Africa News blog
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Is it just me, or is Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe starting to look more confident again? At the start of power sharing talks a few weeks back he appeared distinctly grim when he and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had their historic handshake.
In the past few days he has been much more his old self, lambasting the West at a speech to commemorate the dead in the liberation war, giving a national honour to George Chiweshe, who organised elections that were condemned by much of the world, and generally upbeat during three days of talks that in the end delivered no result.
Exactly what’s going on behind the closed doors is hard to fathom.
A top official from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF told Reuters a deal had already been done between Mugabe and Arthur Mutambara, leader of a breakaway opposition faction. “Deal sealed” read the headline from the state-owned Herald. Mutambara has come out to say that no such deal has been signed but tellingly noted that “should talks fail” any party was entitled to enter bilateral negotiations.
What a deal with Mutambara might give Mugabe is the parliamentary majority that ZANU-PF lost in the elections. What it is very unlikely to give him is hope of resolving the crisis that is destroying Zimbabwe or of persuading the rest of the world that change is underway.
Jacob Zuma, the embattled leader of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) launched a big fight for his political life on Aug. 4, asking the Pietermaritzburg High Court to dismiss a graft case against him that could stop him becoming president next year. If his application is rejected, a full corruption trial could follow later this year and South Africa could head into a protracted period of tension and uncertainty. Read the following insights from leading analysts and have your say on how the legal process could affect South Africa:
Keith Gottschalk, the University of the Western Cape (see full analysis)
“Jacob Zuma’s Zuma’s legal team has already proved, year after year that, if you have a bottomless pocket such as taxpayers, you can protract litigation, U.S.-style for the better part of a decade.”
Adenaan Hadien, Cadiz Holdings
Pietermaritzburg may well have been brought to a standstill with the resumed corruption case of Jacob Zuma in the High Court, but I suspect the same would not be true for local markets. Certainly, if last week’s market performances are anything to go by, then reactions are likely to be muted. Last Thursday, the Constitutional Court dismissed all four of Zuma’s appeals to prevent the state from using potentially damaging evidence against him in his corruption trial. On Monday, Zuma’s legal team submitted an application for a permanent stay of prosecution, arguing that his constitutional rights have been violated. This application and the round of appeals which may follow if, as is expected, it was rejected, would again delay things.
On the week, the local currency gained over 4% against South Africa’s trading partners’ currencies and bonds enjoyed gains last seen in the late-1990s. Equities put in a more mixed performance on the week, due to the oscillating woes of resources against financials and industrials. The performances of bonds were even more impressive, given the higher-than-expected consumer inflation figures released on Wednesday. Granted, Thursday’s producer inflation numbers were more encouraging.
Raenette Taljaard, Helen Suzman Foundation
ANC President Jacob Zuma’s quest for a pre-trial stay of prosecution looks certain to perpetuate uncertainty and an uncomfortable ongoing holding pattern and turmoil inherent in these dramatic events.
These compounded uncertainties do not only affect the South African economy with perceptions of political risk ratcheting up as key members of the new ANC leadership step up the rhetoric as Zuma goes to court but also creates tremors for core constitutional institutions and the bench in South Africa. After upholding the search and seizure warrants used against Zuma and rebuking his legal team for what amounts to delaying tactics, the Court also discouraged pre-trial legal wrangles of the kind that started in Pietermaritzburg.
Keith Gottschalk, The University of the Western Cape
The Presidency currently has a line item budget of 10 million rand per year for Zuma’s legal expenses. By South African standards, this is a record. It will certainly enable his legal team to appeal every point of procedure, then if necessary the verdict, and sentence. Each appeal starts with a delay of six or nine months on the court rolls, repeated as it winds it way upwards through a full bench of the High Court, followed by the Supreme Court of Appeal, followed by the Constitutional Court.
Mandela is revered globally for using his personal charm to promote reconciliation in a racially divided country on the verge of a racial bloodbath after his release from 27 years in apartheid jails for battling white domination. The emerging multiracial or rainbow nation he moulded is seen as his greatest legacy.
Although Zimbabwe got all the headlines, the official theme of the African Union summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was water.
That made it all the more surprising for thirsty delegates that there was none for them to drink.
Journalists covering the summit had other complaints.
Usually, these meetings are a glorious chance for reporters to grab quotes from normally elusive heads of state as they glide through the plush halls, flanked by aides and bodyguards.
But the Egyptians had other ideas at this summit. Maybe it was a sign of the sensitivity of the discussions, with Zimbabwe’s election crisis overshadowing all other topics. Or perhaps it was an indication of the immensely tight security around Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — who escaped an assassination attempt at an African summit in Ethiopia in 1995.
Local security officials banned reporters from entering areas even two halls away from where the leaders were meeting.
A few news crews still got through, but some scuffled with President Robert Mugabe’s security men late on Sunday — the 84-year-old leader was himself knocked about. After that, security became even tighter, with journalists confined only to a smoky, overcrowded press centre.
Reporters like me and Reuters colleagues Opheera McDoom and Cynthia Johnston were banned from going to interview leaders even after their aides came to escort us to see them.
At least one official was advised not to enter the press room — to avoid provoking a crush. Egyptian security said they couldn’t guarantee the safety of officials.
Meanwhile, journalists were barricaded in one end of the building, with no food provided apart from two coffee breaks during the 12-hour days. Those offerings were devoured in seconds by a ravenous pack, depriving those who weren’t quick enough for even a dry piece of cake.
AU officials griped about the lack of hospitality too.
“This is the worst summit ever,” said one experienced AU official.
The decision has been met by a storm of international condemnation of the violence, with increasingly powerful voices speaking out from Africa. On Tuesday President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and ANC leader Jacob Zuma joined the condemnation and called for the vote to be postponed.
South African police say at least 13 people died over the weekend of May 17 as a wave of xenophobic violence spread to more townships. Local media put the total death toll at around 20 since the violence broke out, fuelled by widespread poverty and social problems more than decade after the end of apartheid. The bloodshed has included the “necklacing” of at least one man who was burnt to death and it has echoes of the brutal violence at the end of apartheid.
The immigrants, including millions who have fled from Zimbabwe, are accused of taking jobs and being responsible for the high rate of violent crime. They say they are more likely to be victims than perpetrators. The outbreak of violence is another blow to the policies of President Thabo Mbeki, accused both of spreading the fruits of black rule too slowly to his poor supporters and of failing to broker an end to Zimbabwe’s crisis. It is an embarrassment for a country that was once known as one of the most welcoming to immigrants and asylum seekers. Many members of the current African National Congress (ANC) leadership took refuge abroad during the anti-apartheid struggle. Is the rainbow nation losing its unique status as a beacon of liberal attitudes in Africa? Have the South African poor lost patience with Mbeki’s government? What do you think?