SA media cautious over Zimbabwe deal

September 16, 2008 12:00 am

, JOHANNESBURG, September 16 – South African media on Tuesday reacted cautiously to Zimbabwe’s new political deal, saying that it would take "more than a piece of paper" to shift President Robert Mugabe’s 28-year grip on power.

Newspaper coverage included the 84-year-old’s lengthy speech at Monday’s ceremony in which he took digs at colonial powers and said democracy was difficult in Africa as the opposition wanted more than it deserved.

In a sober editorial, Business Day said aged dictators, like leopards, did not readily change their ways with Mugabe banging a familiar drum to distract from his own failings.

The veteran leader’s assertion that Zimbabwe’s problems were created by former colonial powers was a timely reminder that the political compromise was a "baby step" with little having changed on the ground, the newspaper said.

"The same corrupt and violent government officials and policemen are in control, the economy is still in a state beyond collapse, and Mugabe and his ZANU(-PF) henchmen remain unreformed and unrepentent," the newspaper said.

"It will take more than a piece of paper to persuade the greedy thugs who have run the country into the ground to share power with opposition groups they despise."

Describing Mugabe’s speech as a "vintage performance," the daily newspaper The Times said the formation of a new government would not be smooth sailing.

The paper headlined its front page with "Nutty Bob’s bizarre speech stuns world" and quoted excerpts from the "rambling, sometimes incoherent" speech such as the veteran leader’s wish to be young again and proposing to girls.

The newspaper also quoted Mugabe saying he "will never attack an African leader in public," before going on to chant "Botswana, Botswana, Botswana! Ooooooh."

This was after Mugabe noted the presence of Botswana President Ian Khama who is one of the few African leaders to have openly criticised him.

An opinion piece in The Citizen said the deal was "obviously unworkable," and that the opposition had accepted an unsatisfactory agreement in the hope that next year’s change of government in South Africa, which mediated the deal, would bring more.

The decision to sign was responsible as Zimbabwe needed foreign economic aid and not political paralysis or civil war. However, "whether it was the right decision, nobody yet knows," the article said.

The Star, using a theatrical metaphor in its editorial, said Mugabe remained an important actor but that Zimbabwe had a new cast who would perform under a new management structure.

"Tough is the road that lies ahead of them," it said.

Mugabe, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and opposition splinter head Arthur Mutambara signed the deal after protacted mediated talks to unlock a political crisis and economic meltdown.


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