South Africa Media Briefing on Zimbabwe

We are not "pressurizing President Mugabe to step down"

Extracts from the transcript of the briefing to the media by Director General of Foreign Affairs, Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba, Media Centre, Union Buildings, Pretoria, December 9 2008


With respect to Zimbabwe two things off course, occupy the minds of South Africa and SADC – the first being the conclusion of the political negotiations to usher in the inclusive government and the second one is to deal with the humanitarian situation.

With respect to the first, our understanding is that we should be expecting some sort of response that should give us an indication of when Amendment 19, which we all know was initialled by the parties following which the parties had to discuss with their principals. By and large we remain hopeful that Amendment 19 should be agreed upon.

As you recall, there are three stages thereafter: the first one is that following agreement to Amendment 19, it should be gazetted but the agreement signed on 15 September 2008 also makes it clear that once it is gazetted and before it is even passed into law, that we need not wait for that, and once gazetted we can proceed to the appointment of a Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. At the time of gazetting, it would presuppose that all the parties have agreed and then therefore it would mean that all parties will co-sponsor it when it goes before parliament and it would therefore be possible to achieve the required ⅔ majority. So, I think that process is there. We are hoping this can be accelerated because in its own right it is very important to conclude that step but perhaps the humanitarian situation brings further urgency to it precisely because if you look at all the challenges on the humanitarian side, they do require an inclusive government in place so that it can take full charge and responsibility for the country, and indeed so there can be some comfort provided in terms of the international community to commence high level and significant engagement with Zimbabwe.

Now, you would also recall that an announcement was made late last week about a delegation, led by Reverend Chikane, of which I was part, that travelled to Zimbabwe on Sunday 7 December 2008 and spent the day on Monday 8 December 2008. What we focused on was mainly an assessment and discussion with the relevant structures in Zimbabwe ranging from the government, the United Nations systems in their different formations (World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organisation, World Food Programme, UNICEF), the churches, the three farmers unions and essentially, the picture, and off course South Africa is still finalising its report that Reverend Chikane will present to the relevant authorities in our government so that South Africa can consolidate the nature, extent and form of its assistance and bearing in mind that this is something we are doing both as South Africa and as the current chair of SADC. Just to say, the South African delegation that travelled to Zimbabwe included a representative from the SADC secretariat.

It is quite clear that there is assistance that is needed firstly on the health front, with respect to the issue that we have all heard about, the cholera outbreak. It is the most significant that has afflicted Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe has had cholera outbreaks in the past but I am told that the last one that was a serious as the current one was either in 1991 or 1992-1993. The figures that have been verified by everyone that we met is basically that 14000 people have been affected and as you know, there are reports of around 600 deaths.

More important to us, as South Africa, is that there are basically three epicentres of the cholera outbreak and one of them is around the Beit Bridge area hence, you would obviously see the need for South Africa to scale up its support and activity especially on our northern border. I think our focus is then to work together with the region and the international community to render the necessary support to Zimbabwe to help their health system to cope but more importantly, to look at what can be done on the prevention side – primarily primary prevention so to speak, this is more or less the question of looking at the water supplies and I think this will be given far more substance, and I think South Africa will make her own contribution at the meeting of the SADC Ministers of Water and Health on Thursday in South Africa. I think this will help consolidate the nature of support, but I must say, there has been what we consider to be a good response what both our country and other countries in the region. We were told of other countries who have also begun rendering support to Zimbabwe.

Off course the other issue that is coming up, which is something that we will have to deal with, which not only affects Zimbabwe but given the difficulties Zimbabwe is going through is something that might also require some attention, is the support that the World Food Programme is working on in a few countries in the region. We had an opportunity to engage on this matter and help ensure food security until the next harvest season early next year. And as you know, part of our investigation in Zimbabwe was also to make an assessment of the form of South Africa's own assistance to Zimbabwe particularly given the announcement that our Cabinet has made about support to the agricultural side that can be rendered.

I will not go into detail regarding our thoughts on what South Africa should do because as I have said, we were sent to conduct an investigation. That team led by Reverend Chikane has done that, it has returned, Reverend Chikane would have received additional responses today, some validation of some of the information we were receiving, and then, I am sure that within the next 24-48 hours there will be a very definite proposal for consideration by our leadership.

And that is where we are.

Thank you very much.

Questions and answers

Question: Given the fact that human rights and MDC activists are still disappearing in Zimbabwe, why does the South African government believe that President Mugabe can and should be the President of Zimbabwe? Has he not shown that he has not changed nor will Zimbabwe change while he is head of the country? Secondly, the European Union has called for stricter sanctions against Zimbabwe – does South Africa agree with this and what does South Africa think of the call from the Europeans that Africa should place more pressure on President Mugabe to get him to step down?

