SA Foreign Minister Plays Down Unfolding Zimbabwe Crisis

PRETORIA – The South African government has played down what is widely regarded as a growing crisis in Zimbabwe, noting that country’s government has claimed it has the situation “under control”.

Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane was asked at a press conference in Pretoria on Tuesday whether her government was concerned about the security situation in Zimbabwe and the social and economic implications for South Africa.

She replied by noting that she had watched Zimbabwe’s High Commissioner (ambassador) to South Africa being interviewed on a South African TV channel recently.

“He presented a picture which doesn’t talk to the crisis you are alluding to and [said] that all is under control,” Nkoana-Mashabane said, with apparent approval.

But she then implied that the South African government was in fact consulting the Zimbabwe government about the situation there, noting that there were “regular interactions among us about the working of countries in the region, including Zimbabwe”.

These interactions took place in meetings which journalists didn’t know about, she indicated, usually between heads of state.

On the Lesotho crisis she said regional leaders meeting for the annual SADC summit meeting in Swaziland last month, had urged the troubled country’s government to ensure an all-inclusive process for the constitutional, public sector and security sector reforms they had agreed to.

Nkoana-Mashabane said the Basotho had also agreed that there would be no lasting peace in their country without fully-fledged security sector reform in particular.

Asked if Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili had agreed at the summit to remove the controversial army chief Tlali Kamoli – as apparently demanded in SADC’s Pumaphi judicial commission report – the minister said she did not want to mention specific names.

The Pumaphi commission report was established by SADCleaders last year to investigate the killing of former army chief Maaparankoe Mahao by Lesotho soldiers in June last year.

Kamoli has been widely implicated in his arch-rival Mahao’s death which was why the commission reportedly called for him to be fired.

The Basotho themselves would have to decide if security sector reform should include changing the heads of the army and the police, Nkoana-Mashabane said.

The reform would include ensuring that the police and the army each did what was expected of them in a democracy.

This was an apparent reference to SADC demands that Lesotho change its constitution to ensure the army does not play the role of a police force by carrying out arrests and other police duties in the country. The Lesotho army has claimed Mahao was shot dead while resisting arrest by its soldiers.

The minister also seemed to be referring to demands that the army and police should remain aloof from politics.

She noted the Basotho themselves had also said the roles of the police and the army had become “intermixed” and that politicians seeking power had been recruiting one or other of these security forces to back their power bids.

Nkoana-Mashabane said the Basotho had also said themselves that the assassinations and other turmoil in the country’s army and police would end when they had completed security sector reform.

The minister said Lesotho had accepted the Pumaphi report and that a SADC oversight committee had been established at the Swaziland summit to work with experts and the Basotho parties themselves to carry out the agreed constitutional and security sector reforms.

Nkoana-Mashabane was also asked what South Africa and SADC were doing about that seems to be a looming crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which is due to hold presidential elections in November. President Joseph Kabila is constitutionally obliged to stand down in December after completing two terms in office.

But Kabila has not announced that he will in fact retire and he is widely suspected of using excuses, such as the need to update the voters roll, as a way of extending his term.

The African Union (AU) is supervising an inter-Congolese dialogue to address the election issue, though one of the main opposition parties, the Rassemblement de l’opposition – led by veteran oppositionist Etienne Tshisekedi – has refused to participate, because it believes Kabila instituted the dialogue to prolong his stay in power.

Nkoana-Mashabane brushed this aside, saying “all parties” had agreed to the dialogue.

Asked if SA and SADC would be happy if the dialogue proposed that Kabila stay in power beyond his constitutional term limit on December 19, she said it would be up to the Congolese to decide if the elections were shifted back.

Nkoana-Mashabane also appeared to accept the Kabila government’s argument that the elections needed to be postponed, noting that Kinshasa had told the SADC summit that eight million young people had emerged who were not registered.

She also noted that unlike most democratic countries the DRC had only had national elections – and no provincial or local government elections – since Mobutu Sese Seko was toppled in 1997.

Kabila’s government has also used the need to hold these provincial and local elections no later than the presidential and legislative elections as a reason to delay the latter polls.

Africa News Agency