Mugabe basks in SADC glory
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is basking in the glory of his new role as the deputy chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which he described as an “honour” bestowed upon him by regional peers.
His acceptance into the regional fold after years of near isolation marks a significant change of fortune for the 89-year-old leader who had been cast as a pariah; weighed down on one hand by sanctions imposed by the West and on the other by his failure to win over sympathy from SADC.
Addressing the Eighth session of Parliament, President Mugabe laid down the direction of the country’s foreign policy, which is hinged on consolidating co-operation with regional partners and extending an olive branch to former foes.
“…Zimbabwe will continue to demand the immediate and unconditional removal of the illegal sanctions imposed by some Western countries. Regionally, we will continue to play an active role in the African Union, COMESA and SADC where we have recently been elected as deputy chair. We will therefore have the honour of hosting the SADC summit of heads of state in August 2014, when we assume the chairmanship of the grouping,” said President Mugabe.
Until now, SADC had appeared to have lent its ear to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) led by Morgan Tsvangirai which was livid over President Mugabe’s unwillingness to accede to political reforms under the unity government.
The MDC-T was, however, dealt a huge blow after SADC election observer mission gave the thumbs up to the July 31 poll and endorsed the vote as “free, peaceful and generally credible”.
That endorsement dashed whatever lingering hopes of recourse that Tsvangirai and his allies had of a reversal of the election results, which he has refused to recognise.
President Mugabe won 61 percent of votes against Tsvangirai’s 33 percent in the national elections in which the latter described as a “huge farce” and a “monumental fraud”.
President Mugabe’s victory, although questioned by local groups, has borne even tougher questions for Tsvangirai who is batting off calls for a leadership renewal from his close political lieutenants.
Roy Bennett, the MDC-T treasurer-general has suggested that Tsvangirai’s continued hold on power did not reflect the will of the people.
The claims of fraud and how the election was ‘stolen’ by President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF with the help of an Israeli-linked company, Nikuv International Projects which resonated at the MDC-T’s 14th anniversary celebration held in Mutare have fizzled out and are unlikely to find an audience in SADC, in whose leadership structures President Mugabe now firmly sits.
President Mugabe, will assume the rotating chair from Malawi President Joyce Banda — the current chairwoman of the regional bloc — at the SADC summit which Harare will host next August.
Political observers said President Mugabe was thinking about his legacy and it mattered to him how he would be remembered by SADC when he finally exited the political stage.
“It’s a curtain call for President Mugabe and he is very much pre-occupied now by legacy issues and that is why he said the election was ‘the fight of our lives’, signalling its significance and importance to him,” said Rashweat Mukundu, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.
Other political observers said President Mugabe had brought up the issue of his SADC chairmanship to rub his victory into the wounds of his political opponents in the MDC-T.
“It was a subtle reminder to all his opponents that he has the full support of SADC and his government is recognised as legitimate,” said Khanyile Mlotshwa, a political commentator.
The West, led by the United States, has questioned President Mugabe’s win and expressed “grave concern” over how the election was conducted, although it was peaceful and had no outbreak of violence — in stark contrast to the bloodletting that marked the 2008 election contest.
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