Thabo and Gabbie at the farewell

2008-05-03 00:00

IT is hardly surprising that Thabo and Gabbie were photographed nervously clutching one another’s hands like a couple of moonstruck big girls at their matric farewell.

After all, the two share a lot. No one wants to dance with them and neither has a clue what they are going to out there, once they are reluctantly pushed out into the big, wide world. They must wonder how it all went wrong, from being belles of the ball to social outcasts.

President Thabo Mbeki thought he had done everything required to be the hero of his party and to leave a big burnished brass plate in South Africa’s collective memory. Sure, there were some surplus people mopped up by HIV/Aids, killers stalked the streets unafraid and the lights were slowly going out, but the spin doctors were working at it.

As we know direct from the mouth of No Crisis Mbeki, such things are just a matter of perception.

For his part, President Robert Gabriel Mugabe was such a liberation icon that most of the world was willing to turn a blind eye to the genocide he unleashed in Matabeleland. After all, in comparison with the Holocaust, Rwanda and the Balkans, his was a very little genocide and African politicians of heroic proportions are hard to come by.

Now Comrade Bob can’t even rely on his minions to fix the elections. The democracy genie keeps popping out the bottle, despite beatings, detentions and killings, and every attempt at fraud. But Mugabe is neither repentant nor necessarily finished. In a ploy that the next South African president would do well to remember, for 28 years Mugabe has chained the future of a large number of Zanu-PF party members and security chiefs to his own. If he goes down, they will too. So there is little motivation to throw him overboard, however rank he has started to smell.

One should give credit to Mbeki that he never tried to buy support in this way. And one should give credit to the rank and file of the African National Congress that they eventually stood up to Mbeki’s bullying and browbeating in a way that Zanu-PF has never contemplated with regard to the Mugger.

Mbeki, in contrast to Mugabe, has been comprehensively humiliated by his own party and appears finished. The man who has worked so hard to carve a new and respectable niche for Africa in the world now finds his efforts in Zimbabwe publicly ridiculed by his colleagues in the ANC and the tripartite alliance, and even by other African leaders. At home he is to have a party appointee looking over his shoulder and shadowing his every move for the last 11 months of his administration, like a little boy who can’t be trusted to do his homework unsupervised. One can only marvel at Mbeki’s masochism, that he has accepted regular public mortification rather than standing down earlier. He is presumably staking everything on the hope that ANC president Jacob Zuma will run into a chilly legal wind when he stands trial on corruption charges later this year, thus thwarting his ambitions to inherit Mbeki’s mantle. How galling to have Zuma swanning about various European capitals last week, fêted as the man who might break the Mbeki-imposed inertia on Zimbabwe. Whereas Mbeki claimed there is no crisis, Zuma with his unerring instinct for the crowd pleaser, called Zimbabwe a police state.

As it happened, South Africa, China and Russia joined to prevent any United Nations action on Zimbabwe, making the attempt in the Security Council a “non-event”, as Zanu-PF put it.

Thabo has again spared Gabbie’s blushes. Ain’t love grand?

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