It is truly a boon for observers of South African politics that the country’s president writes a several-thousand word message every week to his supporters. Thabo Mbeki’s weekly letters are not the stuff of speech writers and consultants; he is a true intellectual, however fetid his ideas. Reading his letters reveals something quite ominous about the political future of South Africa.
This week, Mbeki lets the ANC’s Secretary General Kgalema Motlanthe borrow his pen to write about Zimbabwe. Prompting this angry piece was British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s threat to boycott an upcoming European Union/African Union summit if Mugabe were to attend. Both the EU and AU chose Mugabe over Brown, and this is a choice that obviously delights Mbeki and Motlanthe. In this letter Motlanthe carries Mbeki’s water, perhaps because what Motlanthe says is too egregious for the South African president to utter himself. Motlanthe uses the diplomatic row between Great Britain and Zimbabwe to launch into a tirade about British colonial history.
Motlanthe believes that Great Britain is trying to effect “regime change” in Harare, and indignantly asks why the British government did not advocate regime change for the white, rebel colony of Rhodesia, which preceded the creation of a democratic Zimbabwe. In so doing, Motlanthe ignores that the British government declared the colony’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence an act of treason. Britain used its international heft to impose strict United Nations sanctions on the white regime in Rhodesia for well over a decade, contributing to its downfall in 1980. Britain played no small part in bringing the Rhodesian government to its knees, discrediting the moderate black Bishop Abel Muzorewa (who had formed a coalition government with whites and won a democratic, multi-racial election in 1979). Were it not for Margaret Thatcher’s willingness to side with Jimmy Carter’s and Andrew Young’s diplomacy, Robert Mugabe might not have become president 27 years ago.
But what’s telling is that Motlanthe (and by extension, Mbeki) is so outraged at what he believes is the West’s desire to perpetrate “regime change” in Zimbabwe. Thabo Mbeki and the ANC called for violent revolution against the white minority government of South Africa—and while it was a boon to every South African that the transition to democracy occurred peacefully—it was nonetheless true that regime change in apartheid South Africa was a moral necessity. Can anyone honestly deny that the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe today is far worse than that of South African apartheid? Why, therefore, is regime change inappropriate in Zimbabwe? Because the ruling party is black-led.
Regime change does not necessarily have to come through military intervention, but the country will be unable to recover from its devastated state unless Mugabe is ousted from power and the country’s political apparatus is wiped clean of ZANU-PF, the socialist party Mugabe leads.
Motlanthe also launches into an abbreviated history of Zimbabwean land reform, which not-so-subtly exculpates Mugabe’s seizures of private land as a justified response to Great Britain’s failure to rectify an historic grievance. There is no mention of the fact that much of the land Mugabe stole was in fact purchased legally by whites after 1980, nor that he lost (in spite of his best attempts to rig it) a 2000 constitutional referendum that would have given him more executive power and the ability to seize land at will without compensation. Mugabe’s flagrant destruction of the rule of law thereafter, which triggered a series of events leading to today’s mess, is nowhere to be found in the ANC’s analysis of the situation.
People often wonder why South Africa stands so steadfastly by Mugabe as he ruins his country and thousands of Zimbabweans cross the border into South Africa every week. The answer can be found in this statement, full of anachronistic resentment towards Great Britain and lacking any criticism of Robert Mugabe or concern for the plight of the millions of starving, politically oppressed Zimbabweans. Once again, the African National Congress unmistakably reveals itself to those who continue to be blinded by its progressive rhetoric: it is not the liberal architect of the “Rainbow Nation,” but a racial nationalist outfit sympathetic with and openly supportive of tyrants around the world.