By Xolani Mbanjwa

Phelekezela Mphoko shaking hands with Vladmir Putin

Phelekezela Mphoko shaking hands with Vladmir Putin

The new Zimbabwean ambassador to South Africa, Phelekezela Mphoko, who was appointed by President Robert Mugabe six months ago, has not yet presented his credentials to President Jacob Zuma.

The delay continues several months after Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai asked South Africa and EU member countries to ignore the credentials of ambassadors who had been “unilaterally” appointed by Mugabe. Mphoko cannot perform any of his official duties until he has presented his credentials to Zuma.

Mphoko was among a host of ambassadors Mugabe appointed in July. Also appointed at the time were new envoys for the European Union, Switzerland and the UN. These appointments were made apparently without consulting Tsvangirai. EU countries said at the time they were concerned about the development as they felt ambassadors should represent the whole government of Zimbabwe and not just a part of it. The contentious power-sharing agreement that led to Zimbabwe’s unity government, which was brokered by the Southern African Development Community, has remained mired in disagreements.

 Speaking from Harare yesterday, Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party, said that the “unilateral” appointment of Mphoko and other ambassadors had set back South Africa’s mediation efforts in Zimbabwe. “The appointments of these people have undermined the legitimacy of the Zimbabwean government and the confidence our people have in us, and defies the togetherness of the government,” said Chamisa.

However, Zuma’s office downplayed the new Zimbabwean ambassador’s predicament. Zuma’s communications adviser, Zizi Kodwa, said the delay in receiving credentials from the Zimbabwean envoy had nothing to do with the spat over appointments. He said there had been no time for Mphoko and ambassadors from other countries to present their letters of appointment to Zuma. “There are many ambassadors waiting to present their letters of credence to the president. These are arranged by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation with the Presidency, based on space in the diary, and understanding the importance,” said Kodwa. He said the next session for ambassadors to present their appointment letters to Zuma would be before the state of the nation address next year.

Zuma has been mediating between Mugabe and Tsvangirai for more than a year without any real success. Mugabe, 86, who is expected to be named as his Zanu-PF party’s presidential candidate this weekend, has insisted on fresh polls next year. But Chamisa was less than diplomatic about the problem, saying: “We can’t start to talk about the road map when we have not agreed on the appointments. “We are not reading from the same page as Zanu-PF. We are not even reading from the same book. Zanu-PF talks white and acts black,” said Chamisa. The life of the Zimbabwe unity government, which Mugabe has described as “semi-legal”, ends in February