African Press International (API)

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Posted by African Press International on May 3, 2008

Publisher: Korir, africanpress@getmail.no source.businessday.SA

Story by Tony Leon.

More than three weeks since its fateful poll, the ageing tyrant in Zimbabwe and his handpicked electoral commission are busy suppressing or altering the real result of its presidential election.

But, here at home, we have an outright winner for the most fatuous analysis of our northern neighbours recent election and our governments role in it. Step forward Tony Heard, one time editor of the Cape Times and, for the past 14 years, full-time fabulist for the South African Presidency. In the overcrowded room of ill-considered and plainly wrong remarks, his breathless article on this page in the days soon after the poll deserves, at least, the journalistic equivalent of a wooden spoon.

Heard wrote that President Thabo Mbekis diplomacy has been vindicated no one can take away (his) proven success over Zimbabwe. When this modest man bows out next year, we shall miss him, be sure. Actually, Im not so sure and neither, apparently, is an ever-growing chorus of critics and commentators, at home and abroad: they are dismayed by our continuing conniving with democratic suppression in Zimbabwe, our silence over the far too familiar repression, the green-lighting of dubious arms shipments and the predictable political autism Mbeki continues to display in denying a manifestly palpable crisis and refusing to acknowledge its cause, or even treat its symptoms.

Last week, The Economist labelled Mbeki and SADCs collusion with Mugabe Africas Shame, observing that SAs president has prolonged Zimbabwes agony. Can Thabo Mbeki, SAs lame-duck president, truly believe there is no crisis in Zimbabwe? If so, it must be concluded that there is a crisis also in SA a moral one. Polemicist (and one time Mbeki ally) Christopher Hitchens, in his online article in Slate, was even more scornful. He described our continued coddling of Robert Mugabe as a continuation of the long cowardly ambiguity of the post-Mandela regime towards a thieving megalomaniac.

In reality, I think Mbekis stance is more depressingly consistent than ambiguous. Just under a year ago, Mugabe quoted approvingly Mbekis take on Zimbabwe, in a little-noted interview, which appeared in New Africa magazine. These were the words Mugabe attributed to Mbeki: The fight against Zimbabwe is a fight against us all. Today it is Zimbabwe, tomorrow it will be SA, it will be Mozambique, it will be Angola, it will be any other African country. And any government that is perceived to be strong, and to be resistant to imperialists, would be made a target and would be undermined. So let us not allow any point of weakness in the solidarity of SADC, because that weakness will also be transferred to the rest of Africa.

For Heard and other occupants of our presidents intellectual bunker, the wages of spin include, apparently, the willing suspension of disbelief. But the clues to our presidents current denialism on Zimbabwe were salted when this crisis began back in 2000. The only change and it has been as significant as it is recent is that his own party has now broken ranks with him on this defining issue. But there is no evidence to suggest that Mbekis cabinet is anything other than faithful to the undertaking given over five years ago by Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma that the world would never hear one word of criticism of Zimbabwe as long as this (African National Congress) government is in power.

The burden of Heards argument is that there were hardly any tougher options for SA to employ to engage Zimbabwe out of what he termed its tragic spiral. Really? You dont require a decoder to work out the semiotics behind Mbekis approach: Mugabe knew that the lingering resentments towards colonialism, white racism and the Cold War played directly into Mbekis blind spots. And so it happened. The South African government and SADC green-lighted and approved three stolen elections in Zimbabwe, in 2000, 2002 and in 2005. Our stance on the 2008 poll is all of a piece with that pattern. These were not acts of quiet diplomacy but constituted outright complicity with democratic subversion.

Over the past seven years, Mbeki certainly had the ability, to borrow the words of The Economist, (as John Vorster demonstrated in respect of Ian Smith), to squeeze Mugabe out of power. He apparently promised to do precisely that when President George Bush came calling on Pretoria in June 2003. But Bushs point man faltered or never intended to try. As far back as March 2002, I gave Mbeki full credit for his role in the suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. But this, too, proved to be a false dawn, as Mbeki later acknowledged. He was an unwitting or unwilling participant in the Commonwealth troikas decision and did his best, unavailingly, to undo that suspension.

When, after the 2005 elections, Mugabe borrowed directly from the handbook of the Khmer Rouge by launching Operation Murambatsvina (or drive out the trash), which saw the devastation of the homes and shacks of some 700000 urban dwellers, Pretoria maintained its infamous silence.

Heard, adamant to the last, maintains (Mbekis) critics failed to make suggestions, I mean practical and effective suggestions, because they had none. This piffle is simply laughable. The European Union and US had imposed penalties against Mugabes regime over seven years ago. As far back as February 2001, in a speech to Parliament, I proposed that SA endorse international smart sanctions by freezing foreign assets and funds owned by individuals in the Zanu (PF) hierarchy; restrict travel to SA by Zimbabwean ministers; and apply an arms embargo. These were not drastic measures, nor unprecedented. As one newspaper noted, at that time, they were the more modest measures the ANC once demanded against the apartheid government.

But Mbeki and his government strenuously opposed firm action against Mugabe. Sadly, even the most sensible ministers fell into line. Back in 2001, Trevor Manuel continued to support co-operation, not criticism of the Mugabe regime and backed economic aid for Zimbabwe. The cabinets most voluble human rights exponent, Kader Asmal, broke his silence on Mugabes tyranny only last year, three years after he had been dropped from the government.

The only surprise around the nonresponse of President Mbeki and his government to the latest flawed election in Zimbabwe is that we are at all surprised. Although the endgame in Zimbabwe remains unknown, the locust years, which saw the destruction of one of Africas greatest economic success stories and potent symbols of democratic reconciliation, yields no end of lessons, most of them sombre. The relative ease and speed with which Mugabe could plunder his country and starve his people is the most obvious. But Zimbabwe also demonstrated the severe limits of SAs willingness, or ability, to lead the African renaissance to which Mbeki committed his presidency. In the words of Harvards Samantha Power, faced with a real test he flunked it.

*Leon is a Democratic Alliance MP and foreign affairs spokesman.

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African Press International – api

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