“Crazy old Bob” Minister was probably not taken seriously


South Africa’s Minister for International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has made headlines for calling President Robert Mugabe “the crazy old man” but what seems to have gone unreported is that her host United States ambassador to Pretoria Donald Gips seems to have thought very little of her strong statements on Zimbabwe and Mugabe.  In the comment to his cable following his meeting with the minister on November 2, last year Gips wrote: “The Foreign Minister made strong statements on Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe, but our sense is that her department does not have the lead within the SAG (South African government) on the Zimbabwe agenda.”

The Minister, who went all out to appease the ambassador even inviting him to a dinner “as long as (he) did not tell the other ambassadors”, said she was frustrated with Mugabe and added that quiet diplomacy could not go on forever.

She said everyone must support Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai but was disappointed that he had pulled out of the inclusive government without consulting South Africa and other international partners. She also said Tsvangirai was being unrealistic by calling for the removal of all the security chiefs.

Here is the full cable:



Tuesday, 03 November 2009, 15:52
EO 12958 DECL: 11/01/2019



1.       (C) SUMMARY: The Ambassador’s first official call with Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane was warm and frank. Mashabane thanked the USG for its partnership and support through PEPFAR and acknowledged past mistakes in HIV/AIDS policies. The Ambassador thanked the SAG for support on security and the Minister promised to continue the current support. They agreed to work together on establishing a bilateral mechanism and cooperating on augmenting food security and combating violence against women. Mashabane made strong statements on distancing the SAG from Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and supporting Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Although Mashabane was very positive about our bilateral agenda, the SAG’s capacity to execute remains a question. End Summary.
Positive Bilateral Agenda

2. (C) Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane was warm and receptive in the Ambassador’s first official meeting with the South African Government on November 2. She said her government was excited about working with the Obama Administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the Ambassador, expecting that bilateral relations would continue to improve.  Mashabane expressed the hope that we could develop a bilateral mechanism early in 2010, building on her meeting with the Secretary in Pretoria in August. The Ambassador said we looked forward to hearing the SAG’s ideas for the bilateral mechanism and setting a date for the Annual Bilateral Forum early in 2010. Mashabane hoped that President Obama could make a state visit to South Africa linked to attending the FIFA World Cup in June-July 2010. She envisioned President Zuma reciprocating with a state visit to the U.S. early in 2011. Mashabane also noted the positive role of the U.S. in the G-8 and the G-20, emphasizing that developing countries were excited about President Obama’s leadership.

3. (C) Mashabane noted that the Ambassador’s confirmation speech showed that he and the USG shared South Africa’s five key priorities set forth at the ANC Conference at Polokwane in December 2007: employment, education, health, fighting crime, and rural development. She and the Ambassador agreed that there was a long agenda of shared objectives and that they should identify clear and achievable goals. The Ambassador said the U.S. would like to do more to support education, and observed that USAID had important initiatives in this area. He also said he would like the U.S. and South Africa to partner for various trilateral programs in Africa. She supported this approach, noting South Africa’s interest in “prospering” its neighbors. Mashabane highlighted AGOA as a positive force for stability in Africa. The Ambassador noted that US UN Ambassador Susan Rice would like to host the Minister for an event when she next visits New York. He thanked the SAG for its recent Human Rights Council vote in favor of the U.S.-Egypt-sponsored Freedom of Expression Resolution.

4. (C) Mashabane said she was passionate about integration and de-racialization as tools to eradicate the legacies of apartheid in both rural and urban townships. She said Qapartheid in both rural and urban townships. She said advancing rural development was complicated by an excessive number of municipalities at 284. Mashabane encouraged the Ambassador to make contact with the Premier of Gauteng Province, Nomvula Mokonyane, a close childhood friend, now known as “Mama Action”. She said that her staff would share a new proposal for the South Africa Development Agency, newly brought under her Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). The Minister joked that she needed to be nice to Minister of Finance Gordhan and Minister of National Planning Manuel, suggesting that they controlled the economic and finance levers in the new government. The Ambassador emphasized that the USG wants to support and contribute in all the priority areas, like education, rural development, and health. He noted his comment in his Senate confirmation statement that our job is to help South Africa succeed, observing our shared diversity and the special challenge of overcoming the legacy of apartheid. Mashabane said it was a propitious moment with a new President (Zuma)

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who listens to and supports South Africans.
Health and HIV/AIDS – Extolling Cooperation, Noting Past Mistakes

5. (C) The Minister thanked the USG for its sustained support as a key partner in fighting HIV/AIDS under the PEPFAR program in South Africa, hoping for continued support.  She admitted that there had been mistakes in past policy, but the SAG was now committed to catching up. Mashabane stated that President Zuma would make a strong statement on World AIDS Day on December 1, emphasizing that South Africa would now lead from the front, not from behind. The Ambassador noted that the USG had agreed to make a one-time contribution of $120 million over two years to help with the ARV stock-out gap, subject to some key conditions. Mashabane encouraged the Ambassador to communicate with Minister of Health Motsaeledi and Minister of Finance Gordhan on these issues. The Ambassador noted the need to make plans for the next five years, also encouraging South Africa to share its experience and skills with the rest of Africa. Mashabane said the SAG would like to be able to make greater use of generic ARVs and other drugs to save costs.
——————————————— –
Food Security and Agriculture – Women’s Issues
——————————————— –

