Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, June 30, 2008

Who's got suggestions?
One of the most frustrating things about the current Zimbabwean situation is that there's no clear path as to what to do to resolve it. It's incredibly difficult to isolate Mugabe without pouring more suffering on Zimbabwe's people, regime change is not on the table (if only there was oil...), and external pressure seems only strengthens Mugabe's position. A recent Time article highlights the plight.

There are many of us calling on Government for results, and vilifying Mbeki for his support of Mugabe, but there are no easy solutions. Have a more aggressive verbal stance on Mugabe? Mugabe loves it, he paints himself as the hero standing up to the world and his core supporters, and his military, love it. Cut off electricity and oil to Zimbabwe? Fine, but you'll have the deaths of thousands of Zimbabweans on your holds, as it'll make foodstuffs and basic commodities not just scarce, but unavailable, and Mugabe will undoubtedly remain untouched. Sanctions? Ditto. Smart sanctions on Mugabe and his cronies? Tried that for three years, it hasn't worked.

Anyone got anything else as a solution?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Thinly veiled threats of a 'More of the same" leadership
Many people have spent the last year asking themselves what a Zuma presidency will look like, and it fascinates me how the public view of Zuma has turned from one of ridicule and contempt into one of sympathy and resignation. This has been aided both by a typical human need of introspective self-protection and of course, by the bumblings of, and revelations about, State President Thabo Mbeki.

Many have felt betrayed by the revelations of Mbeki's opportunistic manipulation of state organs through various manifest and psychological techniques. However, one has to look to Zuma's use of his legal teams with regard to anything relating to his graft case to negate the view that he will be any different.

Yesterday, Zuma's legal team warned the Constitutional Court that the way it handles its complaint against Cape Judge President John Hlophe will have consequences for "confidence" in the bench, patently a thinly veiled threat to the positions of those sitting judges. Whilst the overbearing use of political power is not unusual in most countries of the world, especially in the US and UK, Zuma's use of it since he has taken power of the party must be a strong forebearer of how he wishes to lead.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Thabo is reduced to leaks...
You know times are tough on Mbeki's Zim stance when he is forced to leak a seven year-old document to try to prove that he, at once stage at least, was able to voice an opinion on Mugabe. The document, leaked to the Mail & Guardian on Friday, illustrates a different Mbeki talking tough in a letter to Mugabe.
He warns the Zimbabwean leader not to drive anyone away on the basis that they are guilty of "imperialist machinations aimed at limiting national sovereignty".

"To resort to anti-imperialist rhetoric will not solve the problems of Zimbabwe but may compound them."

Mbeki warns that Zanu-PF has lost the backing of most Zimbabweans and has been taken over by "war veterans" responsible for violence and intimidation. There is a "clear alienation of the masses from the system of governance", giving scope for the formation of the MDC.

"The disjuncture among the ruling party, the state machinery and the people is also expressed by evidence of corruption within the public sector and the desertion of large numbers of public sector workers to the opposition party," he writes.

Interestingly, given his reluctance to criticise Mugabe's human rights abuses publicly, Mbeki argues that Zanu-PF has become "an opponent of the democratic institutions of governance and democratic processes … for whose establishment many militants lay down their lives".

Perceptions that Mugabe is a dictator "will inform the hostile global response to Zimbabwe ... it will not diminish in its intensity but will get worse".

"The party must admit to itself that it has created the condition for others to reach these conclusions," he says. He urges Mugabe to encourage free, open and critical discussion and ensure press freedom.

The document asks whether it is "strategically and tactically correct" for Zimbabwe to be in confrontation with the United Kingdom.

It also reminds Mugabe of the potential fallout for South Africa -- a worsening economic crisis in the form of migration, pressures on the rand and "regional contagion".

Mbeki remarks that although Zimbabwe played a leading role in Africa after independence, it is now viewed as a country in crisis, threatened by social and economic collapse.

"Support in Africa is lukewarm and hesitant, while countries in Southern Africa are fearful of the consequences of a deeper crisis in Zimbabwe. Globally it is presented as a negative factor in the context of the development of Southern Africa and Africa," he writes.

