Mbeki calls for “Frontline States spirit” in tackling SADC’s political challenges

by Moses Magadza – SANF 08 No 56
The 28th Ordinary SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government ended in South Africa on 17 August, with lots of best wishes for Zimbabwe’s political players but with no deal between the ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Hopes that President Robert Mugabe and his long-time arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai would sign an agreement that many hope will resolve Zimbabwe’s political and economic problems were dashed when the summit closed amid reports that the two parties were still negotiating over a power-sharing deal.

When the summit began, South Africa’s President, Thabo Mbeki who also took over the rotating SADC chair was clearly optimistic that a deal was close.

“This summit affords us the possibility to assist the Zimbabwean parties to finalise their negotiations so that together they can engage in the process of achieving national healing and reconciliation and attend to the matter of reconstruction and development of Zimbabwe and in this way extricate the masses of the people from the dire straits in which they find themselves.

“We must over this weekend draw on the inspiring legacy of the Frontline States to help put Zimbabwe on the right road to its recovery and the resumption of its role as a major driver of the process of the upliftment of our region,” President Mbeki told delegates attending the Summit including President Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara – leader of the other breakaway faction of the MDC.

That deal was not to be, despite spirited efforts by the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, which is now chaired by King Mswati III of Swaziland.

Addressing the media at the end of the summit, Mbeki, once again urged the parties to sign all outstanding agreements and conclude negotiations.

“While negotiations are continuing it may be necessary to convene parliament to give effect to the will of the people as expressed in the Parliamentary elections in March this year,” he said.

Asked when the region can expect a final agreement to be signed by the parties in Zimbabwe, Mbeki said that was a touch and go issue.

“It is clearly not possible to say when the negotiations would be concluded. It is a matter of the negotiating parties convening to look at whatever matter might be outstanding. One cannot allocate a date to this and the SADC Organ did not indicate a date by which this matter should be concluded,” he said.

He stressed that he was speaking as chair of SADC and not as a mediator in the Zimbabwe talks.

Mbeki also stressed that there was general consensus in the region that there was need for an inclusive government to improve the humanitarian, economic and social conditions in Zimbabwe. He reiterated that whatever solution in Zimbabwe should come from Zimbabweans.

“Let’s allow the people of Zimbabwe to determine their future. This is critically important because any solution that is imposed from outside will not last,” he said.

Earlier during the summit, Mbeki who took over the SADC chair from the late President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia, called for political unity and cohesion in the region.

“SADC inherited the proud record of the Frontline States under the leadership that never wavered in their resolve to ensure that none but ourselves would continue to be our own liberators. This leadership was consistent and courageous despite some of the most horrific human suffering and huge military and economic damage visited on the Frontline State.

“In recent times, however, we have had numerous challenges that have tested the very cohesion that acted as a potent weapon against those forces that have an interest in our perpetual weakness and marginalisation,” he said.

The South African president also said Africans should be united and fearless in promoting the interest of the continent.

With just a matter of months before the end of his term as president of South Africa, Mbeki took over the SADC chair at a time of political tremors and split views over some issues in the region.

Apart from the problems in Zimbabwe, there are pockets of instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo where rebels have engaged in skirmishes with government troops. There are also differences over the electoral process in Lesotho while there is a raging constitutional row in Malawi.

Observers say the outcome of talks in Zimbabwe will have significant implications on the legacy of Mbeki, who has preferred quiet to megaphone or gunboat diplomacy which the West has been clamouring for.

Among the highlights of the summit were the re-admission of the Seychelles to SADC and the launch of the Free Trade Area (FTA).

Economists say political stability is key to the success of the FTA.