Thabo Mbeki, Robert Mugabe, and overstaying in power

BY MUTSA MURENJE

This treatise is a response to remarks made by the former South African President Thabo Mbeki at his foundation in Johannesburg a few days ago. They are significant remarks, coming as they do from a former president whose exit wasn’t so glorious. Nonetheless, it needs to be borne in mind that Mbeki continues to play a gargantuan role in African affairs, post his presidency. He was the Southern African Development Community (SADC) facilitator whose role resulted in the Global Political Agreement, signed in Zimbabwe in September 2008, whose corollary was the Government of National Unity (GNU) which ran from February 2009 till its autarchic destruction by Mugabe in July 2013. Mbeki is also the chief mediator for Sudan-South Sudan peace talks. This, therefore, should comfort other leaders whose penchant is holding onto power against the will of their people that there is life after the presidency. Perchance this is one vital lesson that President Robert Mugabe continues to ignore despite the destruction caused by his misrule of our beautiful country. Without mincing his words, Mbeki challenged the South African youth to show the door those leaders who had outlived their usefulness or rather overstayed in power.

Although he didn’t mention him by name, I suspect that Mbeki is somehow uncomfortable largely because South African President Jacob Zuma has survived several attempts on his presidency when it was so easy for the African National Congress (ANC) to recall him (Mbeki) from the same when it appeared he had a hand in Zuma’s troubles before he took up the presidency of the ANC and South Africa as a whole. Zuma has vowed to go nowhere and is determined to lead the country till his term expires in 2019. He seems to have also taken advantage of the populist rhetoric codenamed ‘Radical Economic Transformation’ being championed by his government against the so-called ‘white monopoly capital.’ Populist politicians, particularly those in Africa, have begun to talk about how inadequate political freedom is. They argue that only economic freedom will complete the struggle of those who were violently and brutally uprooted from their land. I pray that this won’t be another politicking. We want genuine solutions to poverty, unemployment and inequality. As an African, I have always believed in the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. For instance, I will never be opposed to land reform because as I understand it, it’s meant to redress historical imbalances in terms of land ownership.

Many of our impoverished people need access to the means of production so that they also will be masters of their own destiny instead of surrendering their economic freedoms in the hands of elite few. However, any process that seeks a reversal of historical injustices should be properly done so as to avoid going the way we went in Zimbabwe. Had the Mugabe administration addressed the matter well, we would not be in our sorry political and economic state. A wrong way of doing the right thing always has a way of producing wrong results. I don’t quite understand why Mugabe is determined to destroy what remains of our agriculture. He has destroyed it enough and the few white farmers remaining in Zimbabwe should not be threatened. Allow them to be productive as they have always been. We sincerely thought land grabs had become a thing of the past. Why then do we intend to destroy whatever little we have 17 years after the land grabs began? Besides, those who benefitted from the chaotic land reform program are hardly fully utilising the land. A land audit is therefore mandatory so that the land will be given to only those with the skills to produce not only for sustenance purposes but also for commercial purposes. Our talk shouldn’t be a mere political survival strategy. We are real people in need of real solutions to the challenges we are facing.

Now back to Mbeki’s remarks. Mbeki vowed to fight against any South African citizen who would join Zimbabweans in their fight against dictator Robert Mugabe. In his prudence or lack of it, Mbeki argued that it was up to Zimbabweans to show Mugabe the door if they felt he had overstayed in power. How interesting! Was it not Mbeki who legitimised Mugabe’s illegitimate rule when the latter lost a peaceful election in 2008 but refused to go? Was it not Mbeki who reversed the gains that had been made by the Zimbabwean opposition since 2000? If there was no need for Africans to be interested in other countries’ political affairs then why was Mbeki in Zimbabwe in 2008? What is he doing in Sudan/South Sudan? There is no African country or any country at all in any part of the world that can claim to have fought singly and won a war. We have economic and political blocs that that are meant to strengthen our economic and political ties. This was the case even during our liberation struggles. We have frontline states that supported us against colonial administrations. Because of that, no African expressing a genuine concern in other countries should be discouraged to do so. What is happening in South Africa is my business and the same applies to what is happening to Hakainde Hichilema the leader of the opposition party United Party for National Development (UPND) in Zambia. Like Mugabe, Edgar Lungu is a dictator and the Zambian clergy have begun speaking out against the dictatorial tendencies in their new leader. Whatever affects people in any part of the world should be our business and it is not up to Mbeki to dictate to us which struggles we should or should not be involved in. We are dealing with his mess in Zimbabwe at present. If he has nothing to say then let him shut up.

To Zimbabweans, my fellow citizens, I recently argued that we have been in zugzwang since February 2000 and that this untenable situation calls for superlative wisdom. This superior prudence is meant to bring us together. During the liberation struggle, it didn’t really matter where one came from. Everyone was a patriotic citizen fighting for a free, just and democratic Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans of all ages, gender and race partook in the noble struggle for our independence. The same unity and vision we had then is what is required even now. As for me, there is no other country the world over that has a deep affection in my heart. Zimbabwe remains dear to me and I intend to keep fighting for what is right. Truth and justice are requisite and we will keep fighting for these. The seeker of truth and justice never tires and just like those who came before us, we will fight till victory is realised.

In a nut-shell, “What is important is not so much how long you live as whether you live a meaningful life. This doesn’t mean accumulating money and fame, but being of service to your fellow human beings. It means helping others if you can, but even if you can’t do that, at least not harming them” (Dalai Lama). May God help Zimbabwe! The struggle continues unabated!