After Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration clamped down on people critical of his government, Ramaphosa sent former minister Sydney Mufamadi and former deputy president and speaker Baleka Mbete to Zimbabwe.
Also with them was former premier and minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, a special advisor to Ramaphosa in the ANC.
The Presidency’s statement, when Mufamadi and Mbete were appointed, read: “The Special Envoys are expected to engage the Government of Zimbabwe and relevant stakeholders to identify possible ways in which South Africa can assist Zimbabwe.”
However, after having met with Mnangagwa, they returned without honouring meetings with the main opposition party MDC’s two factions, the MDC-T and the MDC Alliance.
It is expected that the envoys returned to brief Ramaphosa, and will at a later time return to Zimbabwe.
The MDC-T, led by Thokozani Khupe, confirmed that there was meant to have been a scheduled meeting with the envoy on Monday.
MDC-T spokesperson Khalipheni Phugeni said in a statement that, after “meeting with His Excellency President ED Mnangagwa”, the South African ambassador called Khupe to inform her that the meeting with the envoys has been “deferred to a future date”.
“As MDC-T, we welcome this development and remain positive that the two leaders, in President Ramaphosa and President Mnangagwa, will get to the bottom of the issues bedeviling our beautiful nation and Zimbabwe will once again experience peace, unity love and harmony.”
‘ANC playing an enabling role’
However, the MDC Alliance did not express the same confidence in Mnangagwa’s government. Instead, it questioned its legitimacy.
In a statement, MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said they had been on standby from 10:00 on Monday, only to be advised later in the day that the envoy would not be meeting them, as they would return to South Africa to brief Ramaphosa on their meeting with Mnangagwa.
The statement reads: We can only assume that the failure to meet the MDC Alliance delegation was a result of the demands made by the Zanu PF delegation.
Meanwhile, back in South Africa, the DA said it is unacceptable that the envoys hadn’t honoured their commitments with the MDC-T and MDC Alliance.
DA MP and spokesperson on foreign affairs Darren Bergman called on Ramaphosa, in his capacity as AU chairperson, “to show leadership and go to Harare and meet with all the relevant stakeholders and get a balanced picture of the political crisis unfolding in the country”.
“The envoys had made plans to meet with the opposition and had to cancel them at the last minute because of Mnangagwa’s strong-arming tactics. This is unacceptable,” he said in a statement.
“For far too long, successive ANC governments have stood by as ZANU-PF has trampled civil liberties with impunity and disregard for the rule of law. The ANC has played an enabling role in the Zimbabwe crisis by glossing over state brutality in the country and its mismanagement of the economy.”
Ramaphosa appointed the envoys as pressure mounted after widespread alarm over the arrests of journalists, and a clampdown by security forces in Zimbabwe.
Mnangagwa cracked down on planned nationwide protests on 31 July to highlight complaints about the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and its assistance to the poor.
Activists and journalists have also allegedly been abducted and there is rising alarm over reports of human rights abuses. The Zimbabwean government has denied this and claimed everything is peaceful.
According to Human Rights Watch, Zimbabwean authorities have arrested at least 60 people in connection with anti-corruption protests, and have increasingly arbitrarily arrested critics of Mnangagwa’s government.
At an event to celebrate the Zimbabwean Defence Force on Tuesday, Mnangagwa dismissed the protests as “some misguided calls for violent protests and demonstrations by opposition elements, with the support of foreign and civil society backers”.
“Let us all cooperate with our security services, assisted by the Zimbabwean Defence Force, as they enforce our national laws,” he said.