Zuma on Zimbabwe

2010-05-18 00:00

IN his reply to questions on his budget vote speech, President Jacob Zuma gave a lot more detail on the Zimbabwe transition than we are accustomed to. The detail is useful not only because South Africans have a strong appetite for information on the fate of the transitional government in Zimbabwe, but also because this suggests that our government understands the need to take citizens into its confidence on sensitive issues of foreign policy.

Perhaps he was inspired by Chief Albert Luthuli’s belief in a social democratic society, which he thought would enable South Africa to turn internal diversity to its advantage. Of course, the speech was replete with quotes from Luthuli’s courageous statements about the inevitability of a social democracy at a time when the deepening apartheid system suggested that this was unrealistic and unachievable.

The resurrection of Luthuli in public discourse is important because it puts into sharp focus the idea of a united and people-based democracy built on embracing diversity. It is very crucial for this young democracy not to allow competing interests and narrow political agendas to shift its focus from the vision on which it was founded in 1994. The style of government­ that understands Luthuli’s assertion should be one that promotes accountability and active citizenship.

Zuma’s government is, therefore, right to be open with citizens about key contentious issues like HIV prevention, the low culture of performance in the government, the weak synergy between various layers and spheres of the government, the impact of the economic crisis and Zimbabwe.

A lot of the bickering over the HIV/Aids and Zimbabwe policies especially, has had to do with the government and critics talking past each other. The government did not realise that playing its cards a lot more openly and demonstrating that it is also listening to citizens’ concerns about these contentious issues would build mutual understanding and broad national consensus.

There is still a lot of concern about Zimbabwe. Some fear that the inclusive government will collapse, causing millions of poor Zimbabweans to flee to South Afri­ca, thus adding to the socio­economic problems that this country is battling with. Some suspect that government is allowing Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF to do as they please in violation of the Global Political Agreement that Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) factions signed in September 2008.

Media reports suggest that no progress is being made in Zimbabwe, meaning that South Africa is wasting taxpayers’ funds facilitating constant talks between parties. Journalists laugh off South Africa’s calls for targeted sanctions against Zanu-PF leaders in government to be lifted. A large number of South Africans are emotional about the Zimbabwe question.

Given the sharp division of opinions on Zimbabwe, the society that Luthuli envisaged should promote inclusive and continuous dialogue about issues that divide it.

The following kind of information was, until recently, lacking for South Africans to engage in an intelligent conversation on Zimbabwe: what actually happens in the many meetings South African envoys hold with the parties in Zimbabwe; what progress is being achieved; where areas of difficulty lie; and what the government is planning to do to improve the situation­.

Of course, Zuma’s statement in Parliament fell a little short of details about current difficulties and what is to be done to overcome them. However, it was a step in the right direction.

The president reported that in the recent past, Zimbabwean parties have put in motion the process for the establishment of three very important oversight commissions — the human rights, electoral and media commissions. He cited the acquittal of Roy Bennett as opening the way for him to be appointed deputy minister of agriculture as planned.

He indicated that the parties have settled the matter on the appointment of provincial governors, having also agreed on the formula to be used. The smaller faction of the MDC will get one governor post, while Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC and Zanu-PF will share the remaining nine posts. Of course, we also know that the constitution-making process is in progress.

Zuma did not say anything about the bickering over the attorney-general and reserve bank governor positions, suggesting that this matter is still under discussion, but he could have just said so. He also did not say anything about the security sector reform issue, a potential show stopper, given the militarisation of the Zimbabwean government in the past five to six years. This issue requires special attention because the securocrats who wield influence on Zanu-PF, the government and major business enterprises are powerful enough to block the entire political process.

A statement to the effect that these issues are being discussed with and among parties in Zimbabwe would allay fears that in pursuit of quick wins South Africa is ignoring the difficult issues such as those I mentioned above.

Zuma’s willingness to volunteer details about what is happening in Zimbabwe is welcome and must be encouraged. It helps dissuade analysts from relying on perceptions and conjecture to make judgments on the Zimbabwe crisis and the Southern African Development Community facilitation.

Luthuli envisioned a South Africa united by a shared commitment to human values, a society akin to what we call social democracy. Key to this is a government and business that is responsive to the needs of the citizens.

 

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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