South African President Jacob Zuma is set to head to Zimbabwe this week for the first time since he was inaugurated in May. Zuma will be in the capital, Harare, on Thursday to participate in the opening ceremonies of a farm trade show. However, what he will or will not say about Zimbabwe’s continually fragile unity government remains the real question.
A report from IRIN underscores the tension between MDC and ZANU-PF officials regarding the purpose of Zuma’s visit. President Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba recently noted, “President Jacob Zuma is coming here to officially open the agricultural show and not to resolve the MDC’s issues.” However MDC officials emphasized their belief that Zuma “will hold deliberations with the three principals [in the unity government]."
In the first months of his presidency, Zuma seemed to look inward instead of outward and did not actively engage with Zimbabwe’s political stalemate. Comparatively, Zuma’s predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, almost single handedly dragged parties to the negotiating table and basically forced them into signing last October’s Global Peace Agreement, or GPA, which led to the creation of Zimbabwe’s unity government.
However, recently President Zuma has certainly stepped up his game vis-à-vis Zimbabwe. Zuma met with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in Johannasburg last month and promised to engage with Zimbabwe’s crisis. Furthermore, Zimbabwe sat atop Zuma’s agenda with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she visited South Africa during her recently completed Africa trip. South Africa has a keen interest in stopping any re-ignition of intense violence in Zimbabwe, especially in the run up to the World Cup next summer, which must be seen as a coming-out party of sorts for southern Africa.
Zuma carries enormous leverage in Zimbabwe, and South Africa is far and away Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner. As fissures within the Zimbabwean government remain, corruption continues to rage, and disturbing reports of paramilitary training in Zimbabwe’s rural areas increase, there is no time like the present for South African leadership to help Zimbabwe navigate the treacherous road toward stability.