South African President Jacob Zuma arrived in Harare last evening dedicated to engaging with Zimbabwe’s political crisis. In the run-up to this visit, Zuma’s first to Zimbabwe since he was elected in May, rival parties within the frail unity government in Harare made contradictory statements regarding the visit, with ZANU-PF officials stating that Zuma would not talk politics while in the capital, ostensibly for the opening of a farm trade show. Zuma has quickly proven ZANU-PF wrong, however, as he and his staff have made it the modus operandi of their visit to demonstrate their commitment to helping Zimbabwe through its current political crisis.
Gwede Mantash, the secretary general of South Africa’s leading ANC, said Wednesday that Zuma would not shy away from being vocal, noting that the South African president would “become more vocal in what we see as deviant behavior in our neighbor.”
Zuma himself lived up to his commitment, noting in a speech at the Harare Agricultural Fair:
"The inclusive government has the responsibility to fully implement the global political agreement and thus create confidence in the process."
Speaking to Voice of America, Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai expressed excitement on the occasion of Zuma’s visit and stressed the importance of South African engagement in his country:
"President Zuma is not coming here as prosecutor or a judge, but as chairman of SADC and guarantors of the agreement, …All he wants to see is the agreement implemented and on that score I am very optimistic."
Zuma met with both Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe in Harare. At least publically, Zuma seems to have found hope in Zimababwe’s political process, as comments from last night highlight. After a formal dinner, he told reporters:
“The remaining issues are not insurmountable, and can be overcome. The most difficult path has already been travelled.”
President Zuma’s engagement is a welcome step and I hope very much that he is right that Zimbabwe’s worst times are behind it. However, the continued corruption at the heart of the unity government, increasingly disturbing reports of arrests and violence, as well as increased tension surrounding a nascent constitutional process and a six month review of the unity government make his case a very hard sell. There is lots of hard work on the horizon for the power-sharing government and international backers–of which Zuma is a key player–if those words are going to ring true.
Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma (AP)