Feeling the squeeze of the generals

2008-09-20 00:00

Politicians and commentators — like a flock of geese, clucking and hissing in comforting unison — have been falling over themselves to hail President Thabo Mbeki’s supposed statesmanship in negotiating a deal between Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change.

It is a truism that if something is overwhelmingly agreed to be a “good thing”, it probably isn’t. The enthusiasm that met the so-called peace settlement is misplaced — the deal is fraught with the likelihood of failure and is inimical to a democracy in Africa, including South Africa. While the prospect of an end to instability, violence and misery should be welcomed, it is by no means “inevitable that [the agreement] will succeed”, as Mbeki rashly has proclaimed. On the contrary, the likelihood of this happening, at least in the near future, is remote.

He should keep in mind that the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict is littered with the reputations of international leaders who have jetted in, done some diplomatic tinkering and then declared success. Yet that sore remains resolutely unlanced.

The structure of the Zimbabwean deal is incredibly complicated. It was crafted to ensure that both sides have virtually equal honours. For instance, while Robert Mugabe remains president, Morgan Tsvangirai is prime minister; Mugabe heads the cabinet but Tsvangirai heads a council of ministers; the MDC grouping has one more cabinet minister than Zanu-PF, but with deputy ministers it is the other way around.

While this has placated the competing parties, it makes effective government unlikely, probably impossible. Every contentious decision by the MDC majority, and there are many that must be taken urgently, can be countermanded or delayed by Zanu-PF.

Tsvangirai’s rationale for acquiescing to the Mbeki deal appears to be that he thinks that once he has a foot in the door, he will be able to push it open further and take control. The alternative was to accept a long wait outside, supported by international opinion but unable to do anything practical to ease the deepening crisis in Zimbabwe. But the constitutional mechanisms to resolve conflicts between Mugabe and Tsvangirai are inadequate and recourse to the justice system is not really an option, given that it has been subverted with the appointment of Zanu-PF lackeys. Eventually, one side or the other will have to back down and since the security establishment remains supportive of Mugabe, that person is likely to be Tsvangirai.

The reality is portrayed perfectly in a cartoon in a British newspaper, the Independent. It shows a composed Mugabe shaking hands with a pained-looking Tsvangirai. Snaking between the two men is the long arm of a Zimbabwean general and he has the hapless Tsvangirai’s testicles in an iron grip.

On the other hand, Mbeki has his vanity deal, for what it is worth in bolstering his fading standing as president. How humiliating for South Africa’s president that at this very moment of carefully engineered success, the African National Congress is contemplating demanding his resignation, following the High Court finding that he continued the apartheid era tradition of “baleful political influence” on the prosecutorial process. Unfortunately, it is not only the MDC that has been sacrificed as balm for Mbeki’s ego. The biggest loser is democracy. It is patently unfair that a party which has won an election, where the incumbent administration used every foul means imaginable to prevent this happening, should not form a government. It happened in Kenya and now in Zimbabwe.

This is a sad African bastardisation of democracy that one imagines that the ANC, believing as it does in its divine right to represent the masses, will embrace when it, too, one day loses at the polls.

• The Zimbabwe agreement can be found at www.legalbrief.co.za

• The Independent cartoon: www.independent.co.uk/opinion/the-daily-cartoon

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