A policewoman turns away people from the city centre ahead of planned anti-government protests in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 30 2020. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO
A policewoman turns away people from the city centre ahead of planned anti-government protests in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 30 2020. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO

Harare — President Cyril Ramaphosa’s three envoys have come back into the picture as the only possible mediators to Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis after it emerged that the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) is unlikely to discuss the troubled country at its heads of state summit on Monday.

The envoys — Baleka Mbete, Sydney Mufamadi and Ngoako Ramatlhodi — are likely to return to Zimbabwe soon and meet opposition leaders after their damp-squib mission last week, when they held meetings with embattled President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

On Sunday, SA ambassador to Zimbabwe Mphakama Mbete hinted to Business Day that Ramaphosa’s envoys are expected to jet into Harare soon and will finally meet the opposition.

“I do not know of the day when they will come into the country. That decision will be announced by the presidency. When they do come, it is possible that they will meet the opposition because they failed to do so the first time,” he said.

Ramaphosa’s acting spokesperson Tyrone Seale did not respond to calls on Sunday.

However, international relations minister Naledi Pandor told an SA radio station on Friday that SA has to work with Zimbabwe to “reverse the current situation”.

Zimbabwe is in the throes of a political, economic and humanitarian crisis, with Mnangagwa’s government accused of human rights abuses and cracking down on critics.

At the weekend the Catholic bishops — the latest critics of Mnangagwa’s abuses who voiced support for the #ZimbabweLivesMatter social media campaign — received a chilling warning from the government amid fears they could be arrested.

Human rights activists say almost 100 government critics have been arrested since July 31, when the military and the police were deployed to quash nationwide demonstrations scheduled for the day.

It was widely expected that Sadc leaders would deliberate on the Zimbabwe crisis at Monday’s annual summit, but a draft agenda of the summit from the Sadc secretariat shows the issue will not be tabled.

On Friday, Zimbabwe's government also said it will not be on the agenda.

One of the items on the agenda says Mnangagwa, chair of the Sadc’s organ on politics, defence and security co-operation, will issue a report on his tenure and the security situation in the region and it is unlikely he will incriminate himself.

Some of the major issues on the agenda at the heads of state summit include election of Sadc chairs and deputy chairs, with chair John Magufuli of Tanzania set to hand over to Mozambique’s Filipe Nyusi.  

At the weekend, the humanitarian situation in the country took another turn for the worse after the government issued a disturbing warning to Catholic bishops who criticised Mnangagwa over human rights abuses.

In a pastoral letter on Friday, the Catholic bishops laid into Mnangagwa’s government for unleashing the police and the military on critics.

Said the bishops: “Fear runs down the spine of many of our people today. The crackdown on dissent is unprecedented. Is this the Zimbabwe we want? To have a different opinion does not mean to be an enemy. It is precisely from the contrast of opinion that the light comes.”

The bishops criticised the government for automatically labelling anyone who thinks differently as an enemy of the country.

However, on Saturday, government spokesperson and information minister Monica Mutsvangwa issued a furious rant at the bishops, describing them as “genocidal and evil minded”.

Mutsvangwa said she was acting on the orders of Mnangagwa.

On Sunday, the Law Society of Zimbabwe criticised the government for “the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, including the wanton and unmitigated attacks on legal practitioners”.

Bloomberg reported on the weekend that the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency said annual inflation in Zimbabwe had accelerated to 837.53% in July compared to a year-on-year rate of 737.3% in June. The monthly rate was 35.53%, up from 31.7% in June.

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