Mbeki sees Mugabe as father figure – new biography

Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's President, sees President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe as his father figure, according to a new biography.

According to Mark Gevisser, the author of Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred, Mugabe’s relationship with Mbeki is personal, and Gevisser claims “undoubtedly” affecting the mediation talks that Mbeki is chairing between Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party and the opposition MDC.

The negotiations are focusing on reaching an agreement on holding free and fair presidential elections next year. So far, every deadline for agreement has passed without a deal.

Mr Gevisser is quoted in the London Daily Telegraph as saying: “Even though I’m certain Mbeki believes Mugabe needs to go, he has proven he is not the right person to facilitate Mugabe’s departure. Because of the history of their relationship it’s not just a father but a father who he sees some allegiance to.”

Gevisser said he thinks the detached role Mbeki is expected to assume in the current talks is therefore questionable. Gevisser said: “Mbeki is unable to bring enough pressure to bear on Mugabe to force him to some sort of resolution. The opposition doesn’t have any trust in him and the government doesn’t fear him enough to listen to his hard words.”

The Daily Telegraph claims the British and American governments will be alarmed at Gevisser’s claims, which regard Mbeki as the best man to bring a peaceful end to Zimbabwe’s crisis.

Gevisser’s book details how in the 1970s the ANC was allied with a rival movement to Mugabe’s Zanu-PF in the war against Ian Smith’s Rhodesia. Mbeki recognised that Zanu-PF represented the majority Shona-speakers in the country and “maintained some kind of informal contact” with them during the armed conflict.

Gevisser said: “Thabo Mbeki seems to be the only man in the ANC who expected – and even approved of – Robert Mugabe’s victory.” It was Mbeki who later led the ANC’s efforts to build bridges with the new Zimbabwean regime.

Mbeki’s main contact, Emmerson Mnangagwa, would go on to lead the massacres in Matabeleland in the early 1980s, and later be minister of state security. He is now seen a a leading candidate to succeed Mr Mugabe.

The author notes that Mbeki’s “latter day appeasement of Mugabe was rooted at least in part in an acute sense of the role the two men had played together. Mbeki himself seemed to be driven by an atavistic loyalty to Mugabe, a ‘father’ – even is exasperating, even if dangerous – within the family of freedom fighters.”

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, similarly, is seen as having no ‘struggle credentials.’

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