Zimbabwe: There's a Zulu On Our Stoep

analysis

Harare — AS President Robert Mugabe celebrated his disputed win in the 2002 presidential election, the very first visitor to arrive at State House to toast the victory was Jacob Zuma.

According to his office, Zuma, then South Africa's deputy president, "congratulated President Mugabe on his re-election" after a South African election observer team had declared the outcome "legitimate".

ZANU PF will probably hope Zuma was not merely part of routine South African diplomacy.

John Nkomo, ZANU PF national chairman, was in Polokwane, South Africa, as Zuma gained a foothold into the presidency of his country. Like many other Zimbabweans following the ANC conference on Tuesday night, he must have wondered what a Zuma presidency would mean for Zimbabwe.

Nkomo had earlier told the conference relations between the ANC and ZANU PF were "anchored on a shared history and shared experiences in the liberation struggle". He did not mention that the ANC was more a Zapu war ally, or that Oliver Tambo once called Zanu "the spurious stooge of the imperialists".

But even he must have grappled with the same questions many Zimbabweans asked as they watched the drama unfold.

Will Zuma's leftist allies, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South Africa Communist Party, strongly critical of President Mugabe and Thabo Mbeki's policy of quiet diplomacy, press Zuma to adopt a harder stance on Zimbabwe?

And, how does Zimbabwe now relate to Mbeki, who, after Tuesday's defeat could become a lame duck president for the next two years?

Sifting through Zuma's previous comments on Zimbabwe, no clear clues emerge of how he might handle President Mugabe.

In 2005, to much applause from the ANC benches, Zuma described as "unwarranted noises" pleas from the opposition to condemn election violence in Zimbabwe.

Last year, he told the British Sunday Telegraph that the ANC had checks and balances in place to prevent leaders becoming "monsters".

"As a member and a leader of the ANC all I do is carry out ANC policies. How could you have an individual who would become such a monster? The ANC system does not allow for that kind of thing."

Of course, the paper did not miss the opportunity to report Zuma had "called Mugabe a monster". But his handlers scrambled to insist he had not referred directly to President Mugabe, but only to the dangers of leaders staying too long in power.

Zuma refused to give a "yes or no" answer on whether or not he supported President Mugabe. But, crucially, he made clear his sympathy for the view, widely held in the ANC and across Africa, that Britain was to blame for the crisis, "because it did not live up to its promises to fund land reform".

In August this year, in an interview with the Voice of America, Zuma said he was worried the crisis had dragged on too long.

"In Zimbabwe, we are dealing with political tension that is not yet a war, which is not also based on ethnicity, which is based on political disagreement as to how Zimbabwe must be run. And of course I know it has taken too long, and I don't think it is desirable. By now that issue should be resolved. It is not also good for the neighbours."

The opposition in Zimbabwe and their supporters in civic society and media, despise Mbeki for refusing to rage at ZANU PF.

But Zuma has said: "The ANC on one hand, and the government on the other, we took the view that instead of standing out there and shouting and criticising, that is not going to help us."

In saying this, he echoed Mbeki, who has said if South Africa "shouted" at Zimbabwe, "they would shout back at us and that would be the end of the story".

But Zuma has given hints he could yet change tack.

"I think more vigorous engagement, particularly by the region, and with the supportive kind of decisions taken by the globe, I think it will go a long way."

The ANC has been anxious to drive home the point there would be no major policy shift under Zuma, and Zuma has met investors to reassure them he would not tilt the country too far to the left.

But now that Zuma's trade union and communist allies have propelled him into the ANC presidency, there must be some "payback".

COSATU will doubtless demand sterner action. Twice, COSATU officials have been deported from Zimbabwe, after they came to protest against attacks on labour unions, which are allied to the MDC.

COSATU has also been critical of Mbeki's policy on the recruitment of Zimbabweans in South Africa. Earlier this year, the union slammed Education Minister Naledi Pandor after her department said it was desperate to recruit Zimbabwean teachers.

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