Tragedy to farce

His­tory of co-op­tion and oblit­er­a­tion of op­po­si­tion ig­nored in Mbeki’s me­di­a­tion of Zim­babwe cri­sis

Finweek English Edition - - Openers - Sizwekazi Jekwa sizwekazij@fin­week.co.za

IN AN AP­PAR­ENT AT­TEMPT to con­vey the com­plex­ity of trans­form­ing South Africa’s po­lit­i­cal econ­omy, Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki – in a state of the na­tion ad­dress soon af­ter his elec­tion – in­voked the apho­rism of the African revo­lu­tion­ary Amil­car Cabral: “Tell no lies, claim no easy vic­to­ries.” Th­ese days that state­ment is an ob­tuse irony, not least be­cause of the ease with which Mbeki has claimed moral vic­to­ries but par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to the more re­cent sense of tri­umph with which he de­clared his me­di­a­tion of the Zim­bab­wean cri­sis a break­through.

Soon af­ter the pub­lic an­nounce­ment last week, the power-shar­ing agree­ment be­tween the MDC and Zanu (PF) dead­locked. What that con­firmed was that Mbeki’s dec­la­ra­tion of a break­through was pre­ma­ture – maybe even ex­pe­di­ent and ill con­ceived. What was orig­i­nally hailed as a “his­toric mo­ment” is now prov­ing it­self to be what it was all along – a farce, al­beit an elab­o­rate one con­jured by Mbeki-speak to help his man in Harare main­tain power with the il­lu­sion of democ­racy.

Un­til the an­nounce­ment of the dead­lock, I was con­tin­u­ally amazed at how pos­i­tively the on­go­ing se­cret talks about the cre­ation of a gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity in Zim­babwe were be­ing re­ported. De­spite the fact the process was a me­dia black­out, SA’s press con­tin­ued to spec­u­late pos­i­tively on a process about which they knew noth­ing. Equally sur­pris­ing was the credit be­stowed on Mbeki for hav­ing bro­kered the so-called “deal” be­tween the par­ties when there was still no in­di­ca­tion whether the fruits of his labour would yield any kind of pos­i­tive out­come for the es­ti­mated 4m Zim­bab­weans liv­ing in SA.

The pop­u­lar view ped­dled in re­ports was that Mbeki was the pri­mary im­pe­tus be­hind the MDC’s and Robert Mu­gabe’s de­ci­sion to ne­go­ti­ate a gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity. But the re­al­ity is that Ts­van­gi­rai’s de­ci­sion is pri­mar­ily a re­sult of his own fa­tigue and not Mbeki’s in­ter­ven­tion. To put that in its proper per­spec­tive, soon af­ter the na­tional elec­tion just a few months ago, the MDC re­jected an of­fer of a gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity, ar­gu­ing that a tran­si­tional ar­range­ment was needed as a pre­con­di­tion for a free and fair demo­cratic elec­tion.

That seemed sen­si­ble at the time. And who should know bet­ter than Mbeki – a prime mover be­hind the push for sim­i­lar pre­con­di­tions dur­ing the talks with the Na­tional Party in the run-up to the set­tle­ment that led to the 1994 demo­cratic elec­tion in SA.

But the most con­cern­ing as­pect of the Zim­bab­wean talks isn’t what sham agree­ment will be reached (be­cause there’s lit­tle doubt the fi­nal re­sult will favour the in­cum­bent Zanu (PF) lead­er­ship), but whether or not Mu­gabe will even hon­our such an agree­ment and fi­nally re­lin­quish the pres­i­dency. To an­swer that ques­tion you need only look back to the days of the Lan­caster House set­tle­ment that re­sulted in the co-op­tion by Mu­gabe of Zim­bab­wean African Peo­ple’s Union (Zapu) founder and leader Joshua Nkomo – still re­garded as the fa­ther of Zim­babwe’s strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence.

Turn the clock back to a year af­ter Nkomo founded Zapu: There was a split with the na­tion’s Shona ma­jor­ity un­der the lead­er­ship of his for­mer lieu­tenant, Mu­gabe. Nkomo came from Zim­babwe’s Nde­bele mi­nor­ity. The ri­valry be­tween Nkomo and Mu­gabe con­tin­ued through­out the war as Zapu’s Zipra mili­tia con­tin­ued to fight with the back­ing of the Soviet Union while Zanu re­ceived sup­port from China.

Af­ter the Lan­caster House ac­cord was signed in 1980, paving the way for elec­tions, Nkomo’s party was de­feated as they trailed Mu­gabe’s 57 to 20 seats in the new, 100-seat par­lia­ment. Al­though Nkomo joined the first Mu­gabe coali­tion gov­ern­ment in the House of Home Af­fairs, there was no har­mony. Over the next three years Zim­babwe’s op­po­si­tion party was sys­tem­at­i­cally de­stroyed as eth­nic ten­sions be­tween the Nde­bele and Shona tribes within Zim­babwe con­tin­ued to rise. Mu­gabe re­peat­edly ac­cused Nkomo of at­tempt­ing to over­throw his gov­ern­ment as Zim­babwe teetered on the brink of civil war.

Soon af­ter, Nkomo was forced into ex­ile, fear­ing for his life as the North Kore­antrained Fifth Brigade (a no­to­ri­ous band of armed thugs loyal to Mu­gabe) sealed off his power base in the Nde­bele peo­ple’s strong­hold of Bu­l­awayo. It wasn’t un­til 1987 that an agree­ment was reached with Nkomo for a gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity that ef­fec­tively spelt the end for the op­po­si­tion in Zim­babwe. The agree­ment led to Nkomo be­com­ing one of two vice-pres­i­dents.

How­ever, the na­ture of the deal was such that Zapu was swal­lowed up by Mu­gabe’s Zanu (PF) – ren­der­ing Zim­babwe a one-party state. As vice-pres­i­dent, Nkomo was rel­e­gated to ob­scu­rity and his ca­reer fol­lowed a steady de­cline un­til his death in 1999.

The point? In cre­at­ing the ap­pear­ance of a coali­tion gov­ern­ment, Mu­gabe was able to de­ci­sively elim­i­nate the op­po­si­tion in Zim­babwe with­out ever re­lin­quish­ing or shar­ing power. There­fore it’s not sur­pris­ing 15 years later he’s us­ing the same strat­egy to quell the ris­ing tide against him. But this time it’s not a tragedy but a farce – a cha­rade con­ducted with the knowl­edge and full con­sent of SA’s Gov­ern­ment. Left unchecked, Mu­gabe will again en­sure his reign of ter­ror will con­tinue un­abated and that Zim­babwe’s new op­po­si­tion move­ment will be oblit­er­ated, just like its pre­de­ces­sor.

As this is my last col­umn in Fin­week, I would like to thank Fin­week read­ers for their sup­port, par­tic­i­pa­tion and pa­tron­age in what has been one of the most en­light­en­ing and con­struc­tive ex­pe­ri­ences of my life. I look for­ward to a con­tin­ued re­la­tion­ship with my read­ers in my fu­ture en­deav­ours.

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