- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2005

PRETORIA, South Africa — President Thabo Mbeki has privately conceded that his “quiet diplomatic” approach toward Zimbabwe has failed to yield results, opening the way for a more forceful policy towards the regime of Robert Mugabe.

The signs from South Africa now suggest that African leaders — who for decades have refused to criticize abuses among their number — are for the first time seriously considering breaking the taboo and taking Mr. Mugabe to task for the destruction of his own country.

The South African leader has sacrificed much of his international reputation by declining to criticize Mr. Mugabe’s excesses. Instead, South Africa has tried to influence Zimbabwe’s regime with behind-the-scenes talks. Yet the country’s descent into economic collapse and political repression has continued unabated, leading Mr. Mbeki to think again.

“Our president has eventually agreed that the quiet diplomatic approach has not yielded the results that were expected,” said Devikarani Jana, a diplomat who received a briefing on Zimbabwe from South African officials last week.

In an interview in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, before taking up her position as ambassador to Ireland, Miss Jana added that she was personally “not happy” with the behavior of Zimbabwe’s government, as there were “serious allegations of human rights violations.”

The signs that Mr. Mbeki is changing his policy toward Zimbabwe come at a critical time. Mr. Mugabe has spurned the latest diplomatic efforts made by African leaders to resolve Zimbabwe’s crisis.

The African Union, an alliance of all 53 countries on the continent, had decided to send a mediator to Zimbabwe to broker talks between Mr. Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. It chose Joaquim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique, for this mission.

But Mr. Mugabe refused to receive him and called on those who “should know better” to stop asking him to meet his opponents.

Until deciding on this abortive mission, the AU had always described Zimbabwe’s crisis as an “internal matter.” When AU leaders gathered for summit meetings, they would ensure that Zimbabwe did not figure on the agenda.

But Miss Jana’s remarks indicated that South Africa would no longer object if the AU voiced public criticism of Mr. Mugabe’s administration.

South Africa has greater bargaining power over Zimbabwe than ever before. Unable to import food or fuel, Mr. Mugabe has been forced to turn to his neighbor for a rescue package.

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