Mugabe, Mbeki, and Mandela's Shadow

Mugabe, Mbeki, and Mandela's Shadow

Mini Teaser: Nelson Mandela's successor is providing vital help to the illiberal and undemocratic regime in Zimbabwe.

by Author(s): R.W. Johnson

This ANC party line had a strong impact on all the election observer groups under any degree of South African influence, notably the South African Parliamentary Observer Group and the observers sent by the SADC, the Organization of African Unity, and the Commonwealth. The parliamentary observer group--dominated, naturally, by its ANG component--arrived two weeks before the election, though with the die already cast. "The ANC members of the delegation arrived with their minds made up", one delegation member told me:

They were all convinced that the MDC had very little support, that it would get five seats at most. We got briefed by both the parties. The ANC responded warmly to the Zanu-PF briefing but after the MDC briefing they complained that they 'didn't want to hear any more MDC propaganda.' They got a bit uncomfortable when they saw what things were really like and the evidence of violence against the MDC was so overwhelming. But of course that wasn't going to alter their conclusions--they were following a party line. They didn't even bother to observe the election properly and just spent all their time at discos, receptions and nightclubs.

The head of the ANC delegation, Tony Yengeni (a leading member of the Communist Party), was in daily telephone contact with Mbeki throughout the election campaign and flew back to Pretoria a few days before the voting--in order, it was assumed, to report to Mbeki. He returned to Harare in time to see Zanu-PF scrape back to power by the narrowest of margins. The MDC not only trounced Zanu-PF in the towns and in Matabeleland (John Nkomo, who had led the Zanu-PF delegation to South Africa a few weeks before, lost his seat by a landslide), but even won a number of seats where its candidates had been in hiding, unable to campaign. The MDC immediately announced that it would challenge the results in over 40 of the 63 seats Zanu-PF had won, citing gross irregularities of every kind. This made no impact on Yengeni, who went to Mugabe's presidential palace, appeared hand in hand with Mugabe on television, and loudly criticized Western election observers who tried to impose their values on Africa. Africans had their ow n distinctive style of elections and democracy, he declared, and only it was authentic and legitimate. Mugabe sat next to him wreathed in smiles during this performance.

It was, after this, no surprise when the observer delegations from the South African parliament, the SADC and the Organization of African Unity all concluded that the election had been free and fair, or at least acceptably so. The hardest baffle was fought within the Commonwealth delegation, with the South African and other allied African delegates arguing fiercely for a free and fair verdict--to the horror of the Canadians, Australians, Indians and New Zealanders. In the end the latter prevailed sufficiently for the Commonwealth report on the election to be decently critical. The EU delegation, the largest and most experienced of all, was untroubled by such divisions and came to far tougher conclusions. Mbeki proceeded to push a motion through the South African cabinet declaring that the Zimbabwean election had been "substantially free and fair"--though, of course, there had been no need for the cabinet to make any pronouncement at all on the matter.

Fooled Again

MBEKI's unswerving support of Mugabe was the more striking not only because he appeared to have been double-crossed by Mugabe at Victoria Falls, but because in May he had put a great deal of effort into running around Europe and the Middle East trying to line up financial aid for Zimbabwean land reform, ultimately getting Saudi Arabia and Norway to pledge 100 million rands to buy 118 white farms for redistribution. Immediately after Mbeki had done this, however, Mugabe announced he wanted to take over all 4,000 white farms--without paying for them at all, thus scuppering the deal. Even such cavalier treatment seemed not to affect Mbeki's support: with the election over he flew into Harare with a large team of ministers and officials for talks on how best to help the Zimbabwean economy. The visit was, to say the least, insensitive, for it fell on the day chosen by the opposition for a mass work strike protesting the government's refusal to uphold the rule of law. The strike, supported by the unions and th e farmers, turned Harare into a ghost town, as Mbeki's cavalcade rolled through deserted streets. Naturally enough, Mugabe saw this as a calculated snub to the MDC and rewarded Mbeki by having the entire cabinet meet him with ululating Zanu-PF activists singing revolutionary songs.