A case of too little too late, or too much too soon? Read the entire document here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mbeki's back attaches to a corner
"We fought for this country and a lot of blood was shed. We are not going to give up our country because of a mere X. How can a ballpoint pen fight with a gun?"
Thus endeth the Zimbabwe legacy for President Thabo Mbeki

Friday, June 13, 2008

What I'll miss...
If there's one thing that I'm sure I'll pine for when Thabo Mbeki leaves office, it's his eloquence. Fast-forward three years and, even under the current quagmire of mass hate he finds himself in, I'm pretty sure we'll be casting a jealous eye back to our 'old' president's mannerisms, verbosity and sharp tongue.

“Neither the honourable De Lille and Botha spoke of their own responsibilities as such leaders, content to perform on the public stage as militant critics and vigilant watchdogs. As I listened to what they had to say, I asked myself — when will they accept their responsibility to lead, not partisan factions, but the nation?”

“ Together, during the last 14 years, we have recorded remarkable achievements. Acting together, we placed ourselves on course to emerge as a winning nation. Today we face problems, in the same way we faced problems in the past; in the past we overcame these problems and will overcome the new problems we face; in the past we never allowed our problems to condemn us to demoralisation, despondency and pessimism.

“Those who have spoken of the legacy of the president need to know that there is no other legacy the president seeks apart from what has been said above."

BBC: A lot of people think you’re a crook …
ZUMA: Is that so? (laughs) I want to see those people so they can tell me why they think I’m a crook.
BBC: Well there’s a whole army of prosecutors who clearly think it.
ZUMA: Eh-ha? Is that so? Serious?
KEANE: Are you a crook?
ZUMA: Me? Well, I don’t know, I must go to a dictionary and learn what a crook is. I’ve never been a crook ..
KEANE: Somebody who takes money from other people for corrupt purposes?
ZUMA: Have I ever done so?
KEANE: I’m asking you.
ZUMA: No, I think that’s a mistake you guys have made and I’ve said, I can’t have two trials - trial by the media and trial by court. I’m saying I’m not a crook. I have never been a crook. I will never be a crook


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thabo's Last Chance
Thabo Mbeki, humiliated by the world, spurned by the MDC and led by the nose by Mugabe, is making one last bid to save his legacy on Zimbabwe. As I write, Mbeki is mediating 11th hour talks between Zanu-PF and the MDC in order to build a negotiated settlement rather than face the prospect of the June 27th run-off.

This ultimately, is Mbeki's original modus operandi, no big talk, just attempts at action. Mbeki was ushered into the Presidency as 'Mr. Delivery', a moniker that has largely fallen away over his two terms. It certainly could not be applied to his efforts in Zimbabwe, but perhaps, at this final juncture, he can emerge with some grace.

I'm not holding my breath though...

Friday, June 06, 2008

Some courage on the continent
Whilst Mugabe uses food as a weapon once more, at least there is some courage from African leadership. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga yesterday attacked Mugabe and branded him as what he is: "a dictator".
"As a pan-Africanist, I think that I would be failing in my duty if I did not point out that what is happening in Zimbabwe is a big embarrassment to the entire continent of Africa.

"We cannot be speaking about democracy and democratisation of the continent when we condone what is happening in Zimbabwe."

At least we can expect a harder line from Zuma's type of blunt statesmanship. I often wonder if Thabo will look back in 10-15 years time with any regret on his Zimbabwe stance...

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Mbeki: Giving up the ghost?
I think I will be expanding on this in a ThoughtLeader post shortly, but all the signs of the last few months point to an internally combusting Thabo Mbeki. Careering from one badly-handled crisis to the next, Mbeki has lost all of his stately airs and pistol-whipping control that allowed him to gloss over such crises in the past. It really does seem that he is stubbornly holding to his post, whilst at the same time doing as little as possible as to his presidential duties.

Since Polokwane, Mbeki has been an absolute ghost of his former self. Much of this has to do with the decision-making power stripped from him through the Polokwane mandate, but this does not give a full picture. The Mbeki of old would have come out firing in every direction, paranoid eyes flaring, attempting to show up the 'new power' in the ANC and 'prove' that the masses made a mistake in not continuing his reign as party president.

His absolute withdrawal from his duties in the past six months is incongruous with the Thabo Mbeki we have known oer the past decade. It could be explained by a personal depression from his leadership failures; or it could be explained by a feeling that the public will villify him whatever path he chooses. Or, as Mark Gevisser writes in his excellent biography of Mbeki, he could be realising that he has been responsible for his own ultimate sin, his presidency failing to live up to a lifetime of service to the party - "a dream deferred".