Mbeki’s dilemma over Zimbabwe worsens

By Charles Mangongera

A FEW years ago I wrote about South African President Thabo Mbeki’s dilemma in dealing with President Robert Mugabe. In that submission, I argued that Mbeki’s policy on Zimb

abwe was fundamentally flawed in that he was pursuing “quiet diplomacy” in the hope that Mugabe would see the light, but he would not.


The problem with Mbeki’s foreign policy on Zimbabwe, I argued, is that it puts into jeopardy his ambitious projects of African Renaissance and Nepad. I also warned that Mbeki would be judged harshly by history for having protected a stubborn dictator by failing to condemn his evil deeds.


I still hold the same views. In fact, I think things are getting worse in Zimbabwe and Mbeki is facing more and more dilemmas. As the situation continues to deteriorate Mbeki has continued with his crusade to convince everyone who cares to listen that everything is normal in Zimbabwe. His public posture as an African political godfather with intricate knowledge of the goings-on in Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zanu PF is in pursuit of that goal.

I find Mbeki’s actions mind-boggling. I also think he is not very perceptive. Remember his warped ideas about the HIV/Aids-poverty nexus? And his disrespectful chiding of the good Archbishop Desmond Tutu after the man of the cloth had complained about the culture of sycophancy in the African National Congress?


Not that there is anything wrong with not being perceptive. There are many of us that are not so gifted with mental prowess.


The reason I think Mbeki has got more beard than brains is because of how

he has been handling Uncle Bob and the Zimbabwe circus. The man has been desperately trotting the globe attempting to portray himself as a great statesman of Africa. Yet he lacks the guts to stand up to our dear leader and implore him to see reason for the benefit of the entire region.


Why he lets his paranoid delusions about a non-existent white man’s conspiracy against the black man cloud his judgement baffles the mind. We all know that Mbeki thinks he owes a lot to Uncle Bob, given that he was given refuge in Harare at the height of apartheid in South Africa.


But there comes a point where you let go of personal friendships and act like a statesman, especially when you want to be remembered as one. Moreover, he was not living on Uncle Bob’s personal funds at the time. It was taxpayers’ money. He therefore owes everything to Zimbabweans.

If the truth be told, Mbeki has not been sincere about Zimbabwe. Firstly, he has lied to the world that the crisis in Zimbabwe is about land. And yet every right-thinking Zimbabwean knows that the crisis is about Mugabe’s obsession with political power.


The crisis had nothing to do with land, because Uncle Bob had more than two decades to give land to his people — meaning his friends and relatives in the higher echelons of power. Genuine beneficiaries of the process had not received an ounce of soil,while those that had received the land had, by Mugabe’s own admission, become “cell-phone farmers” using the farms as “weekend braai resorts”. What does Mbeki say about this?


He whines about not wanting to be pushed to use “megaphone diplomacy” in place of his “quiet diplomacy”. And in Mbeki-speak “quiet diplomacy” means employing every trick in the book to protect his ageing ally. It means lying to the whole world that the autocrat is talking to his political foes and that before everyone knows it, there will be a “political breakthrough” in Zimbabwe, after which we all can sit back in the VIP lounge of the Cigar Bar in Cape Town, puffing on Havanas and sipping the finest whisky.


Don’t we all remember being told this when George Bush came on his whirlwind tour of Africa a couple of years ago? Of course some of us never believed what the political quack had to say, although Dubya did.


The point I am making is that Mbeki is attempting to do the impossible on Zimbabwe. In fact, I think he has failed in whatever he was attempting to do. This is because his attempts at packaging and repackaging the “Mugabe product” in the hope that it would become a bestseller on the global market have come to nought.


My marketing friends tell me that when a product has overstayed its welcome in the market, the best thing to do is withdraw it and introduce another one, with a completely new marketing strategy. Perhaps Mbeki needs a bit of tuition on this.


The tuition might have to wait a bit though. I suspect the man is busy penning the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) verdict on the 2005 parliamentary election in Zimbabwe, which will obviously be filled with the usual Mbeki innuendos:


“The people of Zimbabwe have expressed their democratic will and despite the few mishaps that were encountered, we are confident that the result of the election is a true reflection of their wishes.”


So much for the Sadc guidelines on elections.


*Charles Mangongera is a political researcher.

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