Thabo Mbeki appealed for international support when he fought apartheid, but he now refuses to support the freedom struggle of the people of Zimbabwe.
The South African President, Thabo Mbeki, is a hypocrite. When he was campaigning to end the evil apartheid regime, he pleaded with the world to support the freedom struggle of the African National Congress (ANC). Much of the world heeded his call, mobilising an international anti-apartheid movement, which the ANC has since credited with aiding the overthrow of white minority rule in South Africa.
Two decades later, Thabo Mbeki is comfortably ensconced in the Presidential state house in Pretoria. His past internationalism has been dumped. Nowadays, solidarity seems to stop at South Africa’s border. Fellow Africans in Zimbabwe can go to hell.
Mbeki wanted international solidarity when he and the ANC needed it, but he is denying solidarity to Zimbabweans when they need it. This is rank hypocrisy.
For me, this is a big personal disappointment. I liaised with Thabo Mbeki in the struggle against apartheid during the 1980s. He even sent me a telegram thanking me for my (rather modest) campaigning against the white racist regime. I saw him as a man of vision, compassion and sincerity. Power, it seems, has since corrupted him, like so many others. His principles and idealism have faded fast.
Mbeki is a denialist. He has his head buried in the sand. He does not see, or pretends not to see, gross injustices just across the border. Almost everyone in the world, except Mbeki, acknowledges that the people of Zimbabwe have suffered a decade of terror by President Robert Mugabe’s thugs, including detention without trial, torture, rape, extra-judicial killings and the violent suppression of peaceful, lawful student, trade union, women’s and church protests. Hundreds of thousands of people have been evicted and their homes demolished. Millions are being starved into submission by the withholding of food aid. Two million refugees have fled to South Africa. A succession of parliamentary and presidential votes have been rigged to maintain Mugabe and his ruling party, ZANU-PF, in power.
Despite all this evidence of gross inhumanity, President Mbeki insists there is “no crisis” in Zimbabwe. Everyone should, he says, show patience and calmly await the publication of the results of the recent presidential election.
Why should Zimbabweans be expected to exhibit forbearance and keep waiting? The voting results were known and posted at local polling stations over two weeks ago. One can only assume that the reason they have not been published is because they record a defeat for Mugabe. There is no other rational, reasonable explanation. If Mugabe had won, his propagandists would have immediately boasted of victory. The general consensus is that Mugabe lost the ballot and that ZANU-PF is delaying the poll result announcement to give its ballot-riggers time to fix the figures in favour of the out-going president, who clearly does not want to relinquish power.
President Mbeki has point-blank refused to condemn the election rigging. Indeed, he has never spoken out against the tyranny in Zimbabwe and has repeatedly blocked any serious initiatives to press the Mugabe regime to respect democracy and human rights.
Instead, Mbeki has promoted a strategy of “quiet diplomacy” to resolve what, he says, is a non-crisis in Zimbabwe. This strategy of quiet diplomacy has been an abject failure. It has not produced a single positive outcome in six years. Far from improving the Zimbabwe regime’s observance of human rights, quiet diplomacy has coincided with an alarming intensification of repression and abuses.
Quiet diplomacy looks increasingly like connivance and complicity. Mbeki seems to be acting in ways to protect Mugabe and sustain his misrule.
His downplaying of the current crisis in Zimbabwe is nothing new. In the past he has been quite blatant, claiming that previous rigged Zimbabwean elections were free and fair. This calls into question his honesty and integrity, as well as his politics and political judgement. It is a sad indictment of a great man who was hero of the anti-apartheid struggle. His lack of compassion and solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe brings shame to the liberation movement and to the party of government that he has led, the ANC.
Mbeki cannot feign ignorance. Mugabe’s human rights abuses stretch back many years. The writing was already on the wall in the mid-1980s, when Mugabe’s men slaughtered 20,000 civilians in Matabeleland. This is the equivalent of a Sharpeville massacre every day for over nine months. Yet Thabo Mbeki and most other top ANC leaders said nothing about this bloodfest – and nothing about the many subsequent murders by ZANU-PF.
This is, perhaps, symptomatic of the rot that has consumed several top ANC leaders. Some have become complacent and corrupt, suddenly accumulating vast personal wealth. They have spent billions on arms deals, amid allegations of kick-backs, while complaining there is not enough money to combat HIV, fund land reform and treat Zimbabwean refugees humanely.
Mugabe is worse than the white supremacist leader, Ian Smith, who he overthrew. He has murdered more black Africans than the apartheid villains Hendrik Verwoerd, John Forster and P W Botha. Yet we never hear a squeak of protest against Mugabe from Mbeki. He and his fellow ANC leaders sit on their hands and look the other way while Zimbabwe burns.
Mbeki has nothing to say about the terrible abuses being inflicted on his fellow Africans. His silence is a shameful betrayal of the ANC’s once proud tradition of pan-African solidarity and support for liberation movements against dictatorships.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the South African trade union federation, COSATU have spoken out against Mugabe’s despotism, why hasn’t Mbeki?
At the very least, he should publicly urge Robert Mugabe to stand down, and condemn the recent election fraud and the withholding of poll results.
The people of Zimbabwe deserve a democratic, representative government that ensures equality and justice for all its citizens. These were the goals of the African liberation movements of the last 60 years. They are still worthy goals today.
According to a spokesperson for the Free Zim Youth organisation, Alois Mbawara:
“We Zimbabweans feel betrayed by President Mbeki’s fruitless pursuit of quiet diplomacy as we suffer at the hands of Mugabe’s regime. The world has witnessed how the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, MPs and civic leaders have been brutalised while peacefully demonstrating for fair wages and basic human rights.
“South Africa has blocked calls for the UN to probe human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and it has endorsed Zimbabwe’s elections, even though they were conducted in an atmosphere of violent intimidation by Mugabe’s henchmen.
“President Mbeki knows that the Zimbabwean government violates African Union principles on democracy and human rights. By remaining silent, they tacitly endorse these violations.
“If Mbkei spoke out against Mugabe and threatened South African sanctions against his regime, Mugabe’s control would soon start to unravel. South African inaction is helping to keep him in power,” he said.
Wellington Chibanguza, another organiser of the Free Zim Youth movement said:
“We salute COSATU and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They have spoken out against human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. They stand in solidarity with ordinary Zimbabweans. Mbeki and the ANC see nothing, hear nothing and do nothing.
“The Zimbabwean people supported South Africans in the fight against apartheid. Now it is time for South Africa to support Zimbabweans in the fight against Mugabe’s dictatorship,” he added.