Once again, the meeting saw Mugabe make a public fool of Mbeki. Once again, there was the same talk of large-scale South African aid and of Mbeki mediating with the IMF and other donors on Mugabe's behalf. Once again, Mugabe made public promises of good behavior, appearing on camera to assure that he would uphold the rule of law, that war veterans who harassed farmers would be arrested, and that all war veterans would soon be made to leave the farms they had invaded. The next day, with Mbeki back in South Africa, Mugabe went on camera once again to insist that he had never said all the things he had said the day before.

Undaunted, Mbeki, attending the UN Millennium Summit in New York in September, met with Kofi Annan, Mugabe and the presidents of Malawi and Namibia to try to broker UN and UK aid to Zimbabwe--and even prevailed on Tony Blair to come to dinner with Mugabe to the same end. As before, everything broke down on Mugabe's refusal to concede transparency, an end to violence, and the rule of law.  The fact that Zimbabwe's economy was crumbling into ruin day by day made no difference to Mugabe, who had, in effect, decided that to concede such conditions meant losing power. Indeed, he showed a cavalier disregard for economic constraints, bringing a delegation of forty-seven (including family members) to New York at enormous cost.

Mugabe moved on from the UN to Harlem, where he held a large rally together with Louis Farrakhan, Herman Ferguson of the New African Liberation Front and other such figures. Coltrane Chimurenga of the December 12 Movement introduced Mugabe, saying, "On behalf of 40 million captured Americans we have brought our President home." Among the proposals made to an enthusiastic crowd were that all black prisoners in U.S. jails should be given honorary Zimbabwean citizenship, and that genetically modified food was a way of "killing black people in the U.S. slowly." Mugabe told the crowd that the IMF, the World Bank, Britain and America were all "an Anglo-Saxon plot between Congress and Blair and his lot", this despite having just been Blair's dinner guest. Mugabe told the crowd what he thought of whites: "What we hate is not the colour of their skins but the evil that emanates from them." The relatives of a number of those tortured or murdered by Mugabe's thugs in Zimbabwe took the occasion to serve him a writ seeking $400 million in damages and accusing him of gross human rights atrocities. Mugabe did not contest the case, heard before a Manhattan Court, and judgment was rendered against him, making it highly problematic for him to visit the United States again.

None of this--not the food riots in Harare in October nor Mugabe's continued campaign of violence and murder against the MDC and white farmers--seemed to have any effect on Mbeki, who, by December, was back in Harare with President Obasanjo of Nigeria tying to get the United Nations Development Program to fund Zimbabwean land reform. Once again, Mbeki was pictured hand in hand with Mugabe--and once again, the UNDP backed off because of Mugabe's refusal to accept conditions about the rule of law and a halt to violence.

Meanwhile, South Africa has continued to supply Zimbabwe with the oil, electricity and credit lines without which Mugabe could not survive. In December 2000, South Africa's Eskom cut electricity prices to Zimbabwe by 25 percent, despite increases in oil prices and the $20 million in arrears Zimbabwe owed Eskom. In addition, a new $75 million loan was extended to Zimbabwe to guarantee a basic minimum oil supply in the year ahead.  There is no prospect that the loan can be repaid. Such behavior can only be attributed to Mbeki's determination to keep Mugabe/Zanu-PF in power.

Mandela's Shadow

THE Zimbabwean opposition enjoys widespread sympathy from Britain, the United States and other Western countries, but none of these states wishes to offend Mbeki by adopting too forward a position over an issue in his backyard. In effect, this gives Mugabe a free hand as he mobilizes all his resources to crush the opposition before the presidential contest of March 2002. Mugabe, who will then be 78, is clearly determined to run again.

Why has Mbeki behaved as he has? Even the blowing up of the printing presses of Zimbabwe's independent Daily News on January 28 failed to trigger South African condemnation. The deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad, specifically said that South Africa did not wish to comment in a way that might seem critical of Mugabe--an incredible statement, for it assumed, as did everyone else, that Mugabe was guilty of the bombing. Similarly, the foreign minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, vigorously refused to criticize Zimbabwe over the expulsion of BBC and other foreign journalists.

Essay Types: Essay