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February 24, 2010 6:22 pm

Zuma will ask UK to lift Zimbabwe sanctions

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South Africa will seek to win British support for an end to targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe during President Jacob Zuma’s state visit to the UK next week.

Mr Zuma, who will be staying with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, believes US and European sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and senior officials of his Zanu-PF party have made it more difficult to establish a viable coalition government in Zimbabwe.

“What have sanctions done to help the situation?” Mr Zuma told the Financial Times in an interview in Pretoria. “Zanu-PF says [it is] in a cabinet of this unity government. But part of the cabinet can go anywhere in the world for their work and part [the Zanu PF members] can’t go out of the country. This unity government is being suffocated. It is not being allowed to do its job by the big countries.”

Under an agreement brokered by the Southern African Development Community – the regional trade and diplomatic body - in September 2008, Mr Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, agreed to share power. But the arrangement has been complicated by Mr Mugabe’s refusal to fully comply with the terms of deal.

Zimbabwe’s economy has stabilised since the coalition government opted to dollarise the currency. However, recovery has been hobbled by continuing political uncertainty and the reluctance of international donors to provide more financing to the government.

Mr Tsvangirai’s MDC – which won the first round of Zimbabwe’s last elections in March 2008 but withdrew from the second round after a campaign of violence against its activists – argues the reappointments of central bank chief, Gideon Gono, and attorney-general, Johannes Tomana, violated the terms of the accord.

The party has also contested the decision to take legal action against Roy Bennett, the MDC treasurer’s and nominee for the post of deputy agriculture minister. Mr Bennett faces charges of treason for allegedly conspiring to lead an armed revolt against Mr Mugabe.

But Mr Zuma played down the importance of these three issues and intimated that Zanu-PF is deliberately stonewalling progress in order to maintain political stresses ahead of fresh polls. Another senior South African official said polls may be necessary as early as next year in order to break the deadlock.

“Suppose somebody in Zimbabwe is using these issues to maintain tension until elections. You are playing into the hands of such a person,” Mr Zuma said.

Ahead of his election last year in South Africa, Mr Zuma had raised expectations that he would adopt a tougher approach to Mr Mugabe than Thabo Mbeki, his rival and last elected predecessor whose “quiet diplomacy” was much criticised in the UK.

But Mr Zuma is unfazed by the possibility he will be harangued on the issue in London, arguing that the agreement and coalition government has allowed Zimbabwe to pull back from economic chaos and the brink of disintegration.

The existence of the country itself was at risk 18 months ago, Mr Zuma said.

“South Africa has been one of the major players that actually pulled Zimbabwe back from getting into a disaster.”

By contrast, Europe and the US had continued with sanctions as if no agreement had been made.

“If we were in the shoes of the big countries I would have said here is an agreement, we are in support of this agreement and lifting sanctions, even conditionally, even for six months to a year, give a chance for this agreement,” he said.

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