Cape Town — President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has condemned the leadership transition in Togo, warning that it should send a message to the people of Côte d'Ivoire on the urgency of resolving their crisis.
In his State of the Nation address opening the South African Parliament on Friday February 11, Mbeki also:
- Expressed the hope of democratic presidential elections in a unified
Côte d'Ivoire in October;
- Committed the South African government to work with "the government and people of Zimbabwe" to ensure that next month's elections are free and fair;
- Said South Africa would help the neighbouring kingdom of Swaziland "where we can" to develop a broadly-acceptable constitutional dispensation; and
- Highlighted South Africa's role in convening the African Union's sub-committee on the reconstruction of Sudan, in engaging the government of Somalia in reconstituting its state, and in working with the AU, the Carribean Community and the United Nations towards elections in Haiti later this year.
Deposed Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, living in exile as a guest of the South African government, was in the chamber for Mbeki's address. Another guest was former president Nelson Mandela, celebrating the 15th anniversary of his release from prison.
In the section of his address dealing with foreign relations, Mbeki said the "unconstitutional charade" in which President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo was succeeded by his son, Faure Gnassingbe, added to instability in West Africa.
He added: "This must communicate the message to the people of Côte d'Ivoire and the rest of our continent that everything must be done to solve the Ivorian crisis, given the importance of this country, which has the third-largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa."
Mbeki re-iterated firmly that South Africa would "continue to contribute" to helping Ivorian leaders and people "implement all the necessary steps to end the crisis in their country, creating the possibility for the holding of democratic presidential elections in October this year in a unified country."
On Zimbabwe, Mbeki said South Africa would work as part of the Southern African Development Community in pursuance of free and fair elections. Tensions between the South African government and Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change have eased slightly since a meeting between Mbeki and MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai, and the MDC is taking part in the elections.
Mbeki's cautious reference to Swaziland comes against a background of deepening tensions between unions and civil society activists demanding democracy and the autocratic monarchy run by King Mswati III, who has recently indulged in flagrantly ostentatious spending.
For the full text of President Mbeki's speech click here.