October 4, 2002

SADC deals Zimbabwe major diplomatic blow

Zimbabwe was on October 3 replaced as deputy chair of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) in what diplomats said was a sign of the region's displeasure with President Robert Mugabe's policies.

Zimbabwe's role as acting deputy chair of the regional body had been expected to be formalised yesterday at Sadc's annual summit in Luanda. That would have made Harare the scheduled venue for next year's meeting. Instead, Zimbabwe was replaced as deputy chair by Tanzania and the 2003 gathering will be in its capital Dar es Salaam.

"The whole reorganisation of the SADC bureau was unscheduled and is meant to send a message to Zimbabwe that the region values peace, security, stability and respect for greater democratisation," said a diplomat who asked not to be named.

Mugabe's land policies and his controversial re-election in March were not on the official agenda of this year's summit, which ended October 3. But during the two-day gathering in Luanda, several leaders called for improved governance to lure foreign investment and spur economic growth in the region. "The heads of state and government did not have to discuss Zimbabwe's land reform directly. Their actions sent the right signal," another diplomat said.

In Harare, Zimbabwe's state-owned Herald newspaper said the country had decided not to take over as deputy chair of the SADC in order to concentrate on its land reforms. But observers saw this as a face-saving formula. Clearly, SADC leaders do not want Zimbabwe's crisis to overshadow every meeting - which was likely if Mugabe is the host.

Meanwhile, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has urged the international community to step up diplomatic pressure on Harare. MDC foreign affairs spokesman Moses Mzila-Ndlovu said the international community should adopt further hard-hitting measures to isolate President Mugabe's regime and force it to reform. He said European Union and United States smart sanctions against Harare officials should be rigorously enforced to galvanise Mugabe into action. (ZIMBABWE INDEPENDENT)

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