PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s remarks in Botswana this week that South Africa needs “another liberation” to address structural economic inequalities and empower its black citizens represents a profound irony that cannot escape scrutiny.
Speaking without any sense of irony and deeply steeped in hypocrisy, Mugabe claimed the late South African president Nelson Mandela brought freedom but forgot to address entrenched inequalities between blacks and whites. He said South Africa needs help to dismantle residual apartheid structures. He also made disparaging remarks about San people, saying they were not interested in voting but “killing animals and enjoying their lives”, reminiscent of his slurs on whites,Jamaicans, Nigerians and Kalangas, among others.
While he sounded obsessed with South Africa and Mandela, he ignored his own country’s social and economic devastation which has forced millions to jump borders across the Limpopo and to overseas. Mugabe’s is increasingly becoming erratic and incoherent: Only last month he was apologising and thanking President Jacob Zuma for hosting Zimbabwean immigrants.
Whatever problems South Africa might have — and they are many and serious — the reality is Zimbabwe, the jewel of Africa according to Julius Nyerere, has been reduced to ruins like the Great Zimbabwe monument. It is now an economically failed state due to Mugabe’s leadership and policy failures. His extractive politics and economic institutions have destroyed the nation.
So it is appalling Mugabe would have the temerity to criticise other countries, like he did Ghana last year, when his own is reeling from company closures and job losses on an industrial scale after his disastrous land reforms which shattered the agricultural base and downstream industries. Even with xenophobic violence and killings in South Africa, Zimbabweans say it is still better to endure there than return home to unemployment, hunger and poverty.
The trouble with Mugabe is he likes grandstanding. Now, he would have us believe nothing has changed in South Africa since 1994 even though it’s clear things have improved, although deep transformation is needed to overhaul economic ownership patterns, tackle inequalities and poverty. Statistics don’t lie — they show South Africa is indisputably a world away from the place it was 21 years ago when Mandela came to power through a negotiated settlement like Mugabe himself even if he now wants to conveniently forget Lancaster House negotiations and the resultant constitution, especially on land.
Like Codesa talks, Lancaster House was a ceasefire and compromise arrangement. The outcomes were not determined by strident demands and shouting at negotiating tables, but power relations between the parties involved. The balance of power produced those agreements, not what Mugabe demanded or Mandela wanted.
That’s realpolitik, not cheap rhetoric. Mugabe himself would have wanted a revolutionary outcome, just like Mandela, but they had to accept gradual change. The issue is Zimbabwe under Mugabe is not an African model of progress like Botswana but a case study of economic mismanagement or a manual of how not to run a country. Besides, Mugabe’s awful demagoguery about other countries won’t help fix his own nation.