Will Zuma get tough with Mugabe?
Expectations for a shift in the relationship between the two nations are high as the South African president makes his first official trip to Zimbabwe today.
Johannesburg, South Africa
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But aside from being a featured guest at the Harare Agricultural Show, Mr. Zuma is expected to follow through on his campaign promises to get tougher with his northern neighbor President Robert Mugabe, and to patch together Mr. Mugabe's coalition government with his bitter rivals in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party.
While African National Congress (ANC) spokesmen insist that Zuma will be "tougher," that toughness will have its limits and won't go as far as the economic sanctions that the British and American governments employ. If there is any tough talking, it will occur behind closed doors, they say..
"Zuma is not going over there to talk about cattle, there are people dying over there," says Jabulani Steven Mabona, a senior ANC member who is close to the president. "But if Zuma acted the way the media people wanted him to, it would only make things worse. The more you insult Mugabe, the more you make things difficult for everybody. You can't just say things that make a man not listen to you. We've got to persuade people to work together."
As holder of the rotating head position of the regional South African Development Community, and with South Africa a key trading partner and supplier of much of Zimbabwe's electricity, South Africa's Zuma certainly has influence to wield. But the new president, just elected in April, is slowly changing the way South Africa deals with foreign affairs, balancing the country's accustomed position as a moral voice for the world's developing nations on the global stage with a renewed focus on democracy and human rights among its neighbors.
No more 'softly, softly'
"The fact that Zuma is meeting with [opposition leaders Morgan] Tsvangirai and [Arthur] Mutumbara is something that his predecessor avoided, and there is a clear effort to be evenhanded in dealing with Zimbabwe," says Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, an initiative of Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg.