What a contrast

THE government last week broke its silence on British Prime Minister Gordon Brown with a virulent media attack that took many diplomatic observers by surprise. President Mugabe and his ministers

have been keeping quiet on the new incumbent at No 10 Downing St in the hope that a rapprochement with the UK may be possible.

This was of course completely delusional. Brown’s policies will be determined by the same officials who formulated policy under Tony Blair. And parliament would never countenance a departure from a position arrived at in response to egregious human rights violations, electoral fraud and damaging economic policies pursued by the Mugabe regime.

But still the authorities in Harare deluded themselves into thinking that some sort of bridge-building was possible. They simply didn’t understand that first they would have to abandon the sort of bad behaviour that has transformed Zimbabwe into a rogue state in the eyes of the international community. No European Union member will pursue a dialogue with a government whose law-enforcement officers beat up the leader of the opposition while he is in detention.

The fiction that normal relations with Whitehall could be restored in the present circumstances has evidently now been abandoned, perhaps in response to a cold shoulder from London. The government-owned Chronicle newspaper in Bulawayo, which has been leading a vicious campaign against Archbishop Pius Ncube, last week published an editorial headed “Mandela stunt exposes British racist hypocrisy”. The target was Brown’s reception of Nelson Mandela in London for the unveiling of a statue of the South African leader in Parliament Square.

The British, the argument ran, were grateful that Mandela had not interfered with their economic interests in South Africa. The writer appeared to think that General Jan Smuts was an “apartheid prime minister”, so, flowing from this misconception, there was bitter denunciation of the British for having placed Mandela’s statue in close proximity to that of South Africa’s wartime leader.

In fact Smuts was defeated by DF Malan’s National Party which advocated apartheid in 1948 but details of this sort were not allowed to get in the way of what turned out to be little more than an undergraduate assault on Brown. What seems to have particularly offended the Chronicle was the suggestion that Mandela’s statue would be “a beacon of hope that signals to anyone who suffers injustice anywhere that their suffering will not last for ever, will never be in vain, and will be overcome”.

This was evidently a gross provocation to the newspaper which denounced the British for not having rescued Mandela when he was convicted in 1962.

“When you sell your soul to neo-liberal globalisation,” the paper admonished, “the West gleefully showers you with awards. Repossess the farms and see what happens. Overnight you are demonised and hit with sanctions.”

Mandela should not need the affirmation of Britain to stand tall, we were told. “We the people of Africa hailed Mandela a long time ago.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Zanu PF could barely conceal its resentment of Mandela in the mid-1990s. His pleas for the release of Kevin Woods and others from prison were rejected with scorn. And his insistence that the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security should be accountable to the Sadc heads of government was regarded as a challenge to President Mugabe’s regional authority. Indeed, the Blantyre summit was nearly wrecked as a result of Mugabe’s refusal to concede this point. And relations between the two were further strained when Mugabe used the organ, as South Africa had feared he would, to authorise his foray into the Congo.

The Chronicle claims the inequalities between black and white in South Africa, together with land hunger, are a ticking time bomb. That may indeed be true. But the difference with Zimbabwe of course is that South Africa is aware of the danger of social inequalities and is busy addressing them just as it insists land should be redistributed in a way that does justice to those from whom it is acquired as well as those to whom it is given.

The danger of Zimbabwe’s descent into populist anarchy is constantly held up in South Africa as the path to avoid.

But what the Chronicle betrays more than anything else is Zanu PF’s resentment of the spirit of constitutionalism that Mandela presided over during his term. This was the bedrock of a law-based non-racial society that provided a template of inclusivity that challenged the narrow racist nationalism espoused by Zanu PF across the Limpopo.

President Mugabe briefly embraced reconciliation in 1980. But increasingly Zanu PF had got away with preaching its nasty little agenda of recrimination and racial scapegoating. No wonder Mandela inspires feelings of resentment in the government and its slavish press here. He offered Africa something entirely new. His decency towards his fellow citizens, his generosity of spirit, and his example of democratic leadership are a world apart from the mean-spirited invective of the Chronicle and the abusive regime it speaks for.