A diplomatic row has blown up between South Africa and Zimbabwe – 10 days before the latter’s crucial general election.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe tore into his South African counterpart, President Jacob Zuma, at a political rally at the weekend – comparing him scathingly to his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, and accusing him of taking too much of a back seat in his role as a facilitator of the Zimbabwean July 31 poll.
He was also heated in his criticism of Zuma’s international relations adviser, Lindiwe Zulu.
Earlier this month Mugabe referred to Zulu as a “stupid and idiotic South African street woman”. He called on Zuma to rein her in.
Last night The Presidency tried to defuse the row.
Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj acknowledged the concerns expressed in Zimbabwe about comments made by “one or other members” of Zuma’s technical team regarding the election process.
“Zuma is the only one authorised by the Southern African Development Community to speak on Zimbabwe,” said Maharaj.
“To the extent that there have been statements allegedly made by one or other member of the technical team, including Lindiwe Zulu, President Zuma regrets the unfortunate statements … they were unauthorised and include inaccurate remarks carried in newspapers reporting that President Zuma had contacted President Mugabe to express his unhappiness [about]the Zimbabwe elections.
“President Zuma has been alerted that there are comments on social media networks attributed to a member of the technical team, which is unfortunate,” Maharaj said.
Zuma was appointed facilitator for the Zimbabwe election by the SADC.
Zulu is said to support the Movement for Democratic Change’s call for a delay in the vote following alleged irregularities in the special voting for the election and her reported comments on the issue on social networks in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe on Saturday said he believed that Mbeki had been a better mediator than Zuma in the Zimbabwean political crisis. Zuma, he said, “takes a back seat and gives advisers a free role on his presidential duties”.
He said he was interested only in hearing Zuma speak about Zimbabwe, not Zulu.
“We were given one facilitator with one mouth and that is President Zuma himself. That is the voice, the only voice, we want to hear.
“May I say that the persistent negative voice from South Africa … could it please be stopped? I appeal to President Zuma to stop this woman of theirs from speaking on Zimbabwe.
“Yesterday it was President Thabo Mbeki who was facilitator and only his voice spoke, no other voice spoke,” Mugabe said.
Mbeki has been severely criticised for his “quiet diplomacy” on Zimbabwe, which analysts say yielded no results.
Last night Maharaj said: “We realise that Zimbabwe has just a few days to go before the elections and we want to assure that no future incident will arise … Statements with regard to the election process will only come from President Zuma.”
He said Mugabe’s concerns had not been on the agenda of the meeting of the SADC’s peace and stability troika in Pretoria on Saturday.
“No questions arose over the removal of any of President Zuma’s technical facilitation team … no investigation is being conducted.
“There was a simple question … did anyone make a statement out of turn; has the statement caused any problems; are these problems such that they deflect from the real issues Zimbabwe faces? Our statement is intended to remove this [contention]from the table.”