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Meldrum: South Africa’s 'Crucial Role' in Zimbabwe Crisis

Interviewee: Andrew Meldrum
Interviewer: Stephanie Hanson
April 4, 2008

After years of economic crisis and repressive leadership under President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe looks poised for change. The opposition party contends Mugabe lost March 28 presidential elections, and delays in announcing poll results have fueled intense speculation about what is next for the beleaguered country. Andrew Meldrum, a Nieman fellow at Harvard University and former Zimbabwe correspondent for the Guardian, says the inner circle of Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, is looking at its options.

Though some security officials close to the president are said to have advised him to negotiate an exit, the ZANU-PF politburo is a hard-line group that has a “vested interest in carrying on,” Meldrum says. They are concerned about being held accountable in a domestic or international court for their actions under Mugabe’s leadership. They could suggest a runoff or declare a state of emergency so that Mugabe could rule under martial law. In the event of a runoff, Meldrum believes Zimbabweans will not be dissuaded by government intimidation tactics. They are “encouraged and emboldened to go out and vote. They want to make sure their vote counts,” says Meldrum.

Meldrum also discusses the “crucial role” South Africa has to play in discussions with Mugabe. Meldrum says that though South African President Thabo Mbeki’s policy of quiet diplomacy has been much criticized, he deserves credit for a change in Zimbabwean voting practices to post results at individual polling stations. Mbeki is in close contact with the British and U.S. governments, and Meldrum believes he should continue to take the lead in negotiations with Mugabe. “It’s only other African leaders who can strip Mugabe of his legitimacy,” he says.

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