Question: Returning to the humanitarian situation – what are the other two epicentres of the cholera epidemic? What will the SADC Health and Water Ministers be expected to do when they meet – is there a linkage between their work and the report of Reverend Frank Chikane?

Question: Is there any scenario in which South Africa will consider deploying troops to Zimbabwe?

ANSWER: Firstly, the negotiating parties in Zimbabwe signed an agreement on 15 September 2008 of which we are aware and they have decided to enter into an agreement which by definition would imply that they did reflect on what, under the current circumstances, would best enable them to help their country emerge from its difficulties. I am sure both parties had to make very difficult compromises. It is in the nature of those agreements but I want to start there precisely, because South Africa's own approach is really to support the parties in Zimbabwe and the people of Zimbabwe and to the extent that the people of Zimbabwe are represented by those parties for them to implement the decisions of the agreement they have entered into. So, South Africa cannot arrive at a decision that says that what is included in that agreement, viz. that President Mugabe should be President and Morgan Tsvangirai should be Prime Minister – South Africa cannot disagree with this because this agreement is what is guiding all actions of SADC, as you know. So, that question does not even arise – what we are focusing on is to ensure that we nudge, put as much peaceful pressure in all forms, on the different elements in Zimbabwe, on the leadership of Zimbabwe to finalise the discussions so that an inclusive government can be established.

So, the posture that we are assuming now, is not the posture of pressurizing President Mugabe to step down. The pressure on President Mugabe and Zanu-PF is for them to move with greater speed to successfully implement the agreement that was signed on 15 September 2008 so that an inclusive government can be established.

But also on the issue of pressure, I really think actually that, yes, the whole of SADC, or indeed anyone who loves Zimbabwe, would want to put as much pressure on the leaders for them to move with greater speed towards concluding and establishing an inclusive government because, as I have said, it is quite clear, that have a situation that is assuming a humanitarian character. Today it is cholera, in two months time it might be malaria remembering that we are on the verge of the rainy season. Hence, we need an inclusive government to assist the people of Zimbabwe. That is really the approach.

As to whether South Africa would ever contemplate deploying troops – I cannot see that arising. I do not believe that is on the agenda of the South African government at all although I cannot predict what will happen in the next twenty years. But for now, and off course, in the current debate, I do not think that the South African government is persuaded that that is the right way to go.

And with respect to the meeting of the Health and Water Ministers, the Chikane report, yes to the extent that obviously our Minister of Health will make a contribution during the consultations, obviously the Health Ministers will look in greater detail than we may have at the details of assistance to the health sector. So, I really think the Ministers will be discussing the package of support measures that can be offered to Zimbabwe – both in the interests of Zimbabwe and its people, but also in the interests of limiting the reach of these communicable diseases to the geographical borders of only Zimbabwe.

With respect to the epicentres, one of them is in Harare, and the second one is on the eastern side, close to the Mozambican border. That is what we have been briefed by the World Health Organisation.

Question: I think it is generally accepted that the Zimbabwe has collapsed now – it cannot provide for its citizens. Who does the South African government blame for the humanitarian crisis? To what does the South African government attribute this collapse?

Question: Regarding your anxiety on a response from the leaders of Zimbabwe – Morgan Tsvangirai is not in Zimbabwe and has not been there for some time now. How do you anticipate a conclusion to the discussions?

Question: The Zimbabwean government today announced that Western countries are preparing for a military intervention perhaps under the aegis of the United States – is this founded or not?

Question: Are there plans to set up a quarantine at the border?

ANSWER: Up to now, I am unaware of any plans to set up a quarantine at the border – I think cholera is easy to spot and with early interventions, it should be easy to intervene. What we are trying to do on the northern border is to strengthen the capacity of our health institutions in the neighbourhood to be able to cope with the numbers but to also provide assistance on the other side of the border. I think this is basically what we are focusing on.

We are unaware of the statement made by the government of Zimbabwe about planned military intervention under the aegis of the US and the South African government has no such information available. We will not speculate on this matter.

One of the things, and I think it sometimes helps to take some wisdom from the people who are most affected and one of the striking things of the engagements we had in Zimbabwe were really how people were pleading that they should be assisted to deal with the immediate problems, that there should be no political point scoring and games played when what is really needed right now is support.

