South Africa at the Crossroads?
April 21, 2009, 13:39
Filed under: Politics, Southern Africa | Tags: , , , , ,


Tomorrow one of Africa’s most democratic countries goes to the polls to install a new leader.  And while there’s little doubt as to the winner of South Africa’s fifth elections since the end of minority rule in 1995, the “million rand question” is by how much Jacob Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC) will win.


On Sunday the ANC held its final campaign rally in Johannesburg.  More than 100,000 people filled the 60,000 seat football stadium, which had to provide extra seating in an overflow venue as party supporters flocked to listen to the next South African president celebrate his decisive victory.  Even Nelson Mandela, so frail he rarely makes public appearances, attended the rally, showing his support for Jacob Zuma.


At the height of his address, Zuma launched into the song he penned during the anti-apartheid years:  “Bring Me My Machine Gun”.  His supporters sang with him, cheering and chanting as Zuma began a war dance.  This morning a clip on Sky News shows Zuma, in full Zulu regalia, leaping around wildy before stumbling and falling over backwards.  The Daily Telegraph describes Zuma’s war dance as “a unique dance, again of his own invention, whose movements suggested that Mr Zuma was trying to scoop ants from the floor and imitate a bird in flight.”


The dance may inspire a few chuckles, and the words of the song may be unnerving for many South African citizens… but the reality of this election is the power Zuma will have should he win more than two-thirds of the country’s vote.  A win of this margin would give Zuma and his party the power to change the country’s constitution.  While he has sought to reassure his detractors this is not his intention, his statements about South Africa’s highest judicial body seem to indicate the opposite.


He points out the ruling party has never sought to change the constitution during the 15 years it has ruled South Africa, reaffirming the party’s “commitment to constitutional governance, the independence of the judiciary, respect for due process and the rule of law.”   Unfortunately he then says: “like all institutions” the judiciary is “expected to undergo transformation“.  Hardly a statement to encourage confidence, but sadly this kind of contradiction seems to typify so many African leaders.


Apart from his role in South Africa’s liberation movement, Zuma’s background is not one that would see him holding public office in many western countries.  Born 67 years ago, Jacob Zuma’s family was so poor he did not go to school.  He was a powerful force within the ANC during the struggle for liberation, and during the ten years he was incarcerated on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela he taught himself to read and write.  He served as vice-president under South Africa’s second president, Thabo Mbeki, but was fired in 2005 after alleged involvement in a massive arms deal.


He was also charged with rape, and during the court case admitted to having consensual sex with an HIV-positive family friend, stating publically he showered after the encounter to minimise risk of infection.  He was acquitted of rape charges, but became a subject of much derision and is currently suing one of South Africa’s top cartoonists for producing an unflattering satirical cartoon of him.


Zuma is a polygamist, and currently has three wives and 18 children.  He is divorced from South Africa’s current foreign affairs minister, and the mother of five of his children committed suicide in 2000.  He has paid lobola for three fiancées; a Swazi princess, a member of his tribal clan who is the mother of two of his children and a third woman with whom he has a son. 


Zuma is a man of contradictions.  Although he’s been an object of ridicule, he’s also a man of enormous charisma for his party and his followers.  He’s not a typical politician by Western standards, but in Africa he’s a father figure, often compared to the warlike Zulu kings so prominent in Southern Africa’s history.   On the issue of Zimbabwe and the architect of South Africa’s northern neighbour’s descent in chaos, Zuma is again inconsistent.  He has praised Mugabe as a liberator and hero, but more recently has criticised the way Mugabe has destroyed his country and its democracy.


There’s a lot expected of Jacob Zuma.  He will be in control of Africa’s richest country, tasked with improving the lives of the people voting him into power.  He will be expected to lead the nation AND the continent through the current global recession, as well as tackle issues like crime, AIDS and corruption in his own country.  Then there’s the Zimbabwe scenario, with that country’s refugees putting a massive strain on South Africa’s social and economic resources.


South Africa, Africa and the world will be watching to see which road Mr Zuma chooses to follow… and hoping it’s not the one Mugabe referred to in 1962, when discussing how his party would achieve majority rule:


It may be necessary to use methods other than constitutional ones



The Ides of Morgan Tsvangirai
March 11, 2009, 19:57
Filed under: Politics, Southern Africa, Zimbabwe News | Tags: , ,

Yesterday was supposed to be a celebration of his 58th birthday. Instead, Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai attended a memorial service for Susan, his beloved wife of 31 years.

