ACCORD publishes paper examining successes and challenge of South Africa's mediation efforts in Zimbabwe

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The latest Occasional Paper published by ACCORD analyses South Africa's facilitation approach to the inter-party negotiation process in Zimbabwe – from former President Thabo Mbeki's 'quiet diplomacy' to current President Jacob Zuma's assertive stance – amid competing domestic and international interests. The timely paper was published on the backdrop of 27 November 2013 claims by Mbeki that Tony Blair, former British prime minister, had been prepared to use military force to overthrow Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe in the early 2000s. Blair's camp strongly denied the allegations.

Based on an analysis of realities confronting South Africa throughout the mediation process, the paper presents the country's facilitation approach as a consequence of four streams: historical experiences, its post-apartheid foreign policy, African conflict resolution approaches, and a diagnosis of the dynamics of the Zimbabwean conflict.

The paper, entitled Mediating a convoluted conflict: South Africa's approach to the inter-party negotiations in Zimbabwe, was co-authored by Lawrence Mhandara and Andrew Pooe. Mhandara is a lecturer in the University of Zimbabwe's Department of Political and Administrative Studies in Harare, Zimbabwe and Pooe is an international relations analyst based in Pretoria, South Africa.

Their paper focuses on the three phases of the inter-party negotiation process in Zimbabwe:

  • the pre-2008 harmonised election phase
  • the post-2008 harmonised election phase
  • the period after the inauguration of the inclusive government leading up to the 2013 harmonised elections.

Mhandara and Pooe's paper examines South Africa's mediation efforts in Zimbabwe between 2000 and 2013. External intervention was necessitated by the latter's experience of multifaceted crises that became pronounced as a result of a contest for political power between the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the opposition, in the form of the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) parties – the MDC and MDC-Tsvangirai (MDC-T). This protracted conflict revolved around the legitimacy of electoral processes, related institutions and the credibility of electoral outcomes.

In the paper, the authors explore and explain the roots of the conflict in Zimbabwe in order to facilitate an appreciation of the basis for the Southern African Development Community's (SADC's) provision of a mandate for South Africa to intervene through leading in mediation efforts between the parties to the conflict. This discussion sets the stage for an examination of the competing interests of various internal and external actors, and how these interests complicated the strategies used by the two lead facilitators, Mbeki and Zuma. South Africa's mediation approaches under both Mbeki and Zuma's leadership are analysed as a prologue to the lessons learnt and recommendation provided.

Mhandara and Pooe maintain that from the onset, South Africa's mediation had to overcome a number of internal and external challenges which directly impacted on the course that the mediation took, as well as the outcome of the facilitation. They outline and explore five lessons learnt from the Zimbabwe experience and offer a recommendation directed at SADC which, it is hoped, will help support future mediation efforts in the region.

They conclude by explaining that the often-criticised 'quiet diplomacy' by Mbeki was not that quiet. Rather, the fundamental problem was that Mbeki's views, as representing the majority opinion in SADC and the AU, were not in sync with what pro-Western media and Western European countries wanted to hear – the public condemnation of the Mugabe regime. Similarly, Zuma's approach, though forceful, was informed by the same key considerations that guided his predecessor. Mhandara and Pooe remain firm that overall, South Africa's mediation and conflict resolution approach was shaped by the historical context and considerations, pragmatism, as well as national and personal interests which are discussed at length in this detailed paper.

This paper contributes to ACCORD's conflict prevention, management and resolution work which foregrounds mediation as a key strategy to prevent the escalation of contestations of power into violent, armed conflict. ACCORD Occasional Papers blend inter-disciplinary policy, practice and research on peace and security issues. The series is primarily aimed at stakeholders in the conflict resolution, peacebuilding and development and governance sectors and is an important platform for sharing new and evolving knowledge.