Angola is bankrolling a concerted campaign to secure SA’s efforts to win support for Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to lead the African Union (AU) with a $200 000 pledge to finance lobbying ahead of the AU summit.
Oil-rich Angola, signalling its foreign policy ambitions on the continent, has combined in the campaign with SA, which is chartering aircraft to take teams of cabinet ministers to lobby around the continent.
The move places it in direct conflict with Africa’s other oil powerhouse, Nigeria, which supports the incumbent AU commissioner, Gabon’s Jean Ping.
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Political observers said yesterday the cash injection by Angola was an indication of an "all-out" offensive by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) to have its candidate elected.
In January, neither Mr Ping nor Ms Dlamini-Zuma were able to gain the two-thirds majority vote needed to land the leadership of the AU. The stalemate forced the continental group to call off the race until next month, when it meets again in Malawi.
A confidential report detailed proceedings at the extraordinary Sadc summit in Luanda last week when the bloc discussed at length Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s candidacy.
"Angola had pledged $200 000, of which $174 000 was received by the secretariat," the report reads.
Sadc executive secretary Tomaz Salomao said yesterday he could "neither confirm nor deny" the payment from Angola, and when the remaining $26 000 would be paid.
At the summit SA was tasked by Sadc with the responsibility for chartering aircraft for "lobby teams for the duration of the campaign", the report stated.
The three teams, which began their work on April 29, included representatives from Angola, Namibia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
There is a South African Cabinet minister on each team - State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba .
The lobby teams were tasked with a second visit to nine countries before the AU summit. Countries targeted include Sierra Leone, Senegal, Egypt, Guinea-Bissau, Togo, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.
The Sadc report paints a gloomy picture of the prospects of an outright victory for Ms Dlamini-Zuma.
"The campaign teams visited 28 countries in the continent, of which 12 confirmed their support for Sadc’s candidature, nine were not, four were uncertain, two were also uncertain, but may vote for Southern Africa, while one did not know who to vote (for)," the report from Luanda reads.
Diplomatic sources, who could not comment officially but are close to the lobbying campaign, said yesterday the three-way split among AU subregional organisations - with different positions held on the AU post by Sadc, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, and the Economic Community of West African States - was a "major challenge" to the lobbying effort.
The Sadc report seems to back this assertion and signalled that lobbied countries, "advised that the two candidates should withdraw and that new candidates be presented".
While SA had skillfully used the disquiet in the region to lobby for its candidate - despite being at loggerheads with Zimbabwe and Madagascar over their domestic political situations - analysts believed it was far from winning support in Africa’s Francophone countries.
The Department of International Relations and Co-operation yesterday confirmed the campaign, but opted not to comment on the payments by Angola or SA’s chartering of aircraft.
The department’s spokesman Clayson Monyela said yesterday that Ms Dlamini-Zuma was not SA’s candidate for the position of AU commissioner, nor was she Sadc’s candidate.
"She is the candidate of the Southern African region. This is why the region itself is deploying resources in support of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
"Historically, since the Organisation of African Unity and (its successor) the AU, this region has not had the opportunity to have a representative leading in this position," Mr Monyela said.
The Southern African region was lobbying other regions to support their candidate and the costs - including chartered or commercial flights - was known by the countries involved.
"This is the second round of elections for AU commissioner. We decided last year that she (Ms Dlamini-Zuma) was the candidate," he said.
"Neither she nor Jean Ping could get the majority needed to win. Further elections will take place in Malawi and what took place in Angola was a reaffirmation of Ms Dlamini-Zuma as a candidate," he said.
Trevor Maisiri, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said there were demands to bar Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s candidature, which he described as "covert attempts" by Nigeria and Kenya to muscle SA out.
"SA stands a very big chance this time around. Mr Ping is stepping up to the gauntlet, but from a perceived background of bungling in Libya and Ivory Coast. He stands accused of failing to react to their crises," Mr Maisiri said yesterday.
"But on the other hand, SA has made its presence felt outside of its own borders, despite criticism levelled against it that its foreign policy is skewed.
"It is part of peacekeeping efforts, the Brics group of nations and, come the AU summit, it could mark the rise of SA’s diplomacy on the continent."
Persistent speculation in political circles was that President Robert Mugabe would vote for Mr Ping as punishment for President Jacob Zuma over his hardened stance against the 88-year-old veteran ruler.
But Simon Khaya Moyo, Zanu (PF) national chairman and former ambassador to SA, yesterday confirmed his party’s support for Ms Dlamini-Zuma.
"Zanu (PF) fully supports the position of Sadc. We are part of a family, the Sadc family, and as a family we have assumed a common position around the AU candidate and Zimbabwe will stick to that decision," Mr Moyo said.