By Alex Bell
04 February 2011
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma on Thursday warmly welcomed the disputed Zimbabwe ambassador unilaterally appointed by Robert Mugabe, in a move that analysts say further undermines his efforts to mediate in Zimbabwe’s political crisis.
Ambassador Phelekezela Mphoko was among a group of ten officials who presented their credentials to Zuma on Thursday, despite warnings that Mphoko’s appointment was unconstitutional. Zuma appeared to pay no mind to this, warmly greeting the new envoy. Zuma said that it was important that the situation in Zimbabwe be speedily resolved and hoped that Mphoko would provide greater insight into the challenges in his country.
Mphoko in turn said he was appreciative of South Africa's mediation efforts, and said the country had proved to be an "all weather friend" to Zimbabwe. He also echoed ZANU PF’s sentiment about targeted sanctions placed on the Mugabe regime by the West, praising Zuma for refusing to support the "illegal sanctions.”
Mphoko, who used to be Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Russia, is a known Mugabe loyalist and said to have close links to Zimbabwe’s intelligence services. He also controversially dismissed the Gukurahundi atrocities as a ‘Western conspiracy’ during a panel discussion on Zimbabwe in 2009. At the same discussion he openly jeered other participants, who included human rights attorney Beatrice Mtetwa, calling them “sell-outs”, accusing them of misrepresenting the situation in Zimbabwe.
The MDC in South Africa has since slammed South Africa’s acceptance of Mphoko, saying the move will “weaken” Zuma’s mediation efforts in Zimbabwe. The MDC’s Chairman in South Africa, Austin Moyo, told SW Radio Africa that Zuma is undermining the Global Political Agreement (GPA) that, as mediator in Zimbabwe’s political crisis, he is meant to be supporting.
Mugabe’s unilateral appointment of ambassadors is a serious bone of contention in the unity government as, under the GPA, Mugabe is meant to consult Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on all new appointments.
“Zuma is actually supporting a unilateral decision taken by ZANU PF,” Moyo said, adding: “We think that, as a mediator, he is not acting fairly.”
Prime Minister Tsvangirai has asked the United Nations, the EU, South Africa and other counties not to recognise ambassadors appointed by Mugabe, because their appointment was done without any consultation with his partners in the shaky coalition government.
But political commentator Professor John Makumbe on Friday told SW Radio Africa that the latest developments are “a clear indication of which side of the Zimbabwe crisis Jacob Zuma and South Africa are on.”
“This sends a strong message to the MDC-T that they should stop being so dependent on SADC and the African Union, without themselves being active and leading activism in Zimbabwe,” Makumbe said.
He continued that the MDC’s lack of activity on the ground in Zimbabwe is worrying, saying the party should be leading the people in driving change.
“We are seeing more of ZANU PF that the MDC on the ground. The MDC is not even reacting to ZANU PF. They should be actively pushing for change, not waiting for others to give it to them,” Makumbe said.