South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s latest diplomatic push to find a solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe drew an angry response from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesmen on Tuesday.
Mnangagwa is hostile to descriptions of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse, human rights abuses and political logjam as a crisis, and is disdainful of criticism.
Ramaphosa revealed on Monday that Mnangagwa had sought a meeting of the two countries’ ruling parties – the African National Congress (ANC) and Zanu PF – but following a meeting of the ANC’s national executive meeting on Monday, it was decided that the ANC delegation would also meet his rivals.
The ANC also insisted on Ramaphosa’s special envoys returning to Harare to meet all stakeholders, after Mnangagwa blocked them from holding meetings with the opposition and rights groups in July.
In an extraordinary outburst on Twitter, Mnangagwa’s spokesman George Charamba said South Africa overestimated its capacity to solve conflicts on the continent.
Ndavaningi Mangwana, the government spokesman, appeared to accuse Ramaphosa of using Zimbabwe to divert attention from domestic problems.
Blasted Charamba: “Whence comes this impression that South Africa can intervene in Zimbabwe, assuming there are grounds for such intervention? On what basis, what might, what capacity, beyond that of solidarity, camaraderie and good-natured concern by a neighbour?
“South Africa is the youngest State in our region. It faces myriad problems of a long apartheid. It has no capacity to help any African State in SADC, beyond friendly solidarity. Let that sink into minds of all and sundry.”
Charamba suggested South Africa could not intervene in Zimbabwe outside the structures of regional trading and political bloc, SADC.
“South Africa is no donor State in SADC,” Mnangagwa’s spokesman said. “If anything, its long apartheid legacy makes its post-1994 subregional role quite problematic for the rest of SADC States who know the continued dominance of Afrikaner capital in SADC does not benefit the ANC or blacks in Soweto or Khayelitsha. That is the sordid truth.
“South Africa cannot intervene militarily in any SADC country. That lesson was driven home during the Mandela days when it sought to do so in Lesotho. Since that disastrous escapade, South African diplomacy has been tempered and restrained to function within SADC structures, as should be!
“Just what is the logic and implication of Zimbabweans of insufficient history and national consciousness asking for South African intervention in Zimbabwe outside SADC structures?”
Charamba claimed “only Zimbabwe has the capacity to play a stabilising role in SADC” while accusing South Africa of allowing itself to be “instrumentalised” by Western powers against Zimbabwe.
According to Mangwana, Ramaphosa is trying to divert attention from his country’s internal problems which include a widening poverty gap and growing challenges to his leadership.
“We are in a situation where everyone who wants a distraction from their own issues, takes a potshot at Zimbabwe,” Mangwana tweeted, while urging Zimbabweans not to “venerate foreigners who attack their country.”
Ramaphosa said the latest diplomatic push would get underway within days, with ANC secretary general Ace Magashule – who recently issued pointed criticism of Mnangagwa’s regime – leading the delegation.
The ANC also said Ramaphosa’s special envoys should return to Zimbabwe with the two processes “complementing” each other.
Ramaphosa, in an apparent response to Zimbabwean insistence that there is no crisis, said his country was “having to deal with a situation on our borders” as Zimbabweans flee growing poverty and repression.
In early August, South Africa’s foreign relations minister Naledi Pandor said “Zimbabwe’s current situation impacts on South Africa because many Zimbabweans come to seek a livelihood in South Africa.”
“There’s a political problem, it’s undeniable, it’s there and the people of Zimbabwe have to find a solution to it. We as South Africa are ready to assist,” Pandor said.
Charamba claimed it was a “foolish and misleading narrative that south-bound African labour migration is a Zimbabwean phenomenon.”
He tweeted: “You are made to feel guilt for an age-old crisis which the likes of Cecil John Rhodes started in the region and on the continent… How do we rebalance this skewed subregional industrial complex which has made all of us dormitory economies without clear understanding of history and political economy of apartheid?
“We were colonised by a South African company [British South Africa Company] and would have been a province of South Africa if not for 1923 white referendum which embarrass us by showing Rhodesians were better nationalists than black Zimbabweans.
“Have we heard Wenela? Do we know what that acronym means in terms of Africa-wide labour needs of white mining, industrial and plantation capital in South Africa? What is new or post-1980 about Zimbabweans leaving for South Africa to follow gold, chrome, platinum and diamonds extracted from their country to motor Afrikaner industry in South Africa, both during and after apartheid?”
Stephen Chan, a professor of African politics, said Mnangagwa should brace for hard diplomacy from the South Africans – the price for failing to engage constructively with Ramaphosa’s special envoys Sydney Mufamadi, Baleka Mbete and Ngoako Ramathlodi.
“In sending back the first delegation led by gentleman Sydney Mufamadi with tails between legs, Mnangagwa simply racked up pressure on himself. Now the ANC sends in the hard man (Magashule),” Chan said.