President Robert Mugabe could hit back at South African President Jacob Zuma for his tough stance against him in Global Political Agreement (GPA) negotiations by backing African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson Jean Ping, who is seeking another term ahead of South African Home Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
South Africa announced in September 2011 Dlamini-Zuma, the Presidents ex-wife, is challenging Ping for the powerful position. The tenure of Ping, a former Gabonese Foreign minister, who has been AUC chairperson since 2008, ends at the 18th AU summit later this month.
Informed sources said current AU chairman and Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who was in Zimbabwe this week, supported Ping and had canvassed President Mugabe for his support. Nguema reportedly asked President Mugabe to use his influence to convince other Sadc nations to back Ping.
African leaders will vote using the secret ballot for the holder of the powerful post at the end of the 18th AU summit, which will also see them officially open the new AU headquarters which was funded by China.
Dlamini-Zuma enjoys the backing of Sadc although several countries in the region, including Zimbabwe, are unhappy with the way South Africa a member of the United Nations Security Council handled the Libyan crisis which led to the overthrowing and subsequent execution of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Togo and Morocco are the only other African countries in the UN Security Council, but South Africa, which is the current chair, is considered more influential. The three countries supported the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya resulting in Nato bombing the oil-rich country.
Relations between South Africa and Zimbabwe have been frosty in recent years and deteriorated after Zuma replaced former president Thabo Mbeki as the Sadc-appointed mediator in Zimbabwes political crisis. Zuma quickly departed from Mbekis quiet diplomacy by adopting a tougher stance against President Mugabe.
Zuma rallied Sadc to block President Mugabes push for early elections without full implementation of the GPA when he gave a damning report on the Zimbabwean situation at the Sadc Troika summit in Livingstone, Zambia last year.
South Africa further infuriated Zimbabwe when it campaigned against Zimbabwes bid to be elected to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission in 2009, although Zimbabwe landed the post.
Presidential spokesman George Charamba, however, said Zimbabwe like other Sadc countries, would back Dlamini-Zuma for the AU commission post unless it was convinced the bloc had a weak candidate.
Charamba said: We have a requirement in Sadc, a binding position, which works out as follows: If any member of Sadc is going for a certain position, no other Sadc country can compete against that member.
Secondly, no member of Sadc can support a candidate outside Sadc, although South Africa violated that position by not supporting Zimbabwes bid for the Human Rights Commission.
In fact, South Africa decampaigned Zimbabwe, which was against the AU position because Zimbabwes candidacy had been endorsed by the AU. Our position is we will support Dlamini-Zuma.
Dlamini-Zuma is running for Sadc and I know for a fact that our Foreign minister has been campaigning for her.
He added: Until we discover that our candidate is not strong, which we havent done, we will continue supporting her. If we discover that our candidate is not strong, like in the previous term when we supported Ping, we will sit down as Sadc and choose which candidate to back. Sadc always votes as a bloc.
However, Charamba conceded Zimbabwe was unhappy with the way South Africa had handled the Libyan crisis saying most African countries shared the same feelings.
Ping has also been harshly criticised over his handling of the crises in Ivory Coast and Libya.
In each case, the continental organisation was divided and Pings mediation attempts were seen as largely ineffectual.