South Africa announced a major recalibration of its Zimbabwe diplomacy on Monday with a new push for dialogue between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and opposition rival, Nelson Chamisa.
International relations minister Naledi Pandor called for “practical solutions” to end their northern neighbour’s deepening economic and political crisis, declaring in Pretoria: “We need to end the crisis as soon as possible.”
Economic powerhouse South Africa has so far given President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime in Harare a wide berth, even taking up its quarrel with the United States over sanctions.
But at a symposium to discuss the Zimbabwe crisis at the University of South Africa on Monday, Pandor signalled that President Cyril Ramaphosa was seeking an inclusive political settlement in Harare.
Going forward, Pandor said, they would engage widely with not just the government but the full spectrum of stakeholders in the crisis, including the opposition, civil society, labour unions and churches.
But before that could happen, authorities in Zimbabwe had to invite South Africa to mediate, she said.
“The political formations in Zimbabwe remain at loggerheads and have apparent deep antipathy towards each other which makes joint decision-making and planning extremely difficult,” Pandor said.
“It seems clear that even as we support the call for an end to economic sanctions, the political dynamics that we observe are inextricably linked to the economic solutions and thus the politics and the economic as well as the social need to be confronted simultaneously.
“We are not going to achieve the economic resolution without resolving the political, intractable hostility and lack of amity or social conjoining on finding a national solution.”
She said the Zimbabwean leaders needed to develop a “shared notion of what must be done” to assist SADC countries to “play a positive role.”
“We need to be provided with a path that indicates that as we enter to provide support, all the parties, all the groupings, all the stakeholders in Zimbabwe are at one that that assistance, that support be brought in.”
MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, responding on Twitter Tuesday, said they were “heartened by Minister Pandor’s correct diagnosis of the major problem in Zimbabwe as toxic politics.”
“We in the MDC stand ready to welcome South Africa and SADC’s mediation in Zimbabwe to end the suffering that has gone on for far too long, and give our people hope,” Chamisa said, while reaffirming his party’s commitment to a “sustainable, peaceful outcome”.
The MDC has been demanding foreign mediation to resolve what the party says is a legitimacy crisis over Mnangagwa’s presidency, after he was declared winner following disputed elections last year. The electoral commission said Mnangagwa had a majority of just over 35,000 votes which averted a run-off election, but the MDC maintains that Chamisa was the clear winner despite a finding of the Constitutional Court in Mnangagwa’s favour.
Mnangagwa has convened a political dialogue with about 16 of the 22 presidential candidates he went up against at the last election, but it has been boycotted by Chamisa and others who say the engagement should be convened by a SADC and African Union-mandated mediator.
Some of the opposition leaders who have snubbed Mnangagwa’s political dialogue include Nkosana Moyo, Joice Mujuru, Noah Manyika, Daniel Shumba and Joseph Makamba Busha.
“While indeed as the South African government we work very closely with the government of Zimbabwe, it would be difficult for us to be seen as playing a role only with the government given the large nature of the problem that confronts our country
Mnangagwa conspired with the military to topple former President Robert Mugabe in 2017, promising economic and political reforms.
But hopes were dashed after he deployed the military to crush protests in August last year and January this year, resulting in over two dozen civilian deaths.
Inflation has eroded workers’ earnings making prices of basics like medicine and food unaffordable, while United States dollars shortages have led to the scarcity of fuel and wheat.
Mnangagwa has asked for patience, but growing anger among Zimbabweans has put the country on edge. Mnangagwa’s government has responded to the growing despondency by banning opposition gatherings and public demonstrations by workers fearing a popular uprising.