Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Mugabe's lies about Mandela and our shocking lack of response

2017-09-01 10:03
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, AP)

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, AP)

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Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has peddled lies about South Africa's transition from apartheid to democracy.

He told a rally in his home country that he had asked a Cabinet minister in South Africa why whites remained powerful long after the end of apartheid.

How Mugabe phrased the question is instructive. He didn’t ask why our democratic government has failed to raise the living standards of black South Africans to the level of whites. He seemed to advocate for South Africa his model of total impoverishment.

The unnamed Cabinet minister responded by blaming President Nelson Mandela. The minister told Mugabe that Mandela had insisted on negotiating with the apartheid government on his own.

The implication is that Mandela's deal with the apartheid regime was that whites will, as a matter of state policy, always be economically powerful relative to blacks.

So far, the South African government hasn't responded to the lies that Mugabe peddled. Could it be that the government endorses the lies told to Mugabe by the unnamed minister?

There is a lot of literature about the transition from apartheid to democracy. I wouldn't want to rehash it, save to say it is not classified. There are also many leaders in South Africa who know the inside story of the negotiations. There's no need to list them.

More importantly, we have a Constitution which espouses the kind of vision we want to achieve. Of course, the Constitution needs people who believe in it to turn its ideals of healing the divisions of the past, economic and political, into reality.

It's shocking that a head of state with struggle credentials would showcase his ignorance. It seems it's not enough for Mugabe that he has impoverished his people, forcing them to spread across the globe to eke out a living. Now he wants to complete the impoverishment process by poisoning their minds.

But he can be forgiven for being senile given his advanced age. However, the South African government's failure to immediately call Mugabe to order and to correct the distortion of our history is unforgiveable. 

It's a matter of public record that the apartheid government tried in vain to offer Mandela conditional release from prison. They even tried to isolate him from the ANC. 

Had he accepted the offers, there is no doubt the ANC would have split. Freedom would have been delayed. Domestic and international pressure against the apartheid regime would have eased. And Mandela would have betrayed the struggle. But he was a very principled leader. So principled he has puzzled Mugabe.

Why doesn't the government or the ANC deal decisively with Mugabe? Could it be that the unnamed minister who told Mugabe the nonsense was merely stating the position of the Jacob Zuma-led ANC and government?

It's difficult to believe that an organisation that was once proud of how it executed