IN 2007, as the Zimbabwean crisis was approaching its climax, the late Zambian leader, Levy Mwanawasa broke ranks with his counterparts, particularly Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, saying quiet diplomacy had failed to help “solve the political chaos and economic meltdown in Zimbabwe”.
Mwanawasa went on to describe Zimbabwe as a sinking Titanic whose passengers were ready to jump ship to save their lives.
It was quite a brutal assessment.
The former Zambian leader went as far as saying Sadc should take a firm stand on Zimbabwe, as the crisis continued unabated, while the regional bloc insisted on quiet diplomacy, which was championed by Mbeki, South Africa’s former leader.
These were quite unprecedented remarks, as all along, the regional bloc had been quite happy to mollycoddle the late Robert Mugabe and seemed unfazed by the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe.
They were happy to parrot self-serving cliches like “African solutions to African problems”, yet a solution to Zimbabwe’s problems remained elusive.
Mwanawasa died about 15 months later, the situation having literally “reached another level” and there is no telling what firm stand he would have taken on Zimbabwe.
Fast forward eight years later.
Xenophobic violence, as it always does, had flared up in South Africa and the then President Jacob Zuma faced his colleagues at a Sadc summit.
Zuma ducked, dived, dipped and dodged, but in the end explained his way out.
Mugabe then was chairman of Sadc and he tried to put Zuma on the spot, but the former South African leader hit back and tensions soared at that meeting.
Botswana’s Ian Khama then intervened saying instead of focusing on the xenophobic violence in South Africa, Sadc leaders should address the root causes of the problem that included bad leadership and economic mismanagement, which trigger waves of mostly illegal immigration.
While Sadc did not come up with lasting solutions to Zimbabwe’s problems, what is evident is that there was a crop of yesteryear leaders who were willing to take their Zimbabwean counterpart head on and call out his bluff.
They were not impressed by pointless pan-Africanist rhetoric and instead wanted a solution to Zimbabwe’s problems, which had gone on for far too long.
They were so forthright that one day a petulant Mugabe threatened to drag Zimbabwe out of the regional bloc.
These Sadc leaders looked beyond empty rhetoric and put the region first; for the region to thrive, they had to be frank with Mugabe and tell him that he had gone too far and it was time to fix Zimbabwe.
This is why I am absolutely disappointed by the new crop of Sadc leaders, who are intent on spending time and resources on a pointless sideshow.
In just over a week, Sadc countries will come together to demand that the United States and the European Union end sanctions on Zimbabwe.
Outside the sanctions issue, none of these leaders have spoken out about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
None of them have voiced their concerns about repeated military crackdowns on demonstrators and certainly none of them will speak about the shrinking democratic space in Zimbabwe.
As Khama said in 2015, the root cause of Zimbabwe’s problems then and now is bad leadership and economic mismanagement.
Sanctions may have contributed in their own way, but corruption, misgovernance and economic mismanagement are the real causes of Zimbabwe’s problems and if Sadc was really genuine about helping us, then this should be their first port of call.
Right now, Zimbabwe is begging the West for food, following a drought worsened by corruption, and not even a single Sadc country has lifted a finger to help us.
If Sadc was concerned about us, they would know that the money spent on Command Agriculture alone is more than enough to end Zimbabwe’s food crisis, but because the whole scheme is shrouded in mystery and corruption, nobody has got a clue what happened to the funds.
Tanzania’s President John Magufuli, a demagogue of note, has been vocal about ending sanctions on Zimbabwe, but what we are yet to hear is why Zimbabwe is allegedly buying grain from his country at double, if not treble, the world market price.
This was reported in Africa Confidential, which showed how elites in Zimbabwe were lining their pockets with money that is meant to alleviate the drought by buying overpriced grain from a country that is supposed to be our friend.
What is clear is that Sadc is not standing for the rights of you and I, they are only protecting each other’s interests, not citizens.
On its part, Sadc says it has called for the anti-sanctions day because sanctions have an “adverse impact on the economy of Zimbabwe and the region at large”.
No mention made of the running down of the economy or bad governance, which are far more devastating than the sanctions that Sadc protests so much about.
If Zimbabwe was properly governed, its economy would be working and there would be no need for thousands of us to run to Botswana, Zambia, South Africa and beyond.
Sadc leaders see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil about each other.
They are complicit in our suffering.
South African opposition leader, Julius Malema aptly described Sadc recently when he said: “It’s a group of old people, who protect each other. They don’t protect the interests of their people.”
Malema further said Sadc leaders do not call each other out and tell each other where they are going wrong.
Now, we have a classic case, Sadc leaders have not called President Emmerson Mnangagwa out, at least publicly and instead they have gone on to set up a meaningless and pointless anti-sanctions day.
As I have argued in the past, sanctions are not going to be removed anytime soon and if Sadc leaders were truly honest and at least applied their minds, they would tell Mnangagwa to first sort out his house before targeting sanctions.
The anti-sanctions march will be a red-letter day for those who believe in scapegoating and looking for sideshows, but for the country’s future, it is an elaborate waste of time and our resources could be used more meaningfully.
Maybe Mugabe was right after all, pulling Zimbabwe out of Sadc may not have been a bad idea.
Sadc is adynamic, absolutely not fit for purpose and the anti-sanctions day is ridiculous.