Zim Leaves Mbeki on Election Defensive
Stephane Barbier, Agence France Presse, iafrica.com, Apr. 12
President Thabo Mbeki is on the defensive over his failure to persuade President Robert Mugabe to change his hardline policies, with opposition parties calling on South Africa to speak out against the human rights crisis in Zimbabwe.
Just after taking over from Nelson Mandela, Mbeki was confronted with a major foreign policy challenge in 2000 when South Africa’s most important neighbour forged ahead with a land reform programme under which white commercial farms were seized and given to blacks.
Political ploy to cling to power
The programme was widely seen as a political ploy by Mugabe to cling to power in the face of the growing popularity of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which rejects Mugabe’s victory in the 2002 presidential election.
Led by veterans of Zimbabwe’s war for independence, the campaign saw white ownership of productive land reduced from 30 percent to three percent.
At least 12 white farmers were killed and tens of thousands of their black farm workers were driven off the farms, some of them brutally beaten.
Many farm workers were beaten or had their homes burnt down and today around two million workers and their dependents have been evicted from the farms without benefiting from the land reform programme.
Zim dependent on international aid
The expropriations were followed by a series of droughts, leaving Zimbabwe, once southern Africa’s bread basket, dependent on international aid with the latest estimates showing that 5.5 million Zimbabweans will need food aid this year.
The humanitarian crisis has been compounded by a Mugabe-led crackdown on dissent that has targeted political opponents, human rights activists, journalists and trade union activists.
Three million refugees have fled Zimbabwe, most of them to South Africa, which is growing more anxious about the prospects of its northern neighbour descending into all-out chaos.
ANC loyalty to Mugabe
But Mbeki’s governing African National Congress, Africa’s oldest liberation movement, feels a loyalty to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union — Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), which also led the struggle against colonialism and racism.
Despite his repressive policies, Mugabe remains to many in Africa a freedom hero.
Mbeki has been pressing Mugabe to open up to talks with the opposition to end the crisis in Zimbabwe, which has come under sanctions from the United States and the European Union.
But his entreaties appear to have fallen on deaf ears with Mugabe bluntly stating that he was not ready to sit down for talks with the “enemy.”
“Mugabe does not take instructions from me”
“President Mugabe does not take instructions from me”, Mbeki said last month during a campaign swing through KwaZulu-Natal province.
South Africa’s opposition has fiercely criticised Mbeki’s stance on Zimbabwe in campaigns ahead of general elections Wednesday, arguing that his failure to publicly condemn was in fact emboldening Mugabe.
“President Thabo Mbeki’s government’s credibility as a consistent supporter of human rights and democracy is withering in the face of the outlaw regime of Mugabe and his Zanu-PF,” says Graham McIntosh, a former spokesperson for the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party.
Former Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu has publicly attacked Mbeki’s stance on Zimbabwe.
“What has been reported as happening in Zimbabwe is totally unacceptable and reprehensible and we ought to say so,” Tutu said.
“The credibility of our democracy demands this. If we are seemingly indifferent to human rights violations happening in a neighbouring country, what is to stop us one day being indifferent to that in our own?”
Quiet diplomacy may yield results
But others say Mbeki is treading a fine line and that his so-called quiet diplomacy may yet yield results.
“To shout at Mugabe, publicly reprimanding him on account of his violations of human rights and his government’s misconduct will not persuade him to change his ways,” wrote former foreign minister Pik Botha of the last apartheid-era government in an editorial published in Johannesburg’s This Day newspaper last week