Mugabe’s Multiple Mistakes

Many people who observe the Zimbabwe situation fail to recognise that Mr. Mugabe has made several serious errors of judgment in the past year - errors that, in my view, will cost him the Presidency in 2008. For the purpose of this missive I will deal with each of those errors of judgment in sequence, rather than consequence.

The first error is an observation rather than a specific event. Had Mr. Mugabe co-operated with President Mbeki in his various efforts over the past 7 years to find a solution to the Zimbabwe crisis, we would have been in a very different situation today. In all probability we would have seen Mr. Mugabe retire some years ago and a 'reformed Zanu PF' regime ushered in with a reformist agenda. MDC would have been relegated to the opposition benches, international recognition would be creeping back and Zimbabwe would be slowly recovering.

Instead Mugabe has repelled all attempts to persuade him that his time is up, humiliated and subdued the alternative leadership that is available in Zanu PF and insisted on remaining in power despite the clear failure of his administration in all spheres of government.

It was against this backdrop that his decision to try and defer the electoral challenge from March 2008 to June 2010 in December 2006 came as such a shock to South Africa. He had talked about this for some time, it was expected but it was not until he announced this decision at the December Zanu PF conference that it actually sank home in South Africa that this might impact on the World Cup. The South African government is determined to hold the World Cup and to make a success of this huge event at all costs. Nothing will be allowed to disturb the path to May/June 2010!

Mbeki brought his Zimbabwe team back together and instructed them to think about a solution to the Zimbabwe crisis, one that would protect the World Cup and get the Zimbabwe situation off South Africa’s back. One major consideration that had changed since 2002/2005 was the rise of Jacob Zuma and the understanding that this meant the ANC alliance was no longer under threat by the possible withdrawal of Cosatu.

The subsequent foreign policy review led to the meeting in Accra on the 7th March where President Mbeki met Mr. Mugabe and persuaded him to revert to March 2008 for the next elections. He also broached the subject of the conditions under which those elections might be held.

Mr. Mugabe’s third mistake was not to read those signals right and to under estimate his opponent in the form of President Mbeki. He assumed (wrongly as it turned out) that he could 'deal' with Mbeki in the same way that he had dealt with a challenge from Mr. Mandela in the late 90’s when the latter tried to get him to step down from a senior position in the SADC. He thought that he had enough friends and supporters in the SADC region to be able to blunt the SA initiative. He was wrong on both counts.

President Mbeki knew his man - he understood very clearly just what type of character he was dealing with and prepared his ground very carefully. SADC was fully briefed and he also drew in the international community to be sure that they would support the new initiative. So when Mbeki called the March 29th emergency SADC summit - it had been carefully set up and prepared and Mr. Mugabe faced a united group of 10 SADC Presidents and 3 Foreign Ministers when he walked into the hall in Dar es Salaam.

Even then, having learned of the consensual nature of the decisions he was faced with in SADC, Mr. Mugabe believed that he could manipulate SADC and avoid the full implications of the SADC decisions on the March 2008 elections. Because he was so confident he made his fourth mistake. When the two negotiating teams were scheduled to start work in May and June, Mugabe simply ignored the meetings and instructed his Ministers to go about their ordinary work. The timing of the second snub could not have been worse. The Presidents of 5 African countries were scheduled to meet with the G8 leadership in Germany and had thought that they had done enough to ensure that the Zimbabwe crisis would not ambush the G8 summit again. Instead of being able to say that the Zimbabwe crisis was being dealt with - they had a letter from Mr. Mugabe listing all the reasons why Zanu PF would not talk to the MDC. Mbeki was furious.

The unthinkable then happened - the talks began with no fanfare and for the next 6 months Zanu PF arrived on time and on schedule for all arranged meetings and eventually a complete package of reforms were agreed and signed. Then Mr. Mugabe made mistake number five. He tried to avoid implementing the deal just completed. MDC responded with outrage - what had the past six months of painful negotiation been for? The proposed delay in the whole reform process was rejected and the facilitators were confronted with a complete impasse.

President Mbeki had his own problems to deal with and said to the MDC that he would deal with the situation as soon as he had completed the ANC Congress in Polokwane. When he finally got back to the Zimbabwe situation he did the necessary preparatory work to ensure he did not fire any damp squibs and then called a meeting of the negotiating teams for this past week. Mugabe then made his sixth mistake - he instructed his people not to attend. President Mbeki was informed that 'we have an election to contest, we do not have the time for these futile meetings!'

Needless to say, the cattle prod came out of its box and was used and I understand the negotiating teams are in South Africa today for what is expected to be final talks about the whole process. President Mbeki and his SADC colleagues have too much at stake to allow Zanu PF to prevaricate, this time a deal will be done and it will be implemented. Kenya has driven that lesson home to regional leaders, there is just too much at stake.

I think that because of these key events and mistakes of judgment by the Mugabe team, Zimbabwe will get its elections - probably sooner rather than later, they will be reasonably free and fair, compromises will be made and time alone will give the outcome. They often say about tennis, that you lose the game more from your mistakes than for the brilliance of your game. Mr. Mugabe must ponder on that truth as he starts the final match of this contest.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 12th January 2008