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Former US official urges SA to tackle Mugabe

Former US Official Says SA Will Lose If It Does Not Tackle Mugabe

Business Day (Johannesburg)
January 11, 2002
Posted to the web January 11, 2002
Jonathan Katzenellenbogen

A FORMER US state department official who held the most senior post dealing with African affairs during the 1980s has said SA has an enormous amount to lose if it does not come to grips with the situation in Zimbabwe.

Chester Crocker said: "The time has come to start planning for life after (Zimbabwean President Robert) Mugabe.

"If SA ducks the challenge on Zimbabwe, there will enormous costs," he said. "Knowing how deeply the SA president cares about the African renaissance," something had to be done.

Crocker said: "African leaders have been playing the game that he is one of us and has to be protected."

He said an exit strategy that could be offered to Mugabe needed to be found to ease the transition. "The current status quo cannot continue. The elections are a farce, if one cannot have observers," Crocker said.

He said Mugabe's legitimacy was now the issue and it was a matter for the promotion of the African renaissance that pressure be brought to bear on Harare.

Crocker, who held the post of US assistant secretary for African affairs between 1981 and 1989, said the issue of Zimbabwe was by far the most important foreign policy challenge SA faced.

Developments in Zimbabwe had "the capacity to change the region and do grave damage to (it)", he said in an interview.

Crocker was the architect of the policy of "constructive engagement" toward SA during the 1980s. The contentious policy was aimed at bringing about the withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola, and Namibian independence, by dialogue with Pretoria.

Crocker is now a professor at Georgetown University in Washington and also chairman of the board of the US Institute of Peace, which, among its other activities, promotes research into mediation of conflicts.

"Engagement is not an act of charity it is to pursue interests and choice," he said.

Crocker said that it was not a matter of whether SA should engage in "quiet diplomacy" or strident criticism as a great deal could be done in private.

He said there were many things SA could be doing through a policy of engagement behind the scenes. Pretoria, Crocker said, was well-placed to pile pressure on and offer incentives to Harare to change its ways.

Crocker said that SA should start talking behind the scenes "to a range of voices" in Harare to "test the waters" to see how people viewed things "to express interest and concern" about the situation.

This, he said, would signal that "the free ride" for Mugabe was over.

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