South Africa criticized the Commonwealth’s handling of Zimbabwe Thursday, saying it had damaged international efforts to end a political crisis in its northern neighbor.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe quit the 54-nation Commonwealth Sunday after it extended a suspension of Zimbabwe first imposed in 2002 on grounds he had rigged his re-election and persecuted opponents.
South Africa, which has mediated in Zimbabwe’s crisis, said it and other members of the 14-member Southern African Development Community were “disappointed” by the outcome of last weekend’s Commonwealth summit in Nigeria.
“What is sad and unfortunate is that the decision of the Commonwealth summit virtually cut Zimbabwe off, because Zimbabwe has now withdrawn,” Abdul Minty, deputy director general of South Africa’s Foreign Ministry, was quoted by the South African Press Association as telling a news briefing.
South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma told South African and Nigerian officials in Lagos: “We share the SADC view that the decision to continue the suspension of Zimbabwe will not help the Zimbabweans to overcome their present difficulties.”
The SADC comprises Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Mauritius, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Commonwealth summit in Nigeria’s capital Abuja decided by consensus to extend the suspension indefinitely.
Zimbabwean officials say Mugabe was pushed into a no-win situation because “racist leaders” in Britain and Australia seeking his downfall had taken over the organization, but some African states such as Kenya and Ghana backed the suspension.
Earlier this year, President Bush described South African President Thabo Mbeki as the point man to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe. But Mbeki has been criticized by opposition politicians at home and in Zimbabwe for not taking a stronger stance against Mugabe.
Zimbabwe’s main opposition Movement for Democratic Change has gone to court to challenge Mugabe’s 2002 presidential election victory, saying his government used violence and intimidation against opposition supporters.
The crisis in Zimbabwe has triggered inflation of more than 500 percent. Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, accuses local and Western critics opposed to his seizure of white-owned farms for distribution to landless blacks of sabotaging the economy.