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Apr 7, 2008 | 18:04 GMT

5 mins read

Zimbabwe: South Africa Unlikely to Intervene

ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
Summary
Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party leader Morgan Tsvangirai is seeking the South African government’s influence to resolve Zimbabwe's election crisis. However, South Africa is unlikely to intervene in its northern neighbor at a time Zimbabwe's ruling party still controls security forces that may be mobilized to retain power.
Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai traveled to South Africa to seek the South African government's influence to resolve Zimbabwe's elections crisis. But South Africa is unlikely to intervene to try to sway Zimbabwe's long-time ruling regime led by President Robert Mugabe to give up power. With the ruling party mobilizing security forces in the run-up to a possible runoff election, opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) stands little chance of enforcing a victory in the March 29 presidential election as the delays in the reporting official results have stretched more than a week. Tsvangirai, who arrived in South Africa late April 6, planned to meet with South African government officials before returning to Zimbabwe late April 7. Tsvangirai's MDC party won a slim majority in Zimbabwe's March 29 parliamentary elections, and the party has declared itself the winner in unofficial results in the presidential election. Tsvangirai is expected to call on the South African government to use its means of influence to pressure Mugabe to step aside. But the South African government is unlikely to step in to influence a resolution to the election of its neighbor to the north, which has been ruled by Mugabe since it became an independent nation in 1980. Despite being mandated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as a lead mediator of the Zimbabwean elections crisis, South African President Thabo Mbeki is so far unable or unwilling to pressure Mugabe. On April 5, Mbeki said it was not the time for action against Zimbabwe. Moreover, Mbeki is believed to be not entirely supportive of Tsvangirai, with whom he will not meet, at this time anyway. Mbeki is traveling from a conference in London to the India-Africa summit in New Delhi, which is scheduled April 8 and 9. Two other SADC mediators, former Zambia President Kenneth Kaunda and Mozambique President Joachim Chissano, are retired and have no means of influencing Mugabe. The SADC is not believed to be interested in seeking any military intervention in Zimbabwe. It also is not clear whether South Africa has the military capability -– or the interest –- to intervene in Zimbabwe. Since 1994, when African National Congress (ANC) party came to power in South Africa, South Africa’s military has largely focused on internal issues in an effort to create a cohesive, integrated fighting force by joining what had been two enemies: former ANC freedom fighters and ex-members of the apartheid-era South African Defense Force (SADF). Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's defense forces have maintained their combat capability, having gained experience fighting in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) 1998-2003. Personality rivalries aside, ANC and Mugabe and the ruling elite in his Zimbabwe National African Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party have worked with each other in the more than 14 years since the ANC came to power in South Africa. That includes a period when the Mugabe regime protected ANC activists -– including Mbeki himself –- during the struggle against apartheid. Favorable business dealings between members the two ruling parties in South Africa and Zimbabwe are believed to contribute to the hesitation on the part of South Africa to pressure Zimbabwe. The MDC has little power to enforce its claims to have won Zimbabwe’s presidential election. The opposition party is believed to have no security capability, other than a few small arms maintained for the personal protection of Tsvangirai. The remainder of the MDC — and Zimbabwe's civilian population overall — is virtually unarmed. (This is largely a result of a brutal military campaign from 1980 to 1988 by Mugabe’s party to rid opposition group Zimbabwe African People's Union of its insurgent capability.) As far as the next move by Mugabe, his ZANU-PF ruling party is calling for an elections recount of several parliamentary seats. It also has said it will contest any runoff in the presidential vote. Though no formal results of the country’s presidential election have been released, Zimbabwean state-run media indicated that a runoff will be necessary, despite the opposition claims that it won more than 50 percent of the presidential vote. By delaying the release of presidential election results, the government can hold off on setting a date for a runoff vote, get its security forces deployed and gain more time to more rig the results. A runoff election, initially set for April 19, likely will be three weeks after official results are announced. With its monopoly on security forces, the ZANU-PF has a vast capacity to intimidate and threaten voters. Senior members of the police, army and Central Intelligence Organization owe their loyalty -– and fortunes -– to Mugabe. Lower ranks are believed to be fearful for their lives should their loyalty be questioned. STRATFOR sources said ZANU-PF has already deployed military veterans to the country's rural areas in preparation to intimidate people who voted for MDC in the first round. ZANU-PF is also expected to deploy other security forces, including army, police and a private militia called the Green Bombers to beat, starve or kill its political opponents. This means Mugabe — along with his senior officers in the security forces and members of the ruling party elite — is very likely to maintain his grip on power.

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