Unspoken coup fears behind South Africa’s subtle talks with neighbouring Zimbabwe
As early as next week — but by no later than the end of August — the South African government may be forced to decide between support for Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF and the new democratic movement with rebel pastor Evan Mawarire as its face.
That, at least, is how it will be seen. And how it will be seen, some people in diplomatic circles believe, could influence everything, including the odds of a military coup in Zimbabwe.
Somewhere in that roughly one-month window, traders who use Beitbridge will again try to blockade the border post from the South African side.
The association, which claims to have 15 000 members, took credit for the protests at Beitbridge in early July, which sparked stayaways in Harare and Bulawayo.
Attempts to take that protest to the South African side of the border were quashed by the South African police, who did not see anything political in either the protest or its dispersal — the traders were protesting about new import restrictions on some goods.
In the weeks since then, new alliances have been formed and new positions adopted, and next time there will be little apolitical about a protest.
“We demand for President [Robert] Mugabe to either step down or indicate to the nation a timeline framework in as far as his vacation of office is concerned,” said Promise Mkwananzi, the spokesperson for Tajamuka, which describes itself as a campaign of young people demanding positive change in Zimbabwe.
“We believe he is now the sticking point to a transition that is so necessary to move the country forward.”
Tajamuka has promised to support the traders’ blockade.
That will see the group, which the Zimbabwe government has described as an attempt at “regime change”, openly trying to further their cause on South African soil.
The nature of police reaction will be crucial, several diplomatic sources said this week.
“If a protester gets beaten up by [South African] cops, Zanu-PF may see that as a chance for their own crackdown, but they could win or they could lose that fight,” said one source, describing Zimbabwe as “so delicately poised as to defy prediction”.
South Africa has an official policy of noninvolvement in the domestic affairs of other states, but highly placed sources this week described delicate negotiations and preparations underway in light of Zimbabwe’s recent troubles.
Among those are talks about the ban on the import of goods, which has hit South African businesses hard, and attempts to ensure that Zimbabwe does not suffer complete economic failure.
Most scenarios have at their heart the fear of a wave of economic refugees flooding into South Africa, and none is considered complete unless they factor in the chances of a coup.
“We don’t want to use the word ‘coup’,” said one diplomat, “but watch out for references to the [Zimbabwean] army not being paid [in official statements]. That will be saying ‘coup warning’ without saying it.” – mg.co.za