SOUTH African President Cyril Ramaphosa continues to engage President Emmerson Mnangagwa over the political lockjam in Harare arising from a shambolic election, with the latest engagement having been a meeting with the embattled Zimbabwean leader on the border of the two countries on Thursday.
Ramaphosa has so far met Mnangagwa three times inside a month — in Harare, New York and in Beitbridge — as he pushes his behind-the-scene engagement on Zimbabwe.
He took the opportunity to again engage Mnangagwa in Musina on the sidelines of an event held to launch the Border Management Authority (BMA), an integrated border enforcement agency between Zimbabwe and South Africa meant to curb illegal goods smuggling, illicit drugs and cover up porous border concerns.
It was the third time that Ramaphosa was using public diplomacy skills to engage Mnangagwa over the political crisis in Zimbabwe, in the aftermath of the discredited 23 August elections largely condemned by Sadc observer mission and other international blocs.
Ramaphosa first engaged Mnangagwa at his low-key inauguration ceremony in Harare last month and also at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York soon afterwards.
At UNGA, Ramaphosa acknowledged to the media that Sadc election observer mission led former Zambian vice-president Nevers Mumba had documented challenges in the Zimbabwean elections and promised that the regional bloc’s leaders would discuss the issue.
Mnangagwa, in turn, used the opportunity to attend UNGA to engage regional leaders and try to douse the surmounting pressure on him after the shameful elections whose results were rejected by his main rival Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens’ Coalition for Change party.
CCC is demanding fresh elections.
The Sadc secretariat and the bloc’s council of ministers have already blasted the Zimbabwean government over its stance to rubbish the elections observer mission report which said the polls were shambolic.
Some Sadc leaders are pushing for an extraordinary summit on Zimbabwe as they resolutely dig in on Harare’s disputed elections although others are willing to let the matter go to rest.
Although diplomats have raised concern that not much is being done from key stakeholders in Harare to empower regional leaders to put more pressure on President Emmerson Mnangagwa, calls for special summit are growing.
There is consensus in Sadc that the 23 August general elections violated Zimbabwe’s constitution, Electoral Act and Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections as highlighted by the regional body’s election observer mission (EOM).
Diplomatic sources said minutes of the Extraordinary Meeting of the Sadc Organ Troika Ministerial Committee held on 26 September 2023 captured the thinking of Sadc leaders. The ministers, diplomats said, cannot reflect their own opinions but express the views of their leaders.
The minutes showed that the ministerial committee defended the report produced by the Sadc EOM which was headed by former Zambia vice-president Nevers Mumba.
The ministers slammed senior Zanu PF and government officials for vilifying Mumba and Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema after the observer mission, for the first time, gave an adverse report on the polls.
They said attacks from Harare had the potential of undermining Sadc processes and credibility while insisting that the report reflected the opinion of the regional observers and not Zambia as wrongly portrayed by Zanu PF propagandists.
Diplomats told The NewsHawks that the ministers reflected the Sadc opinion which was expressed in a way that heads of state would not do.
Hichilema chaired an online Sadc organ on politics, defence and security cooperation troika meeting which discussed the political and security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe’s recent disputed elections and the upcoming polls in Eswatini.
Tanzania was represented by Vice-President Phillip Mpango and Namibia by Deputy President Nangolo Mbumba. DRC Defence minister Jean-Pieþ secretary Elias Magosi and secretariat staff, including Elvado Santos and Barbara Lopi, who is head of communication and public relations, also participated in the meeting.
A communiquè released after the meeting revealed that the Sadc EOM had presented its final report to Hichilema who was preparing to hand it over to Mnangagwa and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
Minutes of the ministerial meeting however gave a reflection of Sadc leaders’ thoughts.
“The EO-MCO Troika noted that the SADC Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM) was deployed to the Republic of Zimbabwe to observe the Harmonised Elections which took place on 23rd-24th August 2023. In accordance with the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, the Chairperson of the Organ, His Excellency Hakainde Hichilema, President of the Republic of Zambia, appointed Dr. Mumba, to lead the SEOM to Zimbabwe.
“The EO-MCO Troika also noted that the SEOM is mandated to observe elections in terms of the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections which all SADC Member States signed and adopted, and have been operational since 2004 . . . . The EO-MCO Troika further noted that all SADC Member States send individuals to serve as observers under the SEOM each time another SADC Member State conducts elections.
“For the purposes of the August 2023 Harmonised Elections, observers were seconded from the Republic of Angola, the Republic of Botswana, the Kingdom of Eswatini, the Republic of Malawi, the Republic of Mozambique, the Republic of Namibia, the Republic of South Africa, the United Republic of Tanzania, and the Republic of Zambia.”
The EO-MCO Troika noted that the Sadc EOM issued its preliminary statement on 25 August 2023, as stipulated by section 11.8.1 of the Principles and Guidelines.
The meeting said the SEOM was meant to produce its final report within 30 days, adding this had been done.
In terms of section 11.8.2, when SEOMs officially submit their election reports, member states which held elections may consider the recommendations advanced by the SEOM for improving the conduct of elections; submit to the chair of the Organ, a response to the SEOM report.
The ministers then blasted Zimbabwe over its conduct.
“The EO-MCO Troika also noted with concern, the personal attacks and threats on the media that have been directed at the SEOM Head of Mission Dr Nevers Mumba and the Chairperson of the Organ, His Excellency Mr Hakainde Hichelima since the Zimbabwe SEOM released its Preliminary Statement on 25th August 2023.
“The attacks were made by individuals in both the ruling Zanu PF political party and some in high level positions in the Government of Zimbabwe,” the minutes read.
“The narrative in these attacks have been that the SEOM Preliminary Statement on the Zimbabwean elections was personally authored by Dr Nevers Mumba.
“The EO-MCO Troika further: (i) noted that such attacks undermine the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and might have a negative bearing on the SEOMs that are to be deployed in the future elections, especially with another election coming on the 29 September in the Kingdom of Eswatini; and (ii) reiterated that SEOMs are in line with the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, and that reports are produced by a collective of the Member States observers, led by the Organ Troika and supported by the Secretariat.
“The EO-MCO Troika noted that there is a risk that if unchecked, further attacks on the leadership of the Organ and of the SEOM have the potential to damage the credibility of SADC as an institution.”
Ministers commended the secretariat for taking the initiative to issue media statements that clarified the procedures that are followed by the SEOM, as they rebuffed Zimbabwe’s position, while protecting the credibility and leadership of the Organ and the SEOM.
Some Sadc leaders have been pushing for an extraordinary summit to deal with the Zimbabwe crisis. Only three leaders attended Mnangagwa’s inauguration, in what was seen as a snub to Mnangagwa following the controversial polls.
Mnangagwa however used the United Nations General Assembly in New York to lobby Sadc leaders as the pressure mounted.
Although there is consensus that the Zimbabwean polls were shambolic and not free and fair, Sadc leaders are divided on what action to take.
“Sadc’s position has been further complicated by lack of a push by key stakeholders in Zimbabwe, including political parties. With each passing day, Mnangagwa’s hand is evidently getting strengthened,” said a diplomat.