by Staff Reporter
HARARE-Underhand wire-pulling by President Robert Mugabe’s government resulted in cancellation of a public debate where Julius Malema, the leader of South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) opposition party was billed to be the main speaker, as Harare feared what the firebrand opposition leader could say, not just about the sorry situation in Zimbabwe, but about his favourite chew-toy, President Jacob Zuma, theZimbabwenewslive.com can exclusively reveal.
As way back as last week, a source in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was swearing that there was no way President Mugabe’s government would allow the care-free South African opposition leader a cheap platform to talk—a talk that was sure to embarrass both Harare and Pretoria.
“It’s a diplomatic hot potato. There is no way Malema can be given a platform here in Zimbabwe to speak, especially with the way he routinely attack Zuma, we cannot allow him to do it here without ruffling Pretoria’s features. Remember President Mugabe has just returned from South African where several bilateral trade agreements were finalised?” said the source that described Malema as a “loose cannon”.
He revealed that something was “definitely underway to stop the event.” He however could not reveal whether this “something” was in the diplomatic or other forms. This was shortly before delegates to last week’s Extra-ordinary summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders, started arriving in Harare.
True to the source’s predictions, the event was cancelled at last-minute, with the organisers, Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) owned by media mogul Trevor Ncube, politely blaming it on mass pullout of participants in protest against xenophobic attacks that recently took place in South Africa.
“Unfortunately, a large portion of the delegates who had registered for this event started pulling out following the xenophobic attacks on foreigners in South Africa, said AMH’s publisher Rita Chinyoka in an 11th hour statement to announce what she said was the “postponement” of the event, one of the many under its “Game Changer” debate series.
Chinyoka said AMH hoped to host the event at a “more appropriate time in the near future”, and it believed that Malema was “a worthy Game Changer that is pushing the limits of our thinking about democracy and citizen activism in Africa”.
According to the event’s advertisement, Malema was expected to recount his story of starting out his political career with the ANC at age of nine, his views and beliefs on African domination of the world and share his passion and support for underprivileged South African youths.
It was however not clear this week which of its many underhand tactics the government of Zimbabwe used to scuttle the event. It could well be possible that either the organisers were browbeaten into cancelling it or the individual delegates were approached and pressured to cancel their participation.
At last week’s SADC Summit, as he presented a report on the emotive issue of xenophobic attacks, Zuma blamed Mugabe’s misrule as one of the primary causes of the influx of Zimbabweans into South Africa, a position supported by his Botswana counterpart Seretse Khama Ian Khama, resulting in what sources said were bitter exchanges between the three leaders—exchanges that resulted in Khama walking out of the summit.
Zimbabwe’s state-controlled media, which is usually privy to government’s underhand manoeuvres and is traditionally a reliable barometer to gauge the mood in the corridors of door, was ecstatic about the developments: “Firebrand Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Mr Julius Malema’s planned visit to Zimbabwe, at the invitation of Alpha Media Holdings, spectacularly collapsed yesterday due to shambolic preparations and “extortionate” behaviour exhibited by the event organisers,” reported The Herald.
Malema was last in Zimbabwe in April 2010 as a guest of ZANU-PF when he was still the leader of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party’s Youth League. After he was expelled from the ANC, he went on to curve a career for himself from insulting and embarrassing Zuma, before he turned his movement into an opposition party. Most of his party’s policies are borrowed from the ZANU-PF hymnbook, something that embarrasses Harare and Pretoria governments that keep trying to give an outward appearance of being very close.
ZANU-PF has openly distanced itself from Malema and his EFF party in the past: “We do not recognise the EFF, we only work with the ANC,” ZANU-PF youth secretary for external relations Mpehlabayo Malinga said last year as he quashed rumours that Malema could be one of the foreign delegates invited to its December congress.
“ZANU-PF is a revolutionary party, and all revolutionary movement of southern Africa operate as one because they are sister parties. Our revolutionary party that is in South Africa is only the ANC,” Malinga added at the time.