The US can no longer support a proposed Zimbabwean power-sharing deal that would leave Robert Mugabe, “a man who’s lost it,” as president, the top US envoy for Africa told reporters today.
Jendayi Frazer, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, made the announcement in South Africa after spending the last several days explaining the US shift to regional leaders.
The new US stance will put pressure on Zimbabwe’s neighbours – South Africa in particular – to abandon Mr Mugabe. But South Africa said its position was unchanged.
The US, Ms Frazer said, has become convinced Mr Mugabe is incapable of sharing power.
She cited political moves he has made since September without consulting the opposition, reports his regime has continued to harass and arrest opposition and human rights activists, and the continued deterioration of Zimbabwe’s humanitarian and economic situation.
Particularly worrying, she said, was the rapid spread of cholera, an easily treatable and preventable disease that has killed at least 1,000 Zimbabweans since August.
Ms Frazer cited accusations from the Mugabe regime that the West waged biological warfare to deliberately start the cholera epidemic as an indication Mr Mugabe is “a man who’s lost it, who’s losing his mind, who’s out of touch with reality”.
If Mr Mugabe’s neighbours were to unite and “go to Mugabe and tell him to go, I do think he would go,” she said.
But South Africa said the agreement under which Mr Mugabe would remain president and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai would take a new prime minister’s post was the only way forward.
South Africa is the region’s diplomatic leader. Its former president, Thabo Mbeki, mediated Zimbabwe’s power-sharing agreement in September and has worked since then to break an impasse between Mr Mugabe and the Zimbabwean opposition over how to divide Cabinet posts.
When the power-sharing agreement was announced, the US gave crucial support, offering to lift sanctions and help Zimbabwe re-negotiate relations with international lenders if the deal were implemented.
“We’re not prepared to do any of that now,” Ms Frazer said today.
Asked later whether that robbed Zimbabwe’s neighbours of important leverage, Thabo Masebe, spokesman for South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, said only: “Our position has not changed.”
Tendai Biti, chief negotiator for Zimbabwean opposition leader Mr Tsvangirai, said the opposition remained committed to the stalled talks aimed at forming a power-sharing government with Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai.
But Mr Biti noted that Mr Tsvangirai said on Friday that he will ask his party to halt the power-sharing negotiations unless political detainees are released or charged by January 1.
Mr Biti said the US position was difficult to contest, saying that in Mr Mugabe, “you are dealing with someone ... that cannot be trusted.”
South Africa’s Mr Motlanthe had said as recently as last week that he believed the unity proposal was the solution, because it was what Zimbabwean negotiators wanted. Ms Frazer said the US also believed a unity government could move Zimbabwe forward, but “it’s not credible with Mugabe as president.”
Cholera has spread from Zimbabwe to South Africa and other neighbours, underlining the threat Mr Mugabe poses to the region, Ms Frazer said.
She said it was understandable that South Africa would try not to do anything that could lead to Zimbabwe’s collapse – and perhaps create a refugee crisis.
It was “fair,” she said, for South Africa to try quiet diplomacy and to try to move the stalled unity deal forward.
“But when these actions don’t work,” more robust response must be considered, she said.