SADC warned not to interfere in Mugabe turmoil

President Jacob Zuma. File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
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HARARE – Zimbabwean activists have warned other countries not to intervene amid an apparent split between two of Zimbabwe’s neighbours over whether to support or oppose the defacto coup against Robert Mugabe.

Ian Khama, the president of Botswana and a long time foe of Mr Mugabe, became the first world leader to effectively endorse the military’s intervention on Friday when he said the strongman had no regional support for continuing his 37 year rule.

“I don’t think anyone should be president for that amount of time. We are presidents. We are not monarchs. It’s just common sense,” Mr Khama told Reuters.

Mr Mugabe’s departure would be an “an opportunity to put Zimbabwe on a path to peace and prosperity,” he added.

His remarks appeared to contradict earlier comments by Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa who also chairs the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a 16-nation regional bloc.

“We note with great concern the unfolding political development in Zimbabwe and we hope that they will not lead to unconstitutional change of government,” Mr Zuma said following a summit in Botswana.

South Africa sent two envoys to mediate talks between Mugabe and the Zimbabwean Defense Forces on Thursday, sparking speculation on Zimbabwean social media that they might have stiffened the president’s resolve not to give into demands he step down.

More than 30,000 people signed a petition urging the SADC not to attempt to intervene as Zimbabwe grapples with Robert Mugabe’s fall from power.

“There is no need at this time for you to do anything but business as usual,” the petition reads.

“We speak for many people when we say we hoped and prayed for this day for long and now that it’s here, DON’T mess it up for us.” China, a major investor in Zimbabwe, on Friday called for the crisis to be resolved peacefully.

“China calls on all sides in Zimbabwe to keep their eyes on the country’s long-term and fundamental interests and to uphold dialogue and consultations to bridge differences,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told Reuters.

Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, urged Zimbabwe to hold quick elections but did not explicitly condemn the military’s intervention.

“We all should work together for a quick return to a civilian rule in that country in accordance with their constitution,”

Mr Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, speaking in Washington ahead of a previously scheduled meeting with African leaders.

Events in  Zimbabwe present regional powers with a dilemma because they cannot publicly endorse a military coup, regardless of whether they would like to see transition in the country.

The army’s seizure of power “flies in the face of protocol” required for SADC to recognise any new government, said Amb. Reuben Brigety II, the former United States Representative to the African Union.

Military leaders in Zimbabwe have attempted to assuage those concerns by insisting they are merely managing a peaceful change of power and seeking to use constitutional measures to complete Mr Mugabe’s ouster.

Peter Fabricius, an analyst with the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said the South African government appeared to have underestimated Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice president believed to be behind the coup.

“Practically speaking, Zuma knows Mnangagwa would be better” than Mugabe, Mr Fabricius said. – Telegraph