The biting 4000 word letter from Thabo Mbeki to Morgan Tsvangirai contains a single sentence that holds hints to the real reason behind this discharge of cold fury by the Zimbabwe Facilitator. That sentence, referring to "South African formations", is the real reason why Mbeki lost his cool. Regular readers know that I have said Tsvangirai saw Mbeki's ouster as a godsend, a chance to reverse the whole "loathsome deal".
In this, he was even more encouraged by the Zimbabwean popular delusion that the new South African president was only a front for Zuma, a man Zimbabweans had covinced themselves would be much tougher on Mugabe. We did point out the facts to the contrary, but there is no state of bliss higher than that which chooses to believe in its own fantasies.
So, just over two weeks ago, Tsvangirai approached Jacob Zuma and the new South African president. He sought to get Zuma and Motlanthe to basically fire Mbeki. Motlanthe, as Chairman of SADC, said Tsvangirai, could make this possible.
The MDC thought the prospects good, since they started on the premise that Zuma and Motlanthe hate Mbeki's guts. The plan was to set the two against Mbeki, use the perceived grudge to get Mbeki sidelined. That letter sent last week by Tsvangirai requesting Motlanthe to take over as Facilitator was a follow-up in writing to an approach three days earlier.
Word got to Mbeki; his office says from the ANC presidency, but the Presidency refuses to confirm this, muttering something about "leaks".
Even when he heard this, Mbeki took no action and simply tried to convene a meeting of the negotiators to discuss the Draft Bill (No 19).
It was a couple of days later, when he received the very abrupt, dismissive and rambling letter from Tendai Biti. Mbeki was "incenced by the tone" of the letter.
When the letter to Morgan Tsvangirai was brought to him to sign before it was sent off, he was still fuming and angrily crossed out the Sir, in the Dear Sir, salutation and used his pen to replace the word "Sir" with "Morgan".
He, at that time, "did not consider Tsvangirai enough of a gentleman to be addressed by that title." Mbeki believes that the letter could not have been sent without Tsvangirai's approval and that, in all likelihood, it was written at the MDC president's behest by his Chief negotiator.
Also aware of the MDC strategy of now walking with its bag of grievances all the way to the United Nations, Mbeki sent a message that the MDC appears to still grasp: he copied the letter to
- The Chairman of SADC
- The Chair of the SADC Organ on Politics and Defence
- The Chairman of the African Union
- The Secretary-General of the United Nations
- The Executive Secretary of SADC
The significance of this move should not be overlooked. By doing this, Mbeki wanted first of all to send the message that, although he is called a SADC facilitator, his mandate has been confirmed TWICE by all the other relevant bodies in the world and, "therefore, it would not be SADC's decision alone to fire me."
In addition, the former SA president also wanted to publicly block all the escape avenues contained in the MDC strategy explained here. Basically, it was an answer to the call for his ousting and that answer was: "Like it or not, you have to deal with me."
The letter also reveals other sentiments Mbeki holds, including his irritation at the MDC's continued use of threats about a "regional contagion", with Zimbabweans fleeing across the borders and overburdening the treasuries of other regional countries. Mbeki considers this a sharpened knife that the MDC hangs over Zimbabwe's neighbours' heads too often in order to "scare" them into giving the MDC what it wants.
Hence Mbeki's insistence that all that can be avoided if the parties "honour their wordand implement the agreement they signed on September 15." For the last eighteen months, he has refused to be frightened by that threat of bringing the Zimbabwean problem to his veranda. This latest mention of it, you can tell from the tone of his later, is simply exasperating.
And, enclosing Biti's letter together with his own, he is showing that he is confident of the justice of his tone and also that other world leaders will see the sort of provocation that led to such a response.
I think it's called checkmate.