6. (C) Mashabane identified food security and agriculture as key areas for cooperation. She said we would shortly receive a written response on our food security initiative. The Minister spoke highly of the work and vision of the passionate and dynamic Agriculture Minister, Tina Joemat-Petterson. She encouraged the Ambassador to visit one of the Minister’s rural pilot projects.

7. (C) The Ambassador raised our desire to cooperate on women’s issues and to target specifically violence against women, noting its linkages to HIV/AIDS. The Minister agreed with the importance of this issue. She said South Africa has good laws and regulations, but many women – particularly in rural areas – still live in the past in terms of their culture and communities. Mashabane cited the Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa as an effective organization, chaired by Baleka Mbete, who is also the National Chair of the ANC. She cited the value of workshops aimed at preventing violence before incidents. The Ambassador mentioned visiting a U.S.-funded Tutuzela Care Center that supports rape counseling and law enforcement. Mashabane said such centers had achieved a significant increase in conviction rates from 20 to 80 percent. She said that she was the outgoing Chair of the Progressive Women’s Movement of SA in Limpopo and cited a recent workshop in that Province. The Ambassador said that the USG would like to follow up on participating in such workshops.

8. (C) The Ambassador thanked the Minister for the SAG’s security support to the U.S. Mission since the mid-September threat and asked that it remain in place (also requested by separate diplomatic note.) She said she supported this request. Mashabane said South Africa would win its battle against crime, asserting that it would never have problems as great as Brazil’s. The Ambassador offered technical support Qgreat as Brazil’s. The Ambassador offered technical support and training for law enforcement agencies.

9. (C) The Minister expressed great frustration with President Mugabe, saying that “we cannot do quiet diplomacy forever” and calling him “the crazy old man”. She said we must all support Prime Minister Tsvangirai, but she expressed disappointment that he withdrew from the government without consulting South Africa and other international partners. She said there were rumors that he was instructed to do this by a senior USG official. The Ambassador said that to his knowledge this was not the case, noting that Tsvangirai “walked” without any consultation and seemingly without a

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plan. Mashabane said the current SADC Chair President Joseph Kabila was left cooling his heels in South Africa over the weekend when Mugabe at first refused to receive him until late Sunday. (She noted that she was stuck in Pretoria waiting to fulfill her protocol role of seeing him off at the airport, so was not able to take her children home to Limpopo Province over the weekend.) Mashabane said the SAG view was that Mugabe is getting desperate and is trying to push the country into elections. On the other hand, she said Tsvangirai wasn’t realistic in calling for removal of all the security chiefs. She advocated seeking to change the electoral law to facilitate proper counting, while pragmatically leaving the security chiefs in place. Mashabane broached consideration for amnesty scenarios for the security chiefs that might induce them not to block a political transition.

10. (C) Mashabane promised to follow-up with the Ambassador on next steps following discussions she would have very soon with President Zuma and the Foreign Minister of Mozambique. She advocated helping Tsvangirai prepare for elections if they happen and exposing the dirty actions of the security chiefs. The Minister pointed out the danger to her northern province of Limpopo and the rest of South Africa with potential for more cholera outbreaks and significant refugees if the situation lingers or worsens.

11. (C) Mashabane raised concerns about Palestine, Israel, and the Goldstone Report. The Ambassador said the U.S. was committed to a two-state solution. He said President Obama was frustrated with Israel and noted that private messages are much stronger than the public ones. The Ambassador said Secretary Clinton would be aggressive in calling for greater dialogue and results. Mashabane recommended that the Ambassador meet with South African Jewish Deputies to hear their perspectives. The Ambassador welcomed the suggestion and said he was also interested in outreach to the Muslim community in South Africa.

12. (C) COMMENT: The Ambassador’s first official meeting with the South African Foreign Minister was particularly friendly and open, emblematic of the positive trend in our bilateral relationship. The Foreign Minister indicated a desire to set up a dinner to welcome the Ambassador, as long as we did not tell the other Ambassadors. The Ambassador met her last August (prior to presenting his credentials) while accompanying Secretary Clinton on her visit to South Africa, when the two Ministers established a warm rapport. There is clearly enthusiasm within the SAG for developing a bilateral mechanism. We should bear in mind, however that the South African Government faces shortfalls in capacity which limit its ability to staff cooperative mechanisms and to implement programs, so we will have to carefully choose our initiatives. The Foreign Minister made strong statements on Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe, but our sense is that her department does not have the lead within the SAG on the Zimbabwe agenda. GIPS


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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