'Lift Zimbabwe sanctions,' Zuma to tell Britain during his state visit

South African President to face protests over Mugabe and concern at proposals to nationalise mines

Daniel Howden,Africa Correspondent
Tuesday 02 March 2010 01:00

South Africa's troubled President Jacob Zuma arrives in Britain today for a state visit that his supporters hope will allow him to move from scandals to statesmanship.

His country's first openly-polygamous President, Mr Zuma will be received with the usual pomp by the Queen and Prime Minister Gordon Brown during a three-day visit likely to be dominated by interest in his personal life and the continuing crisis in Zimbabwe.

With South Africa's rainbow flag decking the Mall and visits to Wembley, Westminster Abbey and London's Olympic Park in prospect, the 200-strong delegation is meant to signal that sub-Saharan Africa's biggest economy means business. However, Mr Zuma is followed by an economic cloud concentrated on left-wing demands for the nationalisation of the mining sector – South Africa's largest foreign currency earner.

JZ, as the populist 67-year-old leader likes to be known, is in dire need of some positive PR after a disastrous month in which he was castigated for promiscuity and then condemned after his security detail attacked a student accused of making a hand gesture at the presidential motorcade. University of Cape Town student Chumani Maxwele had a bag put over his head and was driven to a police station and interrogated on his political views after allegedly flicking his finger at Mr Zuma's entourage last month.

Deadlocked negotiations between the warring partners in Zimbabwe's power sharing government will dominate discussions with the British Government. The ANC leader will lobby for an end to international sanctions against the Mugabe regime, an embargo he said is "suffocating the unity government" in South Africa's impoverished northern neighbour.

Mr Zuma is now facing the same kind of condemnation for failing to get tough with Robert Mugabe, as his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, whom he toppled as ANC leader. Protesters including the Zimbabwe Vigil group are planning to picket South Africa House during his stay in the UK with placards ranging from "Zuma Get Rid of Mugabe" to "Rule of Law is the Problem – Not EU sanctions".

The EU embargo which includes travel bans, asset freezes and other measures targeting senior figures in Mr Mugabe's circle is supported by many in the MDC faction of the unity government. Tendai Biti, Zimbabwe's finance minister and a respected MDC leader, said last week that continuing the paralysed negotiations with Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party was pointless and that Mr Zuma and the regional SADC bloc needs to step in to resolve the crisis.

Zanu leaders have made it clear in private that there will be no concessions over replacing the central bank governor or attorney general until sanctions – which are hitting party grandees in their own pocket – are lifted. They have also refused to drop terror charges against the MDC's Roy Bennett, who has been blocked from the deputy agriculture minister position.

Escalating tensions at home are set to play an equally big role in Mr Zuma's London visit. The South African President will come under intense pressure to reassure investors spooked by the intensifying calls from Zuma allies for the nationalisation of the country's lucrative mining industry.

Two of South Africa's biggest mining concerns – diamond giant De Beers and platinum major Anglo American are headquartered in London – and both have been concerned by mixed signals over the nationalisation during Mr Zuma's recent State of the Nation address.

Powerful factions within the ruling alliance including the trade unions, COSATU, and the ANC Youth League Youth leader Julius Malema has stirred up a war of words on the issue by vowing that nationalisation will become ANC policy "in the future". Senior ANC figures have quietly distanced themselves from the calls and Mr Zuma is expected to tell investors that there is no prospect of a change in ownership rules in the short or medium term.

Despite the pressing international and economic issues much of the attention will fall on Mr Zuma's domestic arrangements after revelations that he fathered a child out of wedlock caused a public storm in South Africa. The Zulu elder, who has never hidden his stance on polygamy, has married five times and the latest of his current three wives, Thobeka Madiba, will be the Mrs Zuma who accompanies him for the stay in Buckingham Palace on her first official trip.

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