March 26, 2005


Zimbabwe: Mbeki sees no evil, hears no evil: Outcry as South African premier fails to back neighbour’s struggle for democracy (Fred Bridgland, 3/27/05, Sunday Herald)

Zimbabwe’s sixth parliamentary election, to be held in five days’ time, has become less a test of President Robert Mugabe’s credibility and reputation – which are already beyond repair – than the standing of his South African ally, President Thabo Mbeki.

Mugabe, who has rigged yet another election in advance, has bet on Mbeki having no stomach to act against him when South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) government could, if it so chose, topple Mugabe in months, perhaps weeks, by cutting off his electricity and oil supplies.

Mbeki greatly comforted Mugabe, but stunned many South Africans and most of the concerned international community when, a few days ago, he proclaimed from the steps of parliament in Cape Town: “I have no reason to think that anybody in Zimbabwe will act in a way that will militate against the [Zimbabwe] elections being free and fair.” [...]

What is extraordinary about Mbeki’s stand, apart from the long-term damage it will cause an increasingly troubled post-Mandela South Africa, is that he and other heads of state of the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC), southern Africa’s most important regional grouping, spent a huge amount of energy six months ago drafting guidelines for free and fair elections at a summit in Mauritius. The document won worldwide acclaim. It was even signed by President Mugabe.

Yet it is clear that Mugabe has no intention of applying the guidelines. It is equally clear that neither Mbeki nor the other SADC leaders intend calling him to account.

In the end, South Africa and SADC will pay the price in terms of lost credibility in the developed world, where they should have important roles to play in negotiating a better deal for the struggling nations of Africa. Forget about all the high ideals of Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa and of the coming G8 summit in Scotland if, after Thursday’s blatantly rigged Zimbabwe election, it is more of the same from presidents Mbeki and Mugabe.

Mbeki’s much touted doctrine of delivering good governance in Africa for better trading opportunities with the developed world will be the prime victim. Investment in South Africa, already a trickle because of bewilderingly complex black empowerment legislation and Mbeki’s denial of the scale of his country’s Aids crisis, will almost dry up.

Pius Ncube, the outspoken Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, who is Zimbabwe’s nearest equivalent to South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has observed that Mbeki “would be booed in the streets” if he was to speak to ordinary Zimbabweans and ask them what they thought about his views on their country.

The archbishop, who said he refused an offer from Mugabe of an appropriated white commercial farm in exchange for his silence, said: “The people of Zimbabwe have no respect for Mbeki. They don’t know why he is supporting Mugabe. They don’t understand it.”

Asked what he thought of Mugabe, Archbishop Ncube replied: “He’s a very, very evil man. The sooner he dies, the better.”

South Africa's president feels the squeeze over Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe's parliamentary election Thursday puts Mbeki between Africa and the West. (Abraham McLaughlin , 3/28/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

For years, South African President Thabo Mbeki's approach on the growing autocracy in Zimbabwe has been to use "quiet diplomacy" - supporting President Robert Mugabe in public, cajoling him in private. This used to satisfy the United States.

But that's begun to change. President Bush is newly set on "ending tyranny in our world"; his team calls Zimbabwe one of six "outposts of tyranny." Mr. Bush's ambassador to South Africa, Jendayi Frazer, hinted in a speech last month that Zimbabwe's crisis threatens US support for the region. If African organizations are "not seen to act forcefully against tyranny," she said, "it is going to be a problem in terms of trying to build international support and resources."

Now Zimbabwe holds parliamentary elections Thursday. Critics expect they'll be flawed, like the 2000 vote in which Mr. Mugabe was reelected. If so, they may cloud Mr. Mbeki's vision for an "African renaissance" that would bring in billions in Western aid dollars in exchange for stronger democracy and better governance.

"If Mbeki cares" how his plans are perceived by the world's wealthy nations, "he's in trouble" over Zimbabwe, says Tom Lodge, a political scientist at University of the Witwatersrand here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 26, 2005 10:01 PM

"The sooner he dies, the better".

Why not today?

It might loosen up Mbeki's bowels, too.

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 27, 2005 8:35 PM