November 28, 2003

SOUTHERN AFRICA: Bid to heal rift over Zimbabwe

Senior officials from South Africa, Mozambique and Lesotho are meeting in Lesotho to try to patch up widening divisions between the countries of Southern Africa over the Zimbabwe crisis. They are trying to forge a common regional position on Zimbabwe ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Nigeria next week. Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad was expected to represent SA at today's meeting of the troika of the Organ for Politics, Defence and Security of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has not been invited to CHOGM because his country was suspended from the Commonwealth over the alleged rigging of his re-election in March 2002. His strongest ally, Namibian President Sam Nujoma, is believed to want all the SADC countries to boycott CHOGM in sympathy with him. At the other end of the spectrum is Botswana, which chairs the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group that recently endorsed the suspension of Zimbabwe and has publicly criticised Mugabe.

Some South African officials said yesterday there was a danger that Namibia and others might boycott CHOGM but that it was unlikely that SADC as a whole would do so. "But it's a difficult decision," one said. Another official agreed that a SADC-wide boycott was unlikely but said the Lesotho meeting might offer Mugabe a consolation prize of a statement supportive of Zimbabwe. Most SADC countries would not risk destroying the Commonwealth by boycotting CHOGM - although they have in the past refused to attend summits from which Zimbabwe has been excluded. In April this year, a planned summit of the European Union and African Union leaders was postponed indefinitely because the EU would not invite Mugabe - who is under a travel ban to the EU. AU leaders refused to attend if Mugabe could not.

Apart from the issue of Mugabe's non-participation in CHOGM, today's troika meeting in Lesotho would also have to decide what position the SADC countries should take on Zimbabwe at CHOGM. Heated debate is likely at CHOGM - mainly on racial lines - on the question of whether Zimbabwe should be readmitted to the Commonwealth. SA and most SADC and other African countries have taken the position that Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth for only one year and so should have been re-admitted in March this year. But Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand take the position that Zimbabwe was suspended because of violations against the Commonwealth's principles of democracy and respect for human rights. They argue that Zimbabwe is still violating these principles and cannot be readmitted until it stops doing so. (ZWNews / The Star, Johannesburg)

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