African solutions for African problems: quiet diplomacy and South Africa's diplomatic strategy towards Zimbabwe

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 16
  • Abstract:

    Zimbabwe is not just a foreign policy issue for South Africa; it has become a domestic policy concern. Political, socio-economic and cultural issues have coalesced in a manner that have forced the Zimbabwe question onto the domestic agenda, and South Africa has opted to respond to the Zimbabwe challenge by way of the foreign policy strategy of “quiet diplomacy” as a form of “African solutions for African problems”. This policy was associated with South Africa’s former president, Thabo Mbeki, but contrary to popular perceptions, the Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma governments also supported this strategy, even though they claimed that they distanced themselves from it. Six years after Mbeki’s departure as head of state, and into the Jacob Zuma-led presidency, the claim that there was a fundamental break with the policy of quiet diplomacy by Zuma, and that his administration pursued a fundamentally different strategy to that of his predecessor, was far-fetched. This article considers the concept of quiet diplomacy, initially seen as a form of African containment, representing methods used to first try and stop conflicts from spiralling out of control; secondly by reversing the effects of conflicts; and thirdly by rolling back conflicts by means of peaceful settlements of disputes or peace settlements; after which a country could be stabilised politically, and socioeconomically. The analysis then traces Jacob Zuma’s approach towards Zimbabwe and how his new administration came to endorse and support the 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA), which they inherited from the Mbeki government, despite the rhetoric calling for a different approach.