Mnangagwa blocks Ramaphosa envoys from meeting opposition leaders

Cyril Ramaphosa’s special envoys are determined they will return to Zimbabwe, after their first mission ended with them only seeing Emmerson Mnangagwa, at his insistence

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President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Emmerson Mnangagwa
President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa barred President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Special Envoys from meeting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and civil society in Zimbabwe on Monday, according to sources.

In the end, they only met the ruling Zanu-PF government and then returned home on Tuesday with only part of their mission accomplished.

Special Envoys Sydney Mufamadi, a former Cabinet minister, and Baleka Mbete, former Deputy President and Speaker of Parliament, were on an exploratory visit to see what South Africa could do to help Zimbabwe escape from its current political and economic crisis. They had made firm appointments with the two MDC formations and several civil society organisations. 

But Mnangagwa told the South African delegation that he understood from his communication with Ramaphosa that Mufamadi and Mbete were “presidential envoys” and this was a government-to-government initiative so they should only be meeting the government. He said that, once they had reported back to Ramaphosa on their meeting with him, they could return to Zimbabwe to meet the MDC and civil society, if they still wanted to do so.

Despite the protests of the special envoys, Mnangagwa would not budge. And so they returned to South Africa on Tuesday after having met only Mnangagwa. 

Former Public Service and Administration Minister Ngoako Ramathlodi was also part of the mission although his name wasn’t mentioned in the initial announcement. A source said that he was due to “meet with the military component”, according to a source with knowledge of the mission.

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa. (Photo: Flickr / UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré)

It is understood that Pretoria fully intends that the envoys should return to Zimbabwe within a few weeks to meet the others who were on their list to meet on Monday. However, Mnangagwa’s actions on Monday have raised doubts about whether he would allow them to do so.

The South African government had made it clear before Mufamadi and Mbete went to Harare that they wanted to meet the government, the political opposition and civil society to properly assess the problem in the country. 

The statement issued by the Presidency last week announcing their appointment had said they intended to meet the government “and other stakeholders”. And the South African embassy in Harare had sent Mnangagwa’s office a list of the organisations and people they wanted to meet. It included both factions of the MDC – the MDC-Alliance headed by Nelson Chamisa and the MDC-T leader by Thokozani Khupe – as well as civil society organisations, including the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, Mnangagwa’s dialogue forum the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD), and the Zimbabwe Institute.

Both MDCs confirmed in statements on Monday that they had been invited by the South African embassy in Harare to meet the special envoys on Monday. And they both said that after the envoys had met Mnangagwa, the South African ambassador in Harare, Phakama Mbete, had called them to say their meetings “had been deferred to a future date”, as MDC-T put it. 

MDC sources said Mbete did not tell them that Mnangagwa had barred the envoys from meeting them. They were only told that the envoys’ meeting with the government had been delayed and that they had to get back to South Africa. They returned home on Tuesday morning. 

Some Zimbabwe commentators are interpreting the failure of the envoys to meet with the two MDCs and civil society as confirmation of their prior suspicion that Pretoria’s mission was to legitimise the Mnangagwa regime.

But Pretoria sources said they knew that the MDC and civil society would read between the lines, and understand what had happened. “This will make Zanu-PF look bad, not us,” one said. 

And it does appear that the MDC clearly understood what had happened. In its statement the MDC-Alliance said “we can only assume that the failure to meet the MDC-Alliance delegation was as a result of demands made by the Zanu-PF delegation”.

The party said it had been waiting on standby since 10am on Monday for the meeting with the envoys. 

ANC sources said Mufamadi and Mbete had little choice to back down when Mnangagwa refused them permission to meet the others on their list.  Since they had no mandate from the regional intergovernmental organisation SADC (the Southern African Development Community) or the continental body, the African Union, they had to defer to the Zimbabwe government’s sovereign right to determine who they could meet and who not. 

While it seems true that Ramaphosa’s special envoys had no formal mandate from SADC or the AU, the MDC-Alliance stressed in its statement about the visit of the envoys that Ramaphosa was the current chairperson of the AU. And AU Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamet approved the mission in a statement last week. He also implicitly rebuked Mnangagwa’s government for human rights abuses.

“Cognisant of the existing harsh socio-economic situation in the country, the chairperson urges the Zimbabwe authorities to respond to the pandemic ensuring that the national response is premised on human rights as enshrined in the 1981 African Charter on Human on Human and People’s Rights,” the AUC said.

It expressed concern over reports of disproportionate use of force by the security forces in enforcing Covid-19 emergency measures and implored the authorities to exercise restraint in their response to peaceful protests.

Faki encouraged the government of Zimbabwe to uphold the rule of law allowing for freedom of the media, assembly, association and the right to information.

“Violations of these rights are a breach to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance,” he said. 

It was a very rare rebuke of Zimbabwe by the AU. Pretoria clearly enjoyed Faki’s statement, saying it must have infuriated Zanu-PF “as they always carry themselves as big Pan-Africanists, very progressive. If the premier pan-Africanist body says ‘do something’, they must be wondering what to say.”

In his briefing to the envoys Mnangagwa apparently expressed concerns about the activities of leaders of the dissident Zanu-PF G40 faction who are living in South Africa, including Saviour Kasukuwere, who recently met ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule and some other party leaders in Luthuli House.

Mnangagwa said Kasukuwere and his allies had committed serious crimes in Zimbabwe and accused them of conspiring with EFF leader Julius Malema and others in South Africa in a “regime change agenda”. For the rest, Mnangagwa’s presentation was boilerplate Zanu-PF propaganda, blaming all of Zimbabwe’s economic ills on Western sanctions and flatly denying all the accusations of recent security force brutality against government opponents, especially around the big 31 July anti-Zanu-PF protest which the government stifled. 

“The economy is getting worse by the day. They can’t afford to keep hiding their heads in the sand,” one official said. “They are in denial.” 

In December 2019, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor indicated a shift in Pretoria’s approach to the Zimbabwe problem when she suggested it was time to go beyond the routine condemnation of Western sanctions and begin to promote dialogue among the Zimbabwe players to collectively find a solution.

But Ramaphosa’s special envoys have not yet formulated a plan for how to help Zimbabwe address its crisis, sources said. So far they are just exploring the possibilities. DM