At the service conducted at the family’s Methodist church Mr Tsvangirai sat and listened while Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe told the congregation: “It will take him time to recover from this shock. I plead with you to accept it, it’s the hand of God.” Considering Mugabe’s arrogance means he believes himself to be more powerful than any person or divine entity, one could be forgiven for thinking his choice of words could be a confession of sorts… or perhaps there is a shred of humanity in the monster betraying the fear he must surely feel as “leader” of a nation he’s brutalised for most of his 29 year rule. I wonder how Mugabe must feel, knowing most people believe he, not God, had a hand in the accident that killed Mrs Tsvangirai.

A Capetonian friend spoke of her horror at the camera’s in Mr Tsvangirai’s hospital room. Just a few hours after the accident he was filmed, lying in his hospital bed while Mugabe visited him. It was a veritable rogue’s gallery – Mugabe’s wife Grace, together with vice president Joice Mujuru, Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono and a dozen security personnel all crowded into the room with him. Unfortunately, I know the Avenues Clinic all too well, and I think visitors are restricted to just four per patient. And so soon after admittance? But then rules don’t apply to Robert Mugabe. I cannot imagine how dreadful it must have been for Mr Tsvangirai to come face to face with the man who has, on several occasions, tried to eliminate him. The most serious:

1997 – during his tenure as head of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions unknown assailants tried to throw him out of the window of his tenth floor office. They were interrupted by his secretary.

2002 – a second treason trial collapsed after claims emerged Mugabe’s ZANU PF had paid Ari Ben Menashe, $2 million to frame Mr Tsvangirai, by filming him asking Menashe to help him arrange Mugabe’s “elimination”.

2007 – on March 11, while on his way to a prayer meeting, Mr Tsvangirai was arrested, taken to a police station and severely tortured. He was beaten so badly his injuries required hospitalisation. A freelance cameraman who released photographs of the injuries sustained in the police station was abducted a week later, and his body found at Darwendale Dam, 60 km outside Harare. Mr Tsvangirai’s bodyguard died from internal injuries six months later.

2008 – in May European security agents discovered an advanced assassination plan to kill Mr Tsvangirai when he returned to Zimbabwe later that month. Consequently he remained in Europe until it was considered safe for him to return.

Today Susan Tsvangirai was buried at her home in the tiny village of Humanikwa, in Buhera District. 5,000 mourners gathered to pay their respects. Some walked 60 kilometres to attend her burial service. Others, including her husband and their six children, drove along the same road where the accident occurred. Some people stopped at the site of the crash, getting out of their cars to see if they could discern what had caused the USAID lorry to swerve into the Tsvangirai’s Land Cruiser. Several countries, including Kenya, Botswana and South Africa, sent representatives. Mugabe did not attend.

Yesterday 10,000 people gathered at Glamis Stadium in Harare, where Mrs Tsvangirai’s coffin was taken after the church service. Members of Mr Tsvangirai’s MDC party paid tribute to their leader’s wife. The couple’s oldest son, Edwin, thanked Mugabe for a speech he said “changed our understanding of him (Mugabe).” Her husband, grief etched all over his face, only asked: “Let’s celebrate her existence as God’s gift to me and to you.”

On a personal scale I marvel at just how much Morgan Tsvangirai has suffered and endured in his quest for a democratic Zimbabwe. I don’t know many people who could – and would – remain so committed to his principles and ideals after so much personal suffering. For this I admire and respect him. He still lives in the same three-bedroomed house he lived in when he first came to prominence some twelve years ago.

History has rightly cast Nelson Mandela a symbol of the struggle to end colonial rule and apartheid in Africa. I believe history will portray Morgan Richard Tsvangirai as a symbol of true African democracy – an icon in the struggle to end the dictatorial rule of liberation movements who believe they have the right to oppress and destroy their people simply because they succeeded in removing the colonial powers. It’s a tough role to take on, but if anyone can do it Morgan Tsvangirai can.

Africa’s Dinosaur Holds All the Cards
November 14, 2008, 17:28
Filed under: Politics, Southern Africa, Zimbabwe News | Tags: , , ,

Unofficial reports from last weekend’s SADC meeting in Johannesburg have emphasised just how much power and influence Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe still wields over African leaders.  And the true and cowardly nature of the SADC leaders was very much evident during the meeting.

Each of the three Zimbabwean political leaders – Mugabe for ZANU PF, Morgan Tsvangirai for the MDC and the leader of the MDC splinter group Arthur Mutambara – was invited to speak at the meeting.  It was agreed all three Zimbabwe representatives would not be present during deliberations by the SADC leaders, so discussion about the troubled country could be conducted in a frank and open manner.

It didn’t happen.  Mugabe refused to leave the room during the discussions, and South Africa’s new president, Kgalema Motlanthe, did not press the issue.  Tsvangirai claimed not one of the leaders present at the meeting had shown “the courage or the decency of looking Mugabe in the eye and telling him that his position was wrong”.  Whether this reluctance to confront Mugabe is due to fear or respect is immaterial; it simply re-enforces the reluctance and cowardice of some of the continent’s leaders to confront the man who is systematically destroying Zimbabwe.

