SADC chairman and South African President Jacob Zuma has hailed the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) for the manner in which they handled “a delicate situation” that could have spiralled out of control and led to disaster under a different set of hands.
Further, President Zuma thanked President Emmerson Mnangagwa for guaranteeing the safety of former President Cde Robert Mugabe as the country’s elder Statesman during Operation Restore Legacy mounted by the ZDF in mid-November. The military operation culminated in the resignation of former President Mugabe on November 21 when his own party invoked the Constitution to impeach him.
President Zuma’s sentiments were revealed by Presidential spokesperson Mr George Charamba while briefing journalists after a meeting between President Mnangagwa and President Zuma in Pretoria, South Africa, on Thursday. The meeting was the first of a series that President Mnangagwa is expected to have in the region before moving to the rest of the world.
“President Zuma paid ringing tribute to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces for handling a very delicate situation. He says the army in Zimbabwe behaved in a manner that no one expected and to a point that it was not easy to say was this a coup or was it not a coup. What became very clear is that the region was not dealing with a military issue; it was dealing with a political issue which had invited the involvement of the military,” he said.
“He says let us not run away from it; all our armies are political armies because what came first was politics which then found a gun,” said Mr Charamba.
“He was also thankful that throughout the operation, the ZDF command kept briefing South African Defence Forces to a point that the South African Government, through its defence arm, was always aware of what was happening, adding to the fact that not a single drop of blood was shed but also that there was no overthrow of constitutional order.”
Mr Charamba said President Mnangagwa briefed his counterpart on developments leading to his nomination by the party, his appointment to the Government as President as well as confirmation through Congress.
Said Mr Charamba: “He (President Mnangagwa) also indicated to the South African President that President Mugabe remains not just safe but revered as the founding father and leader of Zanu-PF and that there is no intention to victimise him or degrade his reputation.
“Second issue is that he applauded the Bi-National Commission and that his wish is that the Bi-National Commission fits in neatly with the new emphasis of the new era on economy and that nothing should stand in the way of investment, partnerships and trade between the two countries which after all are biggest trading partners and biggest economies in the Sadc region. If there are any impediments there should be that giveness to talk.
“Third message related to huge population of Zimbabweans in South Africa and he thanked South Africa for looking after Zimbabweans but also for broadening their skills as well as their experience and that time has now come for Zimbabwe to invite back its citizens on the strength of the skills they had acquired for them to contribute to the recovery of their economy.”
In his address to journalists, President Zuma said: “We have the same background that we have to fight for our freedom. So there is more commonality between us. I am very happy that Cde President did come and I am clearer now about the situation in Zimbabwe. It confirms what I could observe from a distance that it looks that there is stability now in Zimbabwe. I also commended the manner in which the army, when they had a concern, how it handled the situation, the situation could not go out of hand. It indicates the maturity of Zimbabweans in handling any situation that could develop and we are very grateful for that because in a number of countries if the army decided to stand up, then they leave a trail of destruction generally but in Zimbabwe I think they were able to control and indeed finally (the) political situation was controlled.”
President Mnangagwa responded saying: “I have come to South Africa and a courtesy visit to His Excellency President Zuma for two major reasons. The first is that South Africa is the closest neighbour to Zimbabwe in terms of tradition and history. Secondly, he is the current chairman of Sadc and perhaps thirdly I spent my 16 days of exile here. That aside, I regard President Zuma as my elder brother.
“With that background, I felt on 26th day in Office I must come to my brother and receive guidance. He is a very experienced President and I felt the challenges which I face the first pot of call is to go to my colleague and say Your Excellency I have taken the leadership of Zimbabwe and I seek your guidance in whatever challenge I face and I have no doubt he will give complete and honest guidance.”
President Mnangagwa said he thanked President Zuma and the ANC for holding a peaceful elective conference. President Mnangagwa also met the new ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa and briefed him on political developments in Zimbabwe. President Ramaphosa said he was keen to visit Zimbabwe as a guest of Zanu-PF after which he would also visit other sister liberation movements in the region.