THE Southern African Development Community (SADC) on Monday weighed in with support for Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The support by SADC for Mnangagwa, political observers said, was likely to anger the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which had been hopeful of the censure of Mnangagwa by the regional bloc.
The 76-year-old president has been under pressure, especially from human rights groups and from sections of the international community, ever since the army was deployed last month to quell protests.
The UK government, Mnangagwa’s foremost ally from the West, recently indicated a change of policy towards his administration and said it would not support a government that uses the army on civilians.
It also said it would lobby for Zimbabwe’s exclusion from the 53-member Commonwealth bloc and for an extension of the EU sanctions this month against more members in his government.
Human rights groups have put the death toll at 17 people after an army-led crackdown following protests in mid-January. A reported 81 people have been injured from gunshot wounds and more than 1,700 people have suffered various human rights violations.
In a statement the current SADC leader, Namibia’s president Hage Geingob, said the regional bloc was briefed by Mnangagwa on the political and socio-economic situation in the country.
“Since coming to power, the new government of Zimbabwe has continued with concerted efforts to address socio-economic challenges and transform the economy, particularly through the Zimbabwe Transitional Stabilisation Programme, and to consolidate unity and peace in the country,” read a part of the statement.
The SADC pointed a finger at some internal groups, in particular NGOs, which it said have “continued with efforts to destabilise Zimbabwe”, supported by “external forces”.
Piers Pigou, the southern Africa senior consultant at the International Crisis Group, said the SADC statement was not surprising – and “predictably unimaginative”.
The bloc said it sympathised with the families of those which had lost loved ones during the protests and condemned the violence.
Taking a cue from regional superpower South Africa, which has recently been vocal against the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe, the SADC also said it was in support of the removal of sanctions against Zimbabwe.
The government’s efforts to transform the economy and bring about prosperity to the people of Zimbabwe are negatively affected by illegal sanctions that were imposed on the country since the early 2000s.
SADC expresses its solidarity with the government and the people of Zimbabwe and calls upon the international community to unconditionally lift all sanctions imposed on the country,” it said.
The SADC said all stakeholders should support the current efforts at dialogue, with the view to strengthening the economic transformation of the country.
Mnangagwa last week extended an invite to his political opponents to a meeting to set up “a framework for dialogue and interaction”.
His political arch-rival Nelson Chamisa, leader of the MDC, snubbed the meeting, although he has indicated a willingness to meet Mnangagwa.
Chamisa said he wanted “genuine dialogue” to be held with a credible convener and mediator, such as the SADC, AU or UN, to solve the political and economic crisis.