I don't think we went to Zimbabwe, or even want to spend too much time and effort on apportioning blame and who is responsible for what. What we know is the evolution of the difficulties in Zimbabwe which is why we strongly support the conclusion arrived at by the leaders of Zimbabwe – that the problems of Zimbabwe have reached a point where you need all of the political leadership of Zimbabwe, across the political divide to pull together in one direction and try to help their country and so, all our efforts will be aimed at trying to nudge them to work for this and so, we would not really want to spend time on how is responsible.

We know that by its very nature, cholera would imply that something in terms of the water supply systems is dysfunctional and the efforts to deal with this will depend on the speed at which people are able to reach health facilities so, if there are difficulties anywhere on that chain, you are likely to have increased casualties and off course, the situation in Zimbabwe is difficult and our challenge is to assist them deal with these problems.

Yes, Prime Minister designate Tsvangirai is not in Zimbabwe, yes I don't know, he may be in South Africa or outside of Zimbabwe. For now, we don't want to comment on whether that is the wise or correct thing for him to do in the middle of this crisis. That is his choice, his decision. We respect the decisions he takes. What we want is that the leadership of Zimbabwe should work together so that we are able to reach a point where an inclusive government can be established.

The issue now in Zimbabwe is about saving lives, bringing to an end having an administration criticized by the people for not being representative enough given the outcome of the elections of 29 March 2008. Thankfully, the leaders of Zimbabwe, in their wisdom, agreed on 15 September 2008 to a framework they believe will assist them to extract their country from its difficulties. All we are saying to them is move with speed, implement those decisions so that we can begin to tackle the challenges facing the country.

Question: Will South Africa be supporting the EU anti-piracy initiative in Somalian waters?

ANSWER: With respect to the anti-piracy resolution, if I can put it like that, off course South Africa supports the efforts being taken on the Somalian waters. There was a UN resolution and South Africa supports that. South Africa has also been approached at some time to be part of, through our navy, opening up a humanitarian corridor. South Africa is considering this but South Africa's view has always been and we are therefore happy that the UN is taking this up, that we needed to ensure that the entire question of the creation of a humanitarian corridor in Somalia as well as any interventions around the question of piracy should really be done around the auspices of a very well thought out UN resolution largely because we know from past experience that there are different points of emphasis and the international community has different slants on how to deal with the question of Somalia and it has always been our view that it would be in the interests of the integrity of an intervention in Somalia if this were to be done under a very well thought out UN resolution and to the extent that this exists, yes, South Africa supports this. I am unaware that South Africa has necessarily directly been approached on the anti-piracy side but I know that South Africa has been approached largely to assist with the creation of a humanitarian corridor and that is what South Africa is considering.

Question: South Africa's membership of the UN Security Council comes to an end at the end of the month. At what point are we going to sit down and publicly consider our performance?

ANSWER: Well, just to say that firstly, we have allowed the Security Council team in New York that was due to return to South Africa in December to remain until the end of January 2009 partly to give them space in New York to engage in reflective process on the lessons learnt and begin also, because they were at the forefront of this intervention, to relate this to what we aspired to achieve during our tenure. Sometime at the end of January we will hold consultations in South Africa – at two levels – firstly the internal, departmental and government-wide consultations and secondly to invite some key stakeholders. Remember we embarked on this same process before we assumed our seat and I think it will be very important for South Africa to engage in this process. Remember we always saw our membership of the Security Council as one to help us and profile some areas on the African agenda we wanted to put firmly on the table and help drive but also we saw it as an opportunity to help us in a new democratic state process, new foreign ministry, to build the capacity and the requisite understanding to engage given our understanding of our engagement in the international arena. So, there is going to be a detailed, reflective stance that we will take and look at the lessons we have learnt and assess our ability to discharge foreign policy going forward.

Question: When will the next power sharing talks take place and what stance will the facilitation take with regard to the humanitarian crisis?

ANSWER: Remember, I am not part of the facilitation team so I cannot speculate on the stance to be taken. Remember, the South African government, as the South African government, is not participating in the Facilitation talks. So that question does not arise. And secondly, I am not aware of the next round of talks. Remember, the delegation to Zimbabwe was led by Reverend Chikane and he happens to be a member of the facilitation team and I'm sure he carries the same message of the urgency to finalise an inclusive government. What Zimbabwe needs more than anything now, is to finalise a government that every sector of Zimbabwe, given that it is a very highly polarised society, that every citizen of Zimbabwe can see something with which they can identify.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152

9 December 2008

Transcript issued by Department of Foreign Affairs, Pretoria, December 9 2008

Email: zimbabwecrisis@yahoo.com

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