Mbeki shows Mugabe how it’s done

PRESIDENT Thabo Mbeki on Tuesday fired his deputy Jacob Zuma from government. Zuma had been fingered in the corruption case in which the High Court in Durban two weeks ago convicted the deputy president’s financial adviser, S

chabir Shaik.

The judge in the case, Hilary Squires, described the pair’s relationship as “generally corrupt”. There were immediate calls for Zuma to resign and be prosecuted. Mbeki this week moved swiftly to remove Zuma from the second most powerful post in government. His rationale was simple. He would poison the air for South Africa which risked being branded a corrupt investment destination.

From this side of the Limpopo River, however, it was unprecedented. Since the sentencing of Shaik there have been howls of support for Zuma in the state media. Suddenly commiserations were being heaped on the Communist party stalwart.

The fact that the court said Zuma was a participant in corruption was conveniently ignored. His liberation war credentials were viewed as more important, superseding the alleged graft.

He became a victim of an imperialist plot and racial calumny, as personified by Justice Squires who presided over the case. In the best tradition of state-media plots, the ruling by Judge Squires became a Western attempt to discredit liberation movements in the region.

A columnist in the state media writing on Tuesday tried vaingloriously to draw parallels between the disgraced Zuma and President Mugabe.

“Like Zimbabwean President Mugabe, Zuma has been tried and convicted in the South African media,” the columnist proffered.

“The parallels with Zimbabwe do not end there, for the South African and Zimbabwean justice systems still have a lot in common, though Zimbabwe has invested a lot to transform the judiciary,” he said.

Based on this ill-informed summation, President Mbeki performed an unAfrican act of firing a liberator accused of dabbling in corruption. The attempt to draw parallels between President Mugabe and Zuma — as victims of a Western conspiracy — and to deify both is an infantile endeavour to ring-fence errant leaders from public censure.

President Mbeki, despite domestic pressure and muffled noises from the region in support of Zuma, did the right thing. In dealing with Zuma, Mbeki had to weigh between issues of national importance and protecting a long-time comrade.

The tendency in Africa is to choose the latter. Mbeki, according to Zuma’s camp, had to protect the deputy president because of history and maintaining the power balance in the ruling coalition.

Mbeki’s decision could unsettle the political chemistry of the ruling order in South Africa but it guarantees economic stability, direct foreign investment and protects the country from flight of capital.

There was endorsement of the decision from big business which saw the move as strengthening Mbeki’s resolve when he takes Africa’s case before G8 leaders in Scotland next month.

Mbeki had to act in the spirit of Nepad’s peer review mechanism. This was a powerful statement to the continent that he was committed to weeding out misfeasance in governance. Without that commitment, Africa’s renaissance would be doomed.

We need that boldness in our government today. The public sector, parastatals and sections of the private sector have become citadels of corruption and inefficiency. Errant officers have continued to occupy their offices despite their well-documented record of plunder.

This is the cancer President Mugabe must deal with if we are to believe his commitment to fighting corruption and fostering a culture of efficiency in the public sector.

We all recall the pardoning of ministers and senior party officials who played major roles in the Willowgate scandal. The minister responsible for the VIP Housing Scandal in the mid 1990s was never held to account. This is the same with senior officials who looted the War Victims Compensation Fund. They still form the core of Mugabe’s government.

His government has to date not accounted for Zimbabwe’s “investments” in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Where are the dividends, Mr President? We have seen numerous commissions being appointed by the president to probe wrongdoing and the results never published.

Inefficiency is also rewarded in Mugabe’s government. Joseph Made was re-appointed to the Agriculture portfolio despite almost starving the nation three years ago. The results of this incubation of corruption and inefficiency are manifest.

Zimbabwe has remained a poor country with high unemployment because no one wants to invest here. All this because Mugabe has engaged heavily in enhancing the camaraderie forged among his peers in the 1970s at the expense of development and progress in the 21st century.

That is poor politics and Zimbabweans deserve better. Mbeki has shown the way in dealing decisively with comrades who allegedly demand kickbacks. Zimbabwe’s tolerance of corruption will leave us increasingly isolated in a continent where standards of public behaviour are undergoing change.

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