Thabo Mbeki is, and never will be, a good mediator or politician

Former South African leader, Thabo Mbeki was in the news recently, saying only Zimbabweans should speak about when President Robert Mugabe should go and he would oppose any South African who wanted a say on the matter.

This is ironic, as it is coming from a person — a foreigner — who had the most telling influence on the direction Zimbabwe took after 2008, laid foundations for a new Constitution and arguably shaped Zimbabwe’s destiny.

It was quite deceptive and disingenuous for Mbeki to say only Zimbabweans can openly speak about when Mugabe goes, when his country has borne the brunt of the Zimbabwe crisis, which has forced millions to cross into South Africa, straining that country’s social services infrastructure.

I want to issue a disclaimer: I admire Mbeki very much and his African Renaissance thrust had me on the edge of my seat.

My admiration for Mbeki was so much that it influenced what university I went to and I read a lot about him, although that does not make me an expert on his thought process and his ideology.

However, by the day I am getting more disillusioned with his approach on handling matters particularly on Zimbabwe and African conflicts in general.

Mbeki’s hand is visible in the negotiations in South Sudan and Zimbabwe, where, borrowing from the South African example, his emphasis was on establishing peace, which he believes is more important than justice.

While, this can be seen as a good approach, to begin by stemming the violence, the question is whether this is viable and sustainable in the long run.

For example, in Zimbabwe, Mbeki was crucial in stopping the violence in the aftermath of the 2008 election, establishing peace, but the lack of restorative justice means many wounds are still open and there is an uneasy feeling that the country may return to violence at the flick of a switch.

One of MDC-T’s demands during the Global Political Agreement (GPA) negotiations was a reform of the State security apparatus, something which Mbeki was unable or unwilling to engage with and to this day, the military continues to dabble in civilian affairs.

Electoral reform was one of the sticking points of the GPA and to this day, Mbeki’s failure to deal decisively with the issue continues to haunt Zimbabwe, as the country hurtles to the next election while it is yoked by the former South African leader’s failure to deal with the issue during negotiations.

This is because Mbeki was pre-occupied with peace — the here and the now — without worrying about what tomorrow held and there should have been emphasis on restorative justice.

I am not putting all the blame on Mbeki’s shoulders, as I have pointed out in previous instalments, the opposition is sometimes naïve and politically innocent when it comes to dealing with Zanu PF’s shrewd contrivers.

The opposition had its shortcomings during the GPA negotiations, which Zanu PF opportunistically exploited and continues to manipulate to this day.

Mbeki could have seen these faults, but because his pre-occupation was that peace should prevail, his ends were served, but there is no telling what long-term effect this will have on Zimbabwe or any of the countries where he was the lead negotiator.

What this means is that while Zimbabwe got peace in 2008, which by and large continues to hold to this day, there was lack of emphasis on institutions that would ensure that peace holds on forever.

While emphasis was on peace, Mbeki should also have emphasised justice, so that perpetrators of violence and human rights abuses are fully aware that a coalition government does not mean that sins of the past are forgotten and that victims should be afforded closure.

This is not to say Zimbabwe is outsourcing all its problems to Mbeki, but rather, the GPA gave us the chance to start afresh and the foundations of the country after 2008 should have been based on the pillars of peace and justice, with a long-term view.

Mbeki’s dishonesty then comes to the fore when he literally tells South Africans to shut up on Zimbabwe.

With elections next year and an economy on its knees, there is no telling what 2018 holds for South Africa, as, if there is a surge in violence or the economy tanks, then they can expect more Zimbabweans to cross the Limpopo.

This is not a threat and I am not blackmailing South Africa, but it’s reality, which will strain Pretoria’s resources, contribute to higher unemployment and ultimately a surge in crime.

What happens in Zimbabwe has a domino effect on South Africa and it is disingenuous for Mbeki to say South Africans must not pronounce themselves on when Mugabe must go.

Mbeki was quoted as saying: “If the people of Zimbabwe believe President Mugabe has overstayed his welcome, let them say ‘President please go away’.”

A Twitter user retorted that this was akin to saying: “If German Jews were tired of Hitler and the holocaust, they should have just told Hitler ‘Fuhrer, please go away’.”

Mbeki knows more than anyone that Zimbabweans tried to tell Mugabe to leave by voting for MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai in 2008, but the response was brutal.

Because the process concentrated on peace — not necessarily justice — wounds, anger and suspicion from 2008 continue to fester.

Mbeki may have been well-meaning, but he comes across as a dishonest broker, who believed that Zimbabwe’s only chance of peace was with Zanu PF remaining in power.

He had the same line of thought when he was negotiating in South Sudan that the country’s only chance for peace was with Omar al-Bashir being in power in Sudan.

But peace failed to hold in South Sudan because papering over the past and blindly pursuing peace at the cost of justice is unsustainable and is bound to flounder.


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Source: NewsDay

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