A comment on Tuesday by Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim that South Africa is ready to help with Zimbabwe’s elections seems to be the strongest indication yet that your and my money is about to head north, once again. It’s a decision that is bound to raise a massive ire. If the timing is really bad, it may even trend on Twitter [Wow…that really is bad – Ed]. But the fact is, it is time, as good Africans, that we do stand ready. You see, it’s all about freedom, and elections. And the two don’t always go together.
Robert Mugabe is president of Zimbabwe. Has been for a long time now. He hasn’t managed to stay in that job for so long by being a moron. Say what you like about him (we know, there’s plenty), but the man is probably a genius; and he’s not going anywhere either. If you were backed by the tanks and the planes as he is, would you be heading south?
So the trick here is to find a way to make sure that he gets chucked out. Peacefully.
Now let’s stop for a moment and think about how difficult that is going to be. Because the man doesn’t just have control over the hearts and minds of some portion of his population. He also has full control over what really matters in Zimbabwe. The military. And if you look at his recent history, the only way you’re going to remove that control is from his cold, dead hands.
The only other way to do it is to ensure there is an election that is so free and so fair, that there is no way for him to look like he won. You have to ensure that is so blatantly obvious that he has lost, democratically, that he has no option but to seek peaceful succour with the North Koreans who think so highly of him.
Mugabe knows this. He knows that if he has control of the levers of military power, over the police and the judiciary, other people have certain levers of their own. It’s no secret that his relationship with President Jacob Zuma has gone down the tubes. You’ll still see the old pictures of them holding hands and standing shoulder to shoulder, etc. But in reality, there is no love lost between them.
And if you think his relationship with Zuma is bad, Mugabe’s relationship with Cyril Ramaphosa is even worse. Mugabe once claimed that “Cyril Ramaphosa is a white man in a black man’s skin”. In the parlance of African politics and continental fraternity, that’s akin to Justin Bieber telling Bon Jovi that they can carry a tune, but can’t play guitar for love or groupies.
Mugabe does have to get these elections out the way, the pressure from SADC and the African Union is beginning to tell. If there is no poll in the next twelve months or so, he’s just going to look like a dictator. (Funny how sometimes you look as you are – Ed) So if he does have to have this blasted vote, then the way forward is to ensure that the surveillance of these elections is as limited as possible. He needs to make sure there are no observers, no people with smartphones tweeting pictures of bloodied MDC voters, no independent television cameras ensuring that CNN leads with this every night for a week.
He needs to stop Christiane Amanpour from showing the African violence porn she loves so much.
This is why, when the United Nations sent a team to offer money, he threw them out. They insisted on meeting with civil society organisations, and said they were happy to give him the money. But there were strings attached. Of course that was, on Mugabe’s version, a deliberate snub aimed at demonstrating that African people are somehow inferior. And so on their merry way they were sent.
His own tax collection abilities are somewhat limited. And running elections does take cold, hard foreign currency. As a result, he’s got out the begging bowl and thrust it in the general direction of the SADC. Which means us.
This means Zuma has limited options. He could simply hand over the money and agree to a very limited surveillance of those elections. That would allow Mugabe to basically get away with it, and thus Zuma’s Zimbabwe headache would continue.
Zuma could play hardball. Not publicly. (Not on Amanpour, of course.) But he could basically do what he did with Swaziland. Here’s the money. Touch it, taste it, feel it. This what you can have. If you agree to these conditions. But Mugabe’s response to that would be to simply say Zuma is part of a non-communist plot against him. And as he has no money, and because the imperialist (read: evil) West won’t help him, Zuma must “keep his South Africa and let me keep my Zimbabwe”. In other words, there won’t be an election. And the current crisis will drag on.
So Zuma’s only real option here is to tread a middle path. He has to make sure the elections happen. That means the money has to flow from our hands to Mugabe’s. But he also has to try and convince Mugabe to accept certain conditions. Conditions that will help everyone keep the elections as free and as fair as possible.
This is going to be hard. Mugabe is a past master at the art of creating a crisis. Once he has his crisis, then he’ll use that to delay elections for as long as possible. Or to call a State of Emergency or something similar, and thus have the polls under those conditions. And you imagine the havoc his dogs of war could unleash upon the land, should that happen.
At the same time, you can’t just let him get away with murder. Or in the realpolitik of international relations, too much murder. So you have to rein him in somehow.
And then there’s Zuma’s other main problem. There’s no certainty that Mugabe will lose even the freest of elections. Not because of his winning economic policies, you understand. But because the Movement for Democratic Change sometimes appears to have the all the strategic foresight of your average tighthead prop [Isn’t that the position you played? – Ed].
When it comes to nightmare neighbours, Mugabe takes the cake. For any leader of any country. He would test Barak Obama’s rhetorical gifts. But if there is anyone as politically astute, and experienced in the dark art of really making things happen, it’s Jacob Zuma. DM
Grootes is an EWN reporter, and the host of The Midday Report
Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma (L) walks with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe at Harare International airport, March 16, 2010. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
Harvard's first black faculty member was a dentist. Dr George Franklin Grant also invented the wooden golf tee.