MEDIA STATEMENT BY THE
INKATHA FREEDOM PARTY
Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
The Zulu people have a saying which I believe crisply captures what is happening in Zimbabwe today: "akukho silima sindlebende kwabo". It translates as ‘even a fool whose ear is disproportionate to the other ear is not regarded as such within the family’.
I find it interesting that African leaders’ all seem to subscribe to this Zulu saying: that for the sake of ‘African solidarity’ we should not allow those regarded as ‘outsiders’ to criticise one of our own. I experienced this firsthand whenever the issue of Zimbabwe came up for discussion when I attended SADAC meetings as Minister of Home Affairs. I attended such meetings in Angola, Mozambique and Mauritius.
I remember one such discussion, in Angola, after the United States made it clear that President Robert Mugabe would not be welcome at a meeting of, I think, the G7.
The general reaction in that meeting of the Council of Ministers was that the United States had no right to make such a ruling. I gingerly raised the issue of the assistance that we needed for Nepad, which we expected from countries like the United States.
I enquired whether my African brothers did not think that such people have a right to express their views, if we expected them at the same time, to assist us. During the tea break some Foreign Ministers congratulated me for raising the issue in the manner I did. Yet not one of them did so in the plenary sessions.
In fact, in the next plenary session in which I wanted to speak, my colleague, the Foreign Minister, told me that I had to tell her first what I wanted to say, as she was the leader of the South African delegation. This was obviously because I had spoken like I did before the tea break. It is with these memories that I write about this issue in my on-line letter today.
President Mugabe might, in view of the above, be justified for believing that he enjoys widespread support amongst ordinary Africans. The man and his record are, of course, far more complex than the one dimensional African Hitleresque caricature: hero turned villain. Boasting impeccable struggle credentials, Mr Mugabe is still something of a folk hero to many Africans. It is difficult for observers in the West to fully comprehend the conundrum this presents Mr Mugabe’s fellow African liberation leaders in censuring him.
The entire Mugabe phenomenon, cemented in stereotypes as it is, is baffling. Some in our ruling party and outside lead us to believe that the fiercest opposition to the Mugabe regime comes from the West, its alleged stooges in the Movement for Democratic Change and the dispossessed white farmers. Few black South Africans would acknowledge that the main victims of the regime’s misrule have increasingly been ordinary black Zimbabweans, Shona and Ndebele, urban and rural.
I, myself, have found Mr Mugabe – we first met as students at Fort Hare University – to be erudite, charming and a shrewd political operator.
It seems a lifetime since President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere recalled to me how he plaintively told President Mugabe at his inauguration in 1980: "You have inherited a jewel. Don’t do what I did in Tanzania. Don’t destroy it!" If only Nyerere’s form of socialism, ujamaa, was the worst that could have happened to Zimbabwe over the next quarter-of-a-century.
In fact, for a time it seemed that Mr Mugabe’s peculiar domestic mix of doctrinaire socialism and semi-free enterprise economy could work as it brought relative prosperity and social progress in the form of health care and education to the black population in the 1980s.
As our Northern neighbour has slipped into chaos in the late 1990s- and I do not need to enumerate the litany of misrule and disasters that have befallen this, former, African jewel – Mr Mugabe’s tottering government has been buoyed by considerable populist support of the rawest kind. As the latest issue of The Economist put it, "many Zimbabweans, paradoxically, both despise and admire him". And not just Zimbabweans either. That is why I think, in this context, it is wrong to single out President Mbeki for blame.
Mr Mugabe has skillfully justified his authoritarian misrule within a discourse of legitimate redress for colonial injustice and imperialism. These sentiments have resonated across Africa; large swathes of which feel marginalised by the global economy and its mighty supranational institutions, and remain wedded to the Marxist narrative of the liberation struggle. (Did you hear the groundswell of support, last week, from some on the ruling party benches when the PAC leader blasted Blair and Bush in the parliamentary debate called by the IFP on Zimbabwe?)
I watched Mr Mugabe’s rousing plaudits from many African delegates at the World Development Summit in Johannesburg in 2002 – the same conference at which he launched a scathing attack on Tony Blair and Britain’s colonial past. With an uncanny eye for the British tabloids; for this man has serious media savvy, he invited Blair to "Keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe." As the BBC’s John Simpson put it "Mugabe stole the show". Indeed.
Two years later, at President Mbeki’s inauguration, he received an equally rapturous welcome from many Africans as he stood, immaculately tailored and ramrod straight, in the hot autumn sunshine. I have seen this spontaneous outpouring of affection for a bankrupt African leader before. Just last month, the international media reported that at the 50th Anniversary of Ghana’s Independence President Mugabe received the most rapturous ovation when he arrived at the independence celebrations.
I clearly recall watching the heady welcome that Idi Amin, the former Ugandan dictator, received from crowds of Kenyans when he arrived at the Nairobi Hilton in his capacity as Chairperson of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in the 1970s. I saw the same scenes when I attended the independence celebrations in Kinshasa with my wife as guest of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
I remember, on one occasion, I was rebuked by some of my fellow black leaders in Soweto in ‘The Sowetan’ for daring to speak against the self-styled "King of Scotland" who expelled Uganda’s Asian and British expatriate population and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of his fellow countrymen. This, particularly, leads me to recall the Zulu saying I have quoted at the beginning. Many Africans seem to believe it.
And so it is with Zimbabwe today. Many senior ANC officials are genuinely concerned about the crisis, even though few of them would care to admit it in public. The power of denial is strong.
And this is it. This is where we all, on this side of the Limpopo River, have blundered. This is where lies our, South African, complicity in the failure of Mr Mugabe’s regime. We have let the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorate so fast and so far without as much as a word of concern. Yet, all along, at home we have celebrated human rights, promoted reconciliation, and respected the rule of law and the political opposition.
Given these obvious double standards in my own country, as an African, I feel I am obliged to take some of the blame for Mr Mugabe’s belief, fostered by many ordinary Africans across our continent that he is right to hang on – a truly tragic conflict of loyalty.
Let us look beyond the much spoke of denialist Mbeki. He is not the only one to blame. We are all culpable.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP