Loyalists in the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party, especially its chief spin doctor and strategist Professor Jonathan Moyo, are looking desperate after a
series of political disasters in April. It's clear that many of the leaders in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have lost patience with President Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF and, for once, the Prime Minister and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change,
Morgan Tsvangirai, has been able to capitalise on the situation.
After his botched attempt to fix the election of the Speaker in Parliament, Moyo chose All Fools Day to launch a blistering campaign in the state media on South Africa's President Jacob Zuma and other SADC leaders, including the current Chairman, President Rupiah Banda of
The casus belli was the deliberations of SADC's Troika of Presidents – hosted by President Banda in Livingstone, chaired by Namibia’s Hifikepunye Pohamba and attended by Mozambique’s Armando Guebuza – on President Zuma's progress report of South Africa's efforts at facilitating political reform in Zimbabwe. The discussion neatly coincided with Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s briefing of SADC leaders.
When Zimbabwe came up on the agenda, the Troika went into closed session and a stunned Mugabe had to leave the meeting room. Less mobile these days, he was left to tour the venue on a golf cart. It took the Troika just 90 minutes to agree a communiqué expressing concern at the general lack of progress, the continued political violence and harassment and the need for a roadmap before any credible election. In short, it was almost unprecedented criticism of Mugabe and ZANU-PF.
Back in Harare, Mugabe told a ZANU-PF Central Committee meeting that SADC could ‘go to hell’ and that the facilitator should facilitate not dictate to a sovereign country. The state-owned newspapers papers took up the cry – arguing that Zuma was a disgrace to Africa for having
backed intervention in Libya and Côte d'Ivoire. They made abusive personal attacks on Zuma’s personal life and politics.
In return, Zuma’s office coldly pointed out that there were other channels than the media for Mugabe to raise his concerns. A few days later, ZANU-PF apparatchiks realised that Moyo had gone altogether too far. A damage limitation exercise was launched but this too descended into farce. Unusually, the Foreign Affairs Department hastily convened a briefing for the diplomatic corps at which Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi insisted that Zimbabwe had an absolutely free press where even state-owned newspapers did not always reflect government policy.
This was almost an insult to the assembled ambassadors. Any diplomat in Harare knows that Moyo is a constant presence in the newsroom, rewriting news stories and editorials in the state-owned Herald to reflect the ZANU-PF line. Moyo was then summoned for a roasting by Vice President Joice Mujuru, who told him he was neither the Presidential spokesman, the President or even the Foreign Minister and should stop meddling in delicate matters of foreign policy.
Mujuru may have wondered about the motives for Moyo's bizarre and undiplomatic methods: he is currently aligned to her rival in the succession race, Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. In the independent press, Moyo is caricatured as Prof Flip-Flop or Dr Yo-Yo
for his seamless ability to change political allegiance.
Yet if Moyo's and ZANU-PF's political peregrinations baffle Zimbabweans, South Africans find them still more confusing. At Zimbabwe's Independence Day celebrations on 18 April, Mugabe was heaping praise on Zuma as though the fall-out had never happened.
But doubtless Messrs Mugabe and Moyo would have been seething again when Prime Minister Tsvangirai was invited as a star speaker to the World Economic Forum in Cape Town on 4 May and used the opportunity to repeat the SADC view that Zimbabwe was far from ready for credible elections. After describing the rise of political violence and the failure of the power-sharing government to agree on substantive political reforms, Tsvangirai forecast that Zimbabwe would have to wait until next year for elections.
For the barons of ZANU-PF, including Jonathan Moyo and the ailing Mugabe, the prospect of trying to tough it out for another year before elections looks extremely dismal. And for those South African officials frustrated with ZANU-PF tactics, Tsvangirai would have struck exactly the right tone.