Mugabe’s intentions should have been apparent from the beginning of the meeting.   Demonstrating the arrogance and petulance of a man in denial and one who truly believes he has done nothing to contribute to the demise of what was once one of Africa’s most successful economies, Mugabe objected to the fact that both Mutambara and Tsvangirai had been invited to speak at the meeting, claiming neither was a head of state or government.

Mugabe made his presentation first, followed by Tsvangirai.  During his address Tsvangirai commented that his party had won the elections, and a furious Mugabe interrupted the speech, claiming: “No you didn’t.”  This time Molanthe admonished Mugabe for the interruption, and Lesotho president Phakalitha Mosisili told Mugabe he should show Tsvangirai the same consideration and respect as the SADC leaders had shown him during his speech. 

During Mutambara’s speech, Mugabe again interrupted, asking if the meeting was informal.  When Motlanthe confirmed it was, Mugabe said the flags should be lowered to reflect that status.  After a recess the meeting reconvened to discuss the Zimbabwe situation, and while Mutambara and Tsvangirai honoured the agreement to absent themselves from the deliberations, Mugabe refused.  He attended the discussion, so becoming judge and jury in SADC’s ruling on how the power-sharing agreement should proceed.

The Zimbabwe disaster can no longer be swept under the carpet.  SADC countries like Botswana and South Africa are now dealing with the massive influx of refugees and illegal immigrants, at substantial cost to their own economies.  SADC’s reluctance to deal with Mugabe indicates the tribal differences between the different leaders, and their reluctance to lay themselves open to possible criticism should they dare condemn a man who supposedly “liberated” his people from the yoke of colonialism.

At the end of the day Mugabe is trapped between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  His friends and allies in the East have done nothing to benefit ordinary Zimbabweans. The money his country so desperately needs to put it on the path to economic recovery will only come from the West, and nothing will be forthcoming until it is obvious Mugabe is no longer captain of this particular Titanic.  If he bows out now he risks being arrested for human right abuses and genocide, and his lieutenants won’t allow him to walk away free, leaving them to answer for their crimes.

He holds all the cards, but right now they’re burning his fingers AND Zimbabwe as he calculates which hand to play.

What’s Wrong With SADC?
November 11, 2008, 11:52
Filed under: Politics, Southern Africa, Zimbabwe News | Tags: , , , ,

This weekend, at a meeting held in Johannesburg the 15 members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) met at an extraordinary summit to discuss the political impasse in Zimbabwe and the escalating crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Hopes were high that the auspicious organisation would finally make a stand against the autocratic Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, and withdraw their support of the oppressive rule he has inflicted upon his country.

As has happened so often in the past, the high hopes were quickly dashed when SADC suggested Mugabe and leader of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai, share control of the ministry of home affairs, responsible for the police. The opposition had already agreed that Mugabe should retain control over the army, but wanted the vital ministry of home affairs to be handed over to the MDC. Power sharing with Mugabe will never work, and to suggest he should work with the opposition in a ministry as sensitive as Home Affairs is tantamount to ceding him the entire portfolio.

Mugabe used both the police and the army to great effect earlier this year to brutalise and punish Zimbabweans for voting for the opposition in the March elections – elections won by Tsvangirai, but forced into a runoff after a prolonged vote count last six weeks.

Interestingly, just seven leaders of SADC countries attended the meeting – South Africa, the DRC, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. All countries are staunch allies of Zimbabwe. The remainder sent representatives, perhaps not wanting to get involved in the mess and intrigue that is Zimbabwe.

But by staying away those leaders sent the wrong message to desperate Zimbabweans and to the rest of the world. The refusal by responsible heads of state to take a stand and criticise Robert Mugabe is tantamount to supporting the atrocities he has committed to stay in power. Mugabe knows now his position is secure, and that he can continue to beat, brutalise and kill the ordinary people in Zimbabwe to ensure he remains in power without any responsibility towards and concern for the welfare the people.

The meeting did address SADC’s concerns for the developing situation in the DRC. Ironically, some reports claim Mugabe is bolstering his own country’s presence in that country, sending additional troops to support DRC’s President Joseph Kabila’s army. Amazing that Mugabe can find the resources to provide this support while half his country faces starvation. And if true, Robert Mugabe is contributing towards instability in the DRC.

Interesting, concern was expressed about the outbreak of cholera in the refugee camps in the DRC. Cholera has also broken out in several of Zimbabwe’s towns and cities, yet SADC’s silence on Zimbabwe’s cholera cases is yet again a silent support for Robert Mugabe.

Does a human life have any value in Africa? Yes, according to SADC. But not if you’re a Zimbabwean.