Why South Africa's Mbeki won't rein in Mugabe
Even in Africa, pressure is mounting for Thabo Mbeki to increase pressure on Zimbabwe's president.
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"Everything that has transpired since March 29 [the first round of the elections, which Tsvangirai won] has been illegal," he says. "Mugabe and his clique cannot sustain this much longer. MDC should just wait them out, play hardball."Skip to next paragraph
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As for Mbeki's mediation, Mr. Kornegay says, "To mediate in these circumstances does more to shore up Mugabe than anything else."
Do Mugabe's credentials as a 'liberation hero' prevent Mbeki from pressuring him?
African leaders are often reluctant to criticize one another, since they see themselves united in their histories of combating European colonial rule.
Mugabe has a special place among African leaders, because unlike the vast majority of African nations, Zimbabwe won its freedom not because of imperial exhaustion, but with military force.
Yet Mugabe's liberation credentials have been shaken perhaps irreparably, because of the economic collapse of the country and the well-publicized wave of violence Mugabe's supporters have intiated against unarmed opposition activists.
"Initially, when the land invasions began, the reports were so focused on the plight of white farmers, when literally thousands of black people were being beaten up everyday."
This skewed priority of the media taps into a deep well of resentment not just in Zimbabwe, but in other nations that were formally ruled by whites, Friedman says. "I think he'd be mortified if someone stood up and said, 'You are defending white colonial farmers against a black liberation movement.' "
How do South Africa's domestic politics figure in?
Among ordinary South African voters, there is little sympathy for Mugabe and his ruling party. Newspapers portray the brutality of Mugabe's regime. But that sympathy for the Zimbabwean opposition does not translate into sympathy for the estimated 3 million Zimbabwean refugees who now live and work in South Africa, as recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa have shown.
Indeed, the only reliable base of support for Zimbabwe's opposition comes from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which is part of the ruling coalition led by the ANC.
Tsvangirai himself comes from a union background and some analysts say that Mbeki – who has had his own bad relationship with his trade unionist coalition partners – fears that possibility of a trade-union victory next door in Zimbabwe could encourage trade unionists in South Africa to push the ANC toward policies that would undermine South Africa's fragile economy.
"Mbeki's brother has said that Thabo is prejudiced against Tsvangirai," says Friedman, "because Tsvangirai doesn't have a proper college education, while Mbeki got his master's degree in Britain. But to have ... a trade unionist party [like the MDC and South Africa's own COSATU] defeating a liberation movement party [like Mugabe's ZANU-PF or Mbeki's ANC) is not something that Mr. Mbeki wants to encourage in South Africa."
Does Mbeki have concerns about regional security if Mugabe is ousted?
Few analysts see any direct security threat to South Africa if Mugabe's regime crumbled, even if Mugabe's supporters in the military launch a military coup against Tsvangirai.
Certainly more Zimbabwean refugees would flood into South Africa, joining the 3 million Zimbabweans already here.
But the bigger problem would be diplomatic. None of the leaders of the Southern African Development Community, including South Africa, could give formal recognition to the leaders of a military coup.
"This would put Mbeki and the regional leaders in a spot, because they could not recognize a government that has taken over by a military coup," says Kurt Shillinger, a research fellow at the South African Institute for International Affairs in Johannesburg.