The campaign against President Robert Mugabe has reached hysterical proportions. He has been called a tyrant, a murderer, a hate-mongering leader and Zimbabwe’s president-by-fraud, but he has survived it all. It Looks Mugabe is slowly getting over the most critical threat to this new presidential term, famine and the shortage of basic commodities. Though queues for these commodities are still the order of the day, they have now largely been written off as the work of hoarders trying to cash in on the shortages.
It appears that it is the West, which believed that it could exert enough pressure to see Mugabe go, that is getting frustrated at the failure of measures that they have adopted. Observers say this probably explains United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner’s outburst that his country does not recognise the legitimacy of Mugabe’s government and is working with Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique, as well as other organisations to topple him.
Observers say his reckless outburst was either because of frustration or he realised that the game was up. He thought he had been sold out by leaders of the countries that he thought were collaborating with his government. Coincidentally, Kansteiner’s revelation came shortly after a high-powered delegation from Botswana’s ruling Democratic Party had spent a few days in Zimbabwe discussing relations with the ruling ZANU-PF. Sources say the meeting was more to reassure the Zimbabweans that Gaborone was not part of the US plot.
To spite the Americans, Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano has officially opened the Harare Agricultural Show. South African President Thabo Mbeki has been mum about Zimbabwe since March. Everyone is speculating about his views and what he thinks. “The media is circulating third or fourth hand information because Mbeki has not said a word about Zimbabwe since March,” one political observer said.
The right wing Washington Times says the United States is trying to put pressure on Mugabe through Africa’s powerhouses- South Africa and Nigeria, bit it has had little luck. It notes: “South Africa’s back-door efforts to urge better behaviour from the Mugabe cabal have clearly been ineffectual. But convincing South Africa and Nigeria to lead the charge is tricky, which is probably why the White House has had little luck.”
But the paper gives a more plausible reason why Mbeki has been more cautious. “Zimbabwe is to South Africa what Mexico is to America. Strife in Zimbabwe resonates in South Africa, particularly through waves of immigrants. While some distinguished South Africans have publicly rebuked Mr Mugabe, such as Nobel Prize winners Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African President Thabo Mbeki has been more muted, fearing a backlash or political upheaval.”
Though a darling of the West, Mandela is considered to be out of touch with reality because of his long spell in prison, unlike Mbeki who lived in exile and knows the African experience. The same applies to Tutu. He may be a hero in South Africa and in the West, but he hardly counts in Zimbabwe, especially in ZANU-PF circles. Chissano does. But to expect him to ditch Mugabe now, even though the West may have poured millions into his country is to grossly underestimate the close ties between the two counties as well as between Frelimo and ZANU-PF.
Botswana, though economically powerful, dare not cross its militarily powerful neighbour. It already has enough problems of its own. Only last month, a Botswana paper said the government was spending P2 000 an hour to repatriate illegal immigrants. This is more than the minimum wage most Batswana get a month. It had spent P727 100 in the first half of this year to repatriate some 14 542 illegal immigrants most of whom were Zimbabweans. Any turmoil in Zimbabwe backfires on it directly.