What the cognoscenti call the beautiful game, for the rest of humanity it’s simply football. The sport has given us the term ‘own goal’, which describes a goal scored when a player inadvertently strikes or deflects the ball into their own team’s goalposts. As a metaphor, own goal means any action that backfires on the person or group undertaking it. But, as is also known, a player does sometimes score an own goal to throw a game. Corruption!
The use of a South African National Defence Force (SANDF) jet to fly ANC leaders, free of charge, to Harare to attend a meeting with leaders of Zanu-PF, the governing party in Zimbabwe the week before last, is a classic example of an own goal. Mind you, some think it’s an act of generosity to describe the SANDF flight fiasco as a goal scored inadvertently. No one, but no one, in their right mind would delude themselves into believing that a military aircraft carrying a delegation of ANC head honchos to a highly publicised meeting would fail to attract media attention.
The flight happened because the authors of this brazen act were indulging in a familiar pastime: committing a sin of incumbency. Disdain for accountability is their stock in trade. Rules that prevent the conflation of party issues with state ones, that guide physical distancing, or require respect for quarantine requirements in these perilous Convid-19 times, are meant for the masses, not people who have arrived.
Once bitten, the saying goes, twice shy. But look what happens the second time if there was no bite the first time around. You may recall that on 22 May 2016, the Sunday Times carried a front-page story about how Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula had participated in the smuggling of a Burundian national into South Africa, using an official plane. The less said about the gory details of the skulduggery the better. Suffice it to say that the explanation given by the honourable minister simply did not wash. Four years on, she is in the privileged position of being able to repeat the favour, this time to stranded ANC leaders who happened to be headed towards the same destination as herself. Talk about a cock and bull story.
Public reaction to the ANC’s ill-conceived trip to Harare stung the organisation’s leadership into beating a hasty retreat. This is an organisation that recently failed, twice, to pay staff salaries on time, and it will now reimburse the SANDF its flight costs? Citizens will be keeping a close watch not only on the quantum of the repayment and method of its calculation but also whether any additional sanctions lie in wait for the persons, individually or collectively, who are responsible for the morass. Be warned, Solidarity and the Public Protector love this kind of thing.
The public was encouraged by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s demand for an explanation from Mapisa-Nqakula “within 48 hours” as to how the ANC delegation to Zimbabwe found itself aboard her official plane. It’s an explanation eagerly awaited by the public as well. People are worried by the possibility that three other ministers might have travelled abroad outside the president’s ken. It will all come out in the wash.
I must confess to being aggrieved by my leaders’ habit of treating the ANC in the same way a baby treats its nappy.
Leaving the SANDF flight debacle aside, the ANC’s response to a crisis that has been going on in Zimbabwe for 20 years is deeply disappointing. It seems as if there is neither a policy nor a response strategy for addressing what has a direct impact on the wellbeing of South Africa.
Following an upsurge in the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe, on 10 August, Ramaphosa sent the former speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete, and former Cabinet ministers Sydney Mufamadi and Ngoako Ramatlhodi as his envoys to Harare to “engage the government of Zimbabwe and relevant stakeholders to identify possible ways in which South Africa can assist Zimbabwe”. A month later, an ANC delegation led by Secretary-General Ace Magashule also proceeded to Harare to discuss the same issues with the same Zanu-PF leadership that had met the presidential envoys.
One wonders what capacity the ANC has to deal with the complex issues that are at the heart of the Zimbabwean crisis: human rights violations, breaches of electoral laws, the economy, hyperinflation, land reform issues, migrations. Ordinarily, these matters fall within the realm of government-to-government discussions, guided by specific protocols.
As a rule, fraternal* organisations, which the ANC and Zanu-PF consider themselves to be, do not conduct their affairs in public. Neither do they invite third parties, such as opposition parties and civic organisations, to such meetings. Bilateral, fraternal meetings are normally held to discuss solidarity issues, political strategy, international alignments, positions on peace, the environment. They are generally held in secluded settings, bosberaads in our language here, away from the madding crowd. That would be the case even, or especially, when they wished to discuss their disagreements.
Since Zanu-PF and the ANC decided to engage on matters that affect civic and human rights, the concerned stakeholders justifiably demanded to be given an audience to air their grievances. The only reason Zanu-PF did not want civil society to be involved in the talks was not out of respect for the rules of bilateralism, but rather because of its intolerance to criticism and perceived opposition.
In preparation for their Harare talks, it would have helped members of the delegation if they had asked themselves, and got answers to, these questions:
The answer to the first question is that officially Zanu-PF does not agree that the problems flagged by the ANC exist. It claims that Zimbabwe’s economy is in the doldrums because of Western-imposed sanctions. Zanu-PF spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa lambasted Magashule for saying there were human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Zanu-PF’s primary objective was to get the ANC in Harare to discuss ways in which South Africa could help Zimbabwe by persuading Western countries to lift the remaining sanctions against their country. Once that is done, the rest will be hunky dory.
For good measure, the Zimbabwean leaders also made it “categorically clear” that the ANC delegates would not be allowed to see any other organisation or person but Zanu-PF, and that’s how it stayed.
So, mission status: failure.
Comment: There is a deep political, human rights and economic crisis in Zimbabwe. It should be a matter of grave concern to South Africa. As the country with the strongest economy and with the most sophisticated road, transport, communication and technological infrastructure in the Southern African Development Community, South Africa is ideally placed to offer its landlocked northern neighbour requisite support to help it bail itself out of its chronic crisis. The two countries have well-established trade, logistics, export and import links. And their cultural relationships are strong. Not least, the governing parties share a history of struggle against colonialism, Zimbabwe having played a not insignificant role in facilitating the freedom of South Africa.
It is imperative that the governments of the two countries reach out and find one another to achieve a mutually beneficial resolution of Zimbabwe’s problems, and to ensure peace and stability in the region.
It would be essential for Zanu-PF to try to work on developing a culture of tolerance for political opposition and for dissent. It has to accept that in a democratic state, which Zimbabwe is, multipartyism is the modus operandi. When the opposition wins a free and fair election, accepting the results is the only right and mature thing to do.
*Patriarchy has bestowed the word ‘fraternal’ on us. Until word fundis come up with appropriate terminology, the writer will use the current one, albeit under protest. DM
Scotland has a town called Dull. Oregon has a town called Boring and Australia a town called Boring. Combined they are coined the "Trinity of Tedium".