DOES anyone still remember former South African President Thabo Mbeki saying, with a straight face, in 2008 that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe when, paradoxically, he was in the country to mediate between the ruling party, Zanu PF, and the opposition MDCs?
By Conway Tutani
Indeed, it was quite strange to hear him assert that when he was on Zimbabwean soil — at State House for that matter — on an urgent mission he had been assigned by regional bloc Sadc after the disputed 2008 elections and the bloody run-up to the runoff farce during which over 200 opposition supporters were killed in cold blood. The 200 dead people is not an opinion, but a number; it’s documented; not a figure of someone’s fertile imagination.
Now — some eight years and unquantifiable damage later — Mbeki has woken up to the fact that it was, after all, a crisis of frightening proportions, and — if he needs to be reminded — it’s still reverberating up to now.
This culture of political intolerance, which Mbeki left largely intact, is now rocking the ruling party itself. There is a nexus and/or continuum between the bashing of the opposition that Mbeki ignored and the raging interanal wars in Zanu PF. That State machinery unleashed on MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai to ensure he would not win the presidential runoff election in June 2008 was extended to axed former Vice-President Joice Mujuru in 2014, and current Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa is now the target. Oh, by the way, our esteemed friends (no sarcasm intended), the war vets, have not been spared this heavy-handedness as they were left licking wounds last week after volleys of teargas and streams from water cannons were unleashed on them. This is the Zimbabwe that Mbeki found and left virtually intact.
Had Mbeki done the fair and right thing, the raging, damaging egomaniacal politics wouldn’t be with us today. But he turned a blind eye to this, which has eventuated in more repression and deeper corruption. There would not be ego trips like the hysterical so-called “Meet The People” rallies today.
But Mbeki’s inaction incubated such tendencies which have germinated into full-blown endemic corruption and chronic power drunkenness. That was the opportunity for Zimbabwe to be assisted to build a new political culture, but Mbeki let it slip. In fact, Mbeki made a bad situation worse. He was seen and judged for what he did — and he made a bad job of it.
In order to dilute his blameworthiness, he has claimed that the West — particularly the United States and United Kingdom — was mainly after regime change in Zimbabwe; that is, all they wanted was to remove President Robert Mugabe, even by illegal military means. It could be true, but did that justify, on his part, leaving the repressive instruments of the regime intact? One does not cancel out the other. Both have to be faced with the same determination and boldness.
Mbeki showed that he had confirmation bias. Simply put, it’s cherrypicking evidence that seems to support your favoured hypothesis — that of regime change; and ignoring that which does not support it — that of 200 people killed in cold blood. It’s giving selective preference only to that information or evidence which confirms your prior beliefs. Like saying: “Why are Western powers so mean?”, citing that the West has been involved in regime change — some of it disastrous — all over the world, while completely ignoring or not giving due consideration and weight to all the questions raised about the killing of opposition supporters and the fact that both sides — Zanu PF and the West — are often villains who have done dishonest and unacceptable things.
In a message posted on his Facebook page this week, Mbeki confirmed that the run-off election held in Zimbabwe in June 2008 was marred by violence that “made it impossible for the people of Zimbabwe to freely exercise their right to choose their President”.
But it’s no consolation to Zimbabweans who are bearing the brunt of Mbeki’s acquiescence to Mugabe when he did not have to be submissive, but crack the whip. He needed to use his leverage to make the Harare regime behave better.
“I, therefore, met President (Robert) Mugabe in Bulawayo to propose that the election should be called off and conducted afresh in conditions of the total absence of any violence. President Mugabe did not accept our suggestion, arguing that the action we were proposing would be in violation of the Constitution,” Mbeki wrote on Facebook.
Of course, Mugabe, as an interested party, would naturally say so. But Mbeki needed to ask hard and probing questions like: “Is withholding elections results for three weeks constitutional? Is stopping the opposition from campaigning constitutional? Is the killing of over 200 opposition supporters constitutional?”
As one can see, Mbeki had many rejoinders to stop Mugabe from masquerading as a stickler for constitutionalism using that as a fig leaf to conceal that the regime was — and still is — the biggest violator of the Constitution. These tricksters hide something dishonest and awful behind something noble and principled.
And there is every reason to believe that Mbeki is one such trickster using the fig leaf of being good-intentioned to hide his complicity, collusion, collaboration and conspiracy with Zanu PF in all this from day one. He was as dishonest a broker as can be. He used his advantageous position as a mediator to strengthen the regime and weaken the opposition during the negotiations that led to the signing of the Global Political Agreement in September 2008 as he shuttled between the two.
I won’t go as far as saying Mbeki’s hands are as dirty as those of the people he left to loot and plunder and as bloodstained as those of the killers who still roam Zimbabwe scot-free, but he can’t distance himself from the political and socio-economic disaster that Zimbabwe has become.