzle could have contributed in a way among others issues of course to the premature demise of his once glorious political career, debatable. Mbeki’s closeness to President Mugabe did compromise his standing not only as an honest broker in the between the belligerent MDC/Zanu PF parties but as a champion of African Rennaisance as well. Some believe that if Mbeki had been tougher on President Mugabe much earlier the situation in Zimbabwe would have been a lot better today. For his sins, Mr Mbeki is now consigned to the political not so good history of South Africa and the region. The man’s once mighty political influence over Zimbabwe has since evaporated unceremoniously.
President Zuma on his part has made it abundantly clear, at least rhetorically, that he wants to clean the mess that his highly fancied predecessor created. However, the extent to which his fix Zimbabwe strategy will succeed is unknown. The one sure thing about the man is that he has a new pair of hands, not sure as to whether his hands are clean or not only time will tell. What distinguishes Zuma from his predecessor is that he says the right things about Zimbabwe, not because he is a new man at the helm but because he has a Road Map for Zimbabwe, which resonates well with ordinary Zimbabweans and the progressive members of the international community.
President Zuma has a lot to prove to the world after having been a ‘victim’ of political conspiracies before for right or wrong reasons. In all fairness, President Zuma has a better predisposition to political success in view of his closeness and understanding of the rank and file. This background could help him in his quest to demonstrate to the world that albeit being a member of the ‘low caste’ intellectually, he is a pragmatist who can achieve better than his critics can predict.
The big dilemma facing Zuma is his ability to arm twist or manipulate other influential African leaders traditionally aligned to President Mugabe to withdraw the whip if he does not conform to the agreed conditions of political change. Zuma has the advantage of using his country’s political and economic heavyweight status in Africa to influence events and change the direction that he believes is the right one especially in Zimbabwe where rapid political change is required. Assuming that the other African leaders traditionally sympathetic to Zimbabwe’s flawed land reform campaign listen to Zuma’s views, this could be a major litmus test to President Mugabe’s influence in Africa.
Some analysts believe that should President Zuma secure the backing of a handful of influential African leaders such as Presidents Khama of Botswana, Gaddafi of Libya, Kikwete of Tanzania and Yara dua of Nigeria President Mugabe might be forced to end his belligerence towards his political rival and co-operate on the outstanding political stumbling blocks in his country. It appears President Zuma does not wish to harm the traditional Zanu PF / ANC relations in the long term for political expedience but sees the need to put pressure on Zanu PF to speed up the pace of political change. President Zuma will have to be very diplomatic in the way he handles the controversial and delicate ‘fix Zimbabwe’ campaign. Zuma needs to be consistent and responsive to the long term interests of both the Zimbabwean public and his political constituency back home in South Africa. President Zuma’s relationship with the smaller MDC faction, with Prof Welshman Ncube in particular, is also another critical dimension of his fix Zimbabwe strategy.
Ultimately, whilst it is true that President Zuma wants a speedy resolution to the Zimbabwean crisis, there is need for cautious optimism as to how far he can go in realistic terms. Politicians in general and African leaders in particular have the propensity of saying things they cannot deliver and drawing road maps which never take off the ground. President Zuma has a mountain of problems at home at the moment, which include interalia; increases in poverty and income disparities at home, sporadic industrial actions, managing a shaky economy, dealing with the rise in HIV/AIDS cases and uniting his once divided ANC party. The Zimbabwe issue quite rightfully will have to compete for consistent and equal attention on Zuma’s endless list of TO DO THINGS. It is generally believed in Zimbabwe and beyond that President Zuma’s initial words about change in Zimbabwe gave Zimbabweans a semblance of hope and a cautious sense of optimism. Only time will tell whether President Zuma is going to be the one to consign President Mugabe to political Siberia.