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South Africa will not 'bully' Mugabe

Published:Wednesday | April 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM

André Wright, Night Editor

Outgoing South African High Commissioner Faith Radebe has defended her country's stance on the Robert Mugabe government in neighbouring Zimbabwe, arguing that intervention beyond diplomatic arm-twisting would be anti-democratic and counterproductive.

In an interview with The Gleaner last Thursday, Radebe credited the mediation of former South African President Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, the current president, for Mugabe's inclusion of once-spurned Opposition Leader Morgan Tsvangirai in a coalition, with the latter assuming the post of prime minister.

The intrigue unfolding in Zimbabwe over the last decade has been intense, as the Mugabe administration has been weighed down with multiple crises ranging from food shortages and stratospheric devaluation of its dollar to a population exodus and political cross-fighting.

Radebe, however, expressed confidence that all was not lost.

"We're speaking about a country where elections are going to be held soon. It is (because of) South Africa," said Radebe, who ends her ambassadorial tour in Jamaica early next month to take charge of her new role back home as inspector general of intelligence.

"If people of the world are thinking about South Africa invading Zimbabwe, we recognise the government of each and every country as independent. We cannot play bully boy in Africa!"

Strange bedfellows

However, Mugabe and Tsvangirai make strange bedfellows, and the unity government they have forged has been akin to a bad marriage from the get-go - fraught with tension and dispute. Mugabe still maintains real authority in the southern African nation, which gained independence in 1980, and top government posts have largely been assigned to allies in order to maintain his grip on power.

South Africa's concerns about, and diplomacy towards, Zim-babwe hinge largely on the fact that they are bordering states. Instability and civil war would have major repercussions for South Africa, which is already burdened with a wave of illegal Zimbabwean migrants fleeing economic decline and political victimisation. Anywhere between one and three million Zimbabweans have already descended on South Africa in recent years.

"Remember that we are the neighbours of Zimbabwe. Anything that affects Zimbabwe, we are affected," she told The Gleaner.

"If the Zimbabwean economy doesn't thrive, the South African economy doesn't thrive; if the Zimbabwean government falls, the South African government suffers. We've got to tread very carefully when we deal with Zimbabwe."

The high commissioner argued that South Africa remained committed to the twin responsibility of buttressing Zimbabwe's democratic platform - however shaky - and its sovereignty.

"I do not think the world wants a failed state," she said.

Radebe, whose diplomatic radius covers the Commonwealth Caribbean, was equally resistant to calls for the 86-year-old Mugabe to step down, despite the eroding legitimacy of his 30-year rule in the eyes of some international partners, mainly Britain and Australia.

"That is the problem of the people of Zimbabwe. ... My country's role is to make that country work. If the people of Zimbabwe don't want Mr Mugabe, they will vote him out."