“Very arrogant”- the ANC’s view of ZANU-PF, according to spy-turned-diplomat

South African diplomat Vusi Mavimbela receives a trophy from former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe at the 2014 Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in Bulawayo

South Africa’s ANC government, which mediated in Zimbabwe’s political dialogue between 2007 and 2013, found ZANU-PF to be arrogant interlocutors, according to Pretoria’s former man in Harare.

Former head of South Africa’s domestic spy agency, Vusi Mavimbela, who became South Africa’s ambassador to Zimbabwe between 2011 and 2015, makes the revelation in his memoirs, “Time Is Not the Measure”, which came out late last year.

Mavimbela, who worked closely with both Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, was deployed to Zimbabwe in 2011 after being eased out of Zuma’s presidency the year before.

He had initially been tapped to become the ambassador to Germany, with former sports minister and cleric, Makhenkesi Stofile, set to head for Harare.

These roles were quickly reversed, with South Africa weighing the often complicated Zimbabwean political situation.

“DG (Mavimbela), we cannot have a Reverend (Stofile) dealing with the intricate political issues in Zimbabwe.We need someone with your political, military and intelligence experience,” Mavimbela quotes then Foreign Affairs Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane saying.

“She went on to say that Zimbabweans, especially ZANU-PF, were very arrogant politically, militarily and in terms of intelligence. They would not respect a churchman who had never been in MK (the ANC’s military wing, uMkonto weSizwe) and military camps; they would browbeat Stofile and render him ineffectual,” he writes.

“ZANU-PF, she continued, would have more respect for me because I had the same credentials as they did.”

As South Africa’s ambassador to Zimbabwe during the subsistence of the power-sharing government, Mavimbela would convene talks involving ZANU-PF, the MDC factions and Zuma’s facilitation team, led by Mac Maharaj.  

To Mavimbela, the South Africans’ perception of ZANU-PF arrogance was confirmed at a SADC summit chaired by Zimbabwe’s then president, Robert Mugabe, in Zimbabwe.

“He took advantage of his position to unleash scathing and unprecedented attacks on South Africa. He claimed that the SADC was finding it difficult to industrialise and integrate economically because South Africa, the region’s dominant economy, was still in the hands of whites. In the same breath, he praised his own policies of taking land from white people and nationalising Zimbabwe’s natural resources,” Mavimbela writes.

“I was sitting behind Zuma and Nkoana-Mashabane throughout that tirade. They were stunned by the unprecedented and unprovoked attack, which went on for an inordinately long time. They kept putting their heads together, whispering and frowning in disbelief.”

Mavimbela says Mugabe was not done, as he also laid into Zuma and South Africa over violent attacks on foreign nationals in that country.

Botswana’s Ian Khama, one of Mugabe’s regional adversaries, had jumped to Zuma’s defence, saying African leaders, including Mugabe, should examine why their people flooded South Africa in the first place.

Mavimbela’s book, written while he is still in active service as South Africa’s current ambassador to Egypt, provides a fascinating insight into ANC politics, including the epic battle between Mbeki and Zuma, which he witnessed from the ring-side.