The Southern African Development Community (SADC) was formed in 1992, and has some 15 member states. Various protocols have been put in place to enable member states to “work together harmoniously in achieving effective results on common problems and issues”.
One of these is the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, which was passed on August 14 2001. The objective is to promote peace and security across Southern Africa, and to ensure the protection of inhabitants where there is a breakdown of law and order. States are also to cooperate on matters relating to security and defence.
Whereas member states retain sovereignty, the SADC is committed to resolving intra-state conflict by peaceful means. The SADC is, however, mandated to consider “enforcement action in accordance with international law as a matter of last resort”.
A “significant intra-state conflict” in terms of the protocol includes:
· Large-scale violence such as ethnic cleansing, genocide and a gross violation of human rights,
· A military coup or other threat to the legitimate authority of a state,
· Civil war,
· A conflict, which threatens peace and security in the region (which will include South Africa).
The news coming from Zimbabwe is of concern, with current reports of tanks in the streets and the police being disarmed. President Mugabe and his wife have been “contained”, but the army has given assurances that they are safe and secure. The army is apparently focussing on removing the “criminals” around the President who are committing crimes. Time will tell who these criminals are. Meanwhile, Zimbabweans are queuing up at banks and stocking up on goods. That is assuming that the shops are stocked. News bulletins are already referring to the situation as a military crisis.
The SADC has issued a statement that it “will continue to closely monitor the situation and remains ready to assist where necessary to resolve the political impasse in keeping with established SADC Protocols and processes”.
The SADC, slow to respond to the initial reports, is supposed to have an early warning system of regional conflicts. It is apparent that this failed.
President Jacob Zuma, as chairperson of the SADC, calling for restraint and calm, has dispatched special envoys to Zimbabwe and Angola. The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and the newly-appointed Minister of State Security, Advocate Bongani Bongo, will meet with President Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwean Defence Force (ZDF).
Thereafter, the special envoys will travel to the Republic of Angola to brief President Joao Lourenco, chairperson of the SADC organ on politics, defence and security. A number of questions arise. Can the representatives of the SADC actually meet with an army that has allegedly carried out a coup? If the army has not actually carried out a coup, why would the SADC meet with them? If the special envoys are involved in a negotiation with the military that Mugabe steps down, will this amount to the SADC approving the changing of a “legitimate authority of state”? On the other hand, if Mugabe remains in power, but under the control of the veterans, until a deserving successor has been named, the SADC can heave a sigh of relief that they were not forced to show a weak hand.
The unfolding “diplomatic processes” seem time consuming, and will not do much to put citizens and businesses at ease, never mind tourists emerging from the bush after a luxury safari. The US Embassy in Zimbabwe has cautioned employees to stay at home, and instructed US citizens in Zimbabwe to seek shelter until further notice. One can only hope that the situation is speedily resolved, with no further outbreak of violence.
Sadly, the beleaguered economy will take another punch to the gut, further impoverishing the people. This can only lead to continuing political instability – putting any potential solution at risk.
One thing is certain, this is the end of Grace Mugabe’s political aspirations.