Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Zimbabwe: an explanation...

The reliable news sources report that the Zimbabwean police have entered the main opposition party headquarters and arrested its leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Of course His Masters Voice report that there are conflicting reports on this arrest as they give credence to denials of the arrest issued by that bastion of truth and honesty, the Zimbabwean police.

The question on all our lips is, of course, why South Africa has consistently underplayed the problems in Zimbabwe and at times seems to be rather reluctant to criticise the camp old tyrant north of the border? (By the way, am I the only one harbouring suspicions that Robert Mugabe might be a closet homosexual in the tradition of J Edgar Hoover?)

My theory is that South Africa's position regarding Zimbabwe has much to do with President Thabo Mbeki's African ambitions. He wants to be the most important and influential statesman in Africa (and then use this influence for the better of the Continent), but he is the leader of a country that is viewed suspiciously in many other parts of Africa. We are relatively wealthy and our Constitution contains rights that are shockingly "Western". We also think of ourselves as "special" and sometimes have the cheek to talk of "Africa" as if we are not part of it.

If we criticised Mugabe in the same tones used by that unspeakably obnoxious old codger, John Howard, Mbeki's enemies on the continent would have some ammunition to claim that he was merely an agent of Blair and Bush. Given the colonial history of Africa, most of the elites in Africa are extremely sensitive about interference from the West. So, although Mugabe is not popular amongst his fellow leaders, his stance against the West provides him with cover. He can dare Mbeki to have a go at him, knowing it will hurt Mbeki more on the Continent than it does him.

As soon as Mbeki would have a go at him, Mugabe would throw a hissy-fit (doing his "Springtime for Hitler" routine) and insecure but ambitious Mbeki would be caught in the middle. So, better keep quiet and try to work the matter behind the scenes. Who said foreign policy had anything to do with principles?


Anonymous said...

Prof, I think you have identified Mbeki's achilles heel, which is his burning ambition for African greatness. I believe that he has always regarded the SA presidency as a mere stepping stone on the way to bigger things.

Anonymous said...

Mbeki and SA are rather being selfish in their approach to the Zim situation. Mbeki is pretty much complicit in the perpetuation of the Zim cisis by providing both material and moral support to the Zanu pf government while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses and outright disregard of the rule of law and in a lot of cases selective application of the rule of law. As a matter of principle African leaders should speak out against disregard of human rights by their fellow peers. Turning a blind eye to this issue only perpetuates further deterioration of the zimbabwe situation to levels where the country becomes a lost cause. A weak Zimbabwe ( economically) gives South Africa a better edge and more leverage on the political and economic sphere of southern africa.
Mugabe's repression and intolerance for opposing views has been growing since the early 80s. The assault on the political opposition then is well documented and the world chose 'silent democracy' to the methods which were being applied in dealing with the opposition ( hit squads, beatings, harrasment, victimisation, torture). Instead the world chose to shower Mugabe with praise and evening getting khighted in the orders of the british empire and given 5 star treatment whenever he went. A closer example today manifests itself in the form of Museveni who has continously assaulted an democratic space that can be talked of in Uganda. Now back to Mugabe...Mugabe continues to use the same methods he used to deal with and silence the opposition in the early 80s and the same methods were used to deal with dissent in his own liberation movement in the independence fight against colonial rule. 27 years later you have a country which has been force- taught the language of intolerance and whose only language of dealing with opposition is beatings and killings and the outcome of which is a fearful state.
SADC and SA should speak out against Mugabe and pressure him into political reform for the betterment of the country. Appeasing and playing to the gallery of a dictator only serves to entench the position of that dictator and this is one lesson that SADC and SA have chosen to ignore in the name of solidarity with the government of zimbabwe. Instead of engaging with a'talkshow' approach to the zimbabwe question we need more robust diplomatic action from our brothers and sisters in the region. If Mugabe can not change voluntarily he should be forced to for the common good of the suffering people of zimbabwe.

What baffles me is why SADC and SA continue expressing solidarity with Mugabe when he continues to speak the language of hit squads ( militias under the guise of being police and army), beatings, harrasment, victimisation, torture). All of which are well documented. Yet Mbeki, SADC continue expressing solidarity with Mugabe and his murderous and blood stained government. Under what principle do you expresss solidarity????/?