Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Outraged, Depressed, Upset (!)

Thabo Mbeki: a failure, and an embarrassment to the good people of South Africa?

Nothing upsets me quite so much at the moment as the situation in Zimbabwe. While I do like to give vent to some political passion on this site, I tend to keep those messages short and infrequent, in between the usual updates on life in Sydney.

However, I can't bring myself to give the usual jovial update this week. I've got a much greater compulsion to point out what I think is an understated travesty in the current Zimbabwe situation.

Since Ghana was the first African country to gain independence in 1957, far too many African countries have spent too long under the regime of leaders who fail to have any respect for the rights of their people.

Robert Mugabe is clearly such a leader. Since taking power in Zimbabwe in 1980, he has steadily showed his real colours as a despot, a criminal and a murderer. Recent events are part of a steady progression towards anarchy in the country, which Mugabe must be held responsible for.

And now, Thabo Mbeki appears to be another. When South Africa finally emerged from apartheid in 1991 it got a leader that it richly deserved. Nelson Mandela is rightly lauded as one of the greatest leaders of our time. That his successor has been such a disappointment is not what the South African people deserved.

Mbeki too has been in his own downward spiral. Corruption among his closest associates was disappointing, his policy of denial on AIDS/HIV (South Africa has more HIV sufferers than any other country in the world) disturbing, but it's his support for the Mugabe regime that is the most depressing development.

The situation in Zimbabwe brings me to tears. I wish there was more that countries such as the UK and Australia could do to instigate a resolution. But with Mugabe oblivious to pressure from outside of Africa, the only way that social, economic and humanitarian disaster can be avoided in that country is with pressure from other outside parties that Mugabe must rely on - his neighbouring countries.

South Africa is foremost in those, so we should be shocked and outraged that Thabo Mbeki is now trying to persuade his fellow African leaders to recognise Mugabe's completely specious electoral win.

That's the basic facts. I'm not going to go into Mbeki's motives. This article gives a few more details if you are interested:

I am relieved to say that Mbeki is leaving office next year, and will be replaced by a rival in his own party, who has made clear his anti-Mugabe sentiments. But in the meantime, anarchy in Zimbabwe will go on.

The South African people are suffering in this too, albeit in a very different way. I don't believe they share Mbeki's wish to shelter an evil dictator. Rather, the front page of one of the daily newspapers in South Africa today called Mbeki's leadership into question over the issue. It's also worth pointing out that, while the paper costs 10 Rand in SA, across the border in Zimbabwe, the price is 15 billion Zimbabwean dollars. Aside from the violence, I can't think of anything else that so well sums up the astonishing failure of leadership... in Zimbabwe, and South Africa.