Worst-case scenario for South Africa and Zimbabwe
OPINION – Thabo Mbeki has helped the tyrant Mugabe retain power and destroyed his own credibility. It could not have been more ironic. On the very day that South African President Thabo Mbeki finally sealed a desperately needed power-sharing deal in neighbouring Zimbabwe between the ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, his own ANC is debating whether to impeach him for behaving autocratically.
It sums up the legacy of a man who promised so much, in terms of building democracy at home and in Africa, but who failed woefully to live up to his own rhetorical flourishes. The ANC’s national working committee, which runs its day-to-day affairs, has now agreed to fire Mbeki, pending legal advice.
Mbeki had hoped that delivering a deal in Zimbabwe would help restore some of the lost credibility at home and in his ruling ANC. This is not to be. Mbeki sees this Zimbabwean deal as a vindication of his much derided "quiet diplomacy" over Western gunboat diplomacy, and finally a victory for his personal dictum of "African solutions for Africa’s problems". But many within the ANC believe a tougher approach earlier on may have ultimately been less costly.
Judge Chris Nicholson’s judgment last Friday, which temporary dismissed Jacob Zuma’s corruption trial because the prosecutors did not follow the proper procedures, also damned Mbeki for using public institutions to trip up opponents, giving his local opponents the ammunition they have long been waiting for to dismiss him.
Mbeki’s biggest error in the last decade was to naively believe Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe’s promises of better behaviour, only to be betrayed later as the old tyrant backtracked.
The fact that this is a deal worked out by Africans themselves should not obscure its inherent flaws. The big worry remains that in the power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe, like the one in Kenya, the opposition party and leader that actually won the poll got short-changed, while the sitting leader and government that cheated are richly rewarded.
That itself is a recipe for future instability. It means African dictators can rig the vote but retain their power by threatening more violence and by agreeing to African mediation. Instead of a short, transitional government Mugabe is now entrenched for a full term in office.
Admittedly, Mugabe has ceded some presidential powers and given Morgan Tsvangirai additional powers as executive prime minister – on paper, a 50:50 split of power. Control over the security forces has been divided, with Mugabe running the military and intelligence services and Tsvangirai in charge of the police. Tsvangirai also gets the finance department, with responsibility to resuscitate the economy – driven to the brink of collapse by Mugabe’s kleptocracy, back to life.
This cannot happen without generous western financial help and support from Zimbabweans in the diaspora who fled Mugabe’s terror. All the repressive laws are still on the books. Those that committed human rights abuses are not being prosecuted, neither are their victims being compensated.
Mugabe has only agreed to these very minimal concessions because of the hard reality that the state is now bankrupt, and there is no outside financial help forthcoming unless he agreed to share power. The threat of further sanctions tightened the screws more.
Among African peers his support dwindled as it became clear that his bogus claims to fight western domination on behalf of other Africans was shown for what is: a fake, used to disguise his and his junta’s fact looting of Zimbabwe and terrorising of its citizens.
By supporting Mugabe instead of the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe, African leaders undermined their own fight against global inequality in politics, trade and finance. This has been clear for some time now to the ruling ANC in South Africa, although evidently not to Mbeki. When the party pointed this out to Mbeki, he characteristically ignored the counsel.
For some time now, the ANC rightly believed that increasing pressure on Mugabe and his junta was the best way to prevent further loss of life, economic decline and more refugees fleeing into South Africa.
The ANC had changed from seeing Zanu-PF and other errant liberation movements as friends only because they, too, fought colonial powers, no matter how brutal their record in power. Mbeki ignored this.
The ANC endorsed MDC and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai as the legitimate winners of the March 2008 elections, and wanted them to be appropriately rewarded – not Mugabe. With the Zimbabwean deal, Mbeki may have prolonged Mugabe’s stay in power, but failed to do so for himself. The Guardian (UK)