Leading article: Zimbabwe needs more than quiet diplomacy

Related Topics

The recent history of Zimbabwe has felt like a series of false dawns. Hopes that Robert Mugabe's cruel and chaotic rule might finally be over have been repeatedly dashed, as the old dictator moved ruthlessly to steal the election he had so obviously lost. He deployed a formidable array of sly tactics: invasions of white farms, arrests of election officials, bogus recounts and campaigns of intimidation in areas where the people had dared to vote against him. And yet it seems that the tide has finally turned against him.

Key in this change has been South Africa's leader-in-waiting, Jacob Zuma, who arrives in London today for talks with Gordon Brown before moving on to meet the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Mr Zuma, in his toughest comments to date, yesterday called on African leaders to move in to unblock the Zimbabwean logjam. The remarks come all the more powerfully from the man who is now head of the African National Congress and the front-runner to take over as South Africa's president from Thabo Mbeki, whose "quiet diplomacy" approach is increasingly seen as discredited at home and abroad.

To be fair, Mr Mbeki had his moment. It was his initiative which changed election rules in Zimbabwe, requiring the results of each count to be nailed to the door of each polling station. That was what made it clear to the world, despite Mr Mugabe's attempt to stifle the result, that he had roundly lost. But quiet diplomacy has had its day. Mr Brown realised that when he spoke out against Mugabe vote-rigging at the United Nations, in a marked departure from the silence Tony Blair kept for fear that public condemnation merely fuelled Mugabe's rants about how everything was a plot by the British. A new momentum is clear all across Africa.

The President of Zambia has just urged Angola to turn away a ship carrying Chinese arms for the Mugabe regime, which South African trade unions refused to unload in Durban last week. Kenya's new prime minister has appealed for African heads of state to use force if necessary to remove Mugabe from power. The African Union has this week added its voice to the chorus of disapproval; its current chairman, the President of Tanzania, is pressing within the AU and the Southern African Development Community for action. All of that is far more important than condemnations from Western nations.

It is significant that, though the South African High Court suspended the Chinese arms shipment's conveyance permit, it was the nation's transport union, Satawu, which led the fight against allowing weapons to the Zimbabwe regime. Satawu was a key force in the struggle against apartheid. It is also now an important ally of Mr Zuma, whose power base is mainly among the trade unions. Zimbabwe's rightful president, Morgan Tsvangirai, whom Mr Zuma went out of his way to meet – in contrast to Mr Mbeki – is a former trade unionist, too. He is also, like Mr Zuma, of Zulu tribal origin.

There is a power struggle between Mr Mbeki, who steps down as president next year, and Mr Zuma, his former deputy. Its outcome is not absolutely certain; for eight years, Mr Mbeki has spared no effort in trying to nail Mr Zuma, with charges of tax evasion and rape which Zuma supporters say were trumped up. He was acquitted of rape but faces a corruption trial in September. If Zimbabwe is one of the key cards in the poker game between the two men, that could yet work to the advantage of Zimbabweans. Mr Zuma knows that if he can broker some kind of resolution in that benighted nation, it will go a long way to alleviating concerns in the international community about his leadership ability.It will raise his political stock at home and throughout Africa. Change for Zimbabwe may, after all, be unstoppable.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Deputy Head of Science

£36000 - £60000 per annum: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client are a we...

IT Teacher

£22000 - £32000 per annum + TLR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client is...

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Countries that have relaxed sex-worker laws have seen a fall in Aids infections but no increase in street-based prostitution  

As an ex prostitute, I urge all the political parties to commit to the Sex Buyer Law

A still from Central African Republic: Descent into Chaos  

Rory Peck Awards 2014 News Finalist: Pacôme Pabandji

Independent Voices
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London