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13 December 2017 13:07 (South Africa)
Opinionista Brij Maharaj

From liberators to villains and looters

  • Brij Maharaj
    Brij-Maharaj.jpg
    Brij Maharaj

    Brij Maharaj is a professor of geography at UKZN who believes (perhaps naively!) that a fair, just, non-racial and non-sexist society is still possible in South Africa.

Those political leaders with despotic, dictatorial tendencies and dynastic ambitions should be watching the overthrow of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and especially the fall of his chosen successor from grace, with some trepidation. There are also some amazing parallels between Zanu-PF and the ANC, and the most significant would be the failure to rein in the reign of their reckless, ruthless, kleptocratic presidents, who put their insatiable appetite for greed above their primary electoral mandate, which was to serve the people. In the annals of history, both presidents will be described as “liberators and villains” who looted their respective countries.

The lesson is very clear – all the people cannot be fooled all the time. Certainly, lots of food for thought for the ANC as it heads for its elective conference in December. The timing could never be better for South Africans. This is one case where the events of Zimbabwe will benefit South Africans.

The catalyst for the events of the past week, the straw that broke the camel’s back, was Mugabe’s axing of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa – widely viewed as his successor – so that the president could clear the path for Grace Mugabe to become president. (The moral of the story – do not fire your vice-president, a lesson that Thabo Mbeki learnt bitterly. This should put to end speculation that Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa will be relieved of his post. The second lesson – do not promote the leadership ambitions of the mother of your children to succeed you!).

Zanu-PF made the following announcement on 14 November: “Last night the first family was detained and are safe, both for the constitution and the sanity of the nation this was necessary. Neither Zimbabwe nor Zanu are owned by Mugabe and his wife. Today begins a fresh new era and comrade Mnangagwa will help us achieve a better Zimbabwe … Zanu-PF has a way of solving our own problems, the situation is stable and Zimbabwe is open for business. There was no coup, but a bloodless peaceful transition – the centre is strong and there is peace with honest leadership.”

Regardless of what sugar-coated pill is presented, there was a bloodless coup staged by the army in Zimbabwe. Do not be fooled – Emmerson Mnangagwa has been described as a ruthless, authoritarian hard-liner in the Mugabe mould.

The view that liberation organisations as ruling parties in government normally begin to fall apart after two decades appears to hold true for Zimbabwe (and SA, where different factions of the ANC seem to be intent on tearing the party apart). In the 1990s Zimbabwe had to deal with increasing poverty, unemployment and inequality, and an alliance of trade unions and civil society organisations merged to form the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Morgan Tsvangirai, the first real organised threat to the ruling Zanu-PF:

In June 2000, it defied murderous intimidation to win 57 of 120 contested parliamentary seats. Scores of supporters were murdered and thousands assaulted, tortured, raped or abducted. Mr Tsvangirai stood for the presidency against Mr Mugabe in 2002. Despite violence and ballot rigging, he took 42% of the vote, though Mr Mugabe won with 56%,” it was reported.

Sadly, South Africa is complicit in the Zimbabwe ruins and notwithstanding his protestations to the contrary, former President Thabo Mbeki must take some responsibility. As Ranjeni Munusamy has succinctly argued: “Thabo Mbeki's ‘quiet diplomacy’ approach was widely condemned for providing cover to Mugabe and his cohorts as they stole elections, collapsed the economy, clamped down on the opposition, abolished media freedom and turned Zimbabwe into a failed state. If South Africa had taken a firmer approach, there is no doubt that Mugabe would have been out of power years ago”. The Khampepe Report, commissioned by Mbeki, revealed that the 2002 elections in Zimbabwe were not “free and fair”.

Contrast Thabo Mbeki’s approach with the bold statement by Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa in March 2007: “Quiet diplomacy has failed to help solve the political chaos and economic meltdown in Zimbabwe. As I speak right now, one SADC country has sunk into such economic difficulties that it may be likened to a sinking Titanic whose passengers are jumping out in a bid to save their lives.”

As reported in The Citizen, Mugabe’s assets include a R56-million Hong Kong mansion, a R138-million Zimbabwe mansion, and a R660-million English palace. His net worth is estimated to be R1.3-billion. The ostentatious extravagance of his wife and children are well known. In South Africa the #GuptaLeaks suggest that the SA President’s family have substantial assets in Dubai.

Zuma has become a law unto himself, manipulating critical appointments in government and SoEs so that he, his family and cronies would benefit. Responding to queries about why he reshuffled his cabinet, Zuma replied ominously: “The President of the Republic has the prerogative to appoint and remove members of Cabinet. I exercised this power after careful consideration … There are reasons that are not necessary to be known by people.”

Mugabe succeeded in destroying a prosperous country because the ruling Zanu-PF party failed to control him. The president became bigger than the party. In South Africa, the ANC is going the same route, as acolytes pander to the whims, fancies and excesses of President Zuma. The difference is that the ANC has the power to halt and reverse this disastrous trajectory at its December 2017 elective conference. However, does it have the political will to do so?

An important difference between Zimbabwe and South Africa is that the Constitution is sacrosanct, the judiciary is independent and not captured, and the media is free. This is why South Africa remains a multiparty democracy. Be warned – the ANC has been threatening to reduce these freedoms. However, the consolation is that the civil society giant is stirring, awakening and rising.

PS. There is absolutely no truth in the rumour that there is a quid-pro-quo deal being negotiated that the Mugabes will receive political asylum in South Africa, and this will be reciprocated by Zimbabwe for the outgoing captured President from the southern tip of the continent. DM

Brij Maharaj is a geography professor at UKZN. He writes in his personal capacity.

  • Brij Maharaj
    Brij-Maharaj.jpg
    Brij Maharaj

    Brij Maharaj is a professor of geography at UKZN who believes (perhaps naively!) that a fair, just, non-racial and non-sexist society is still possible in South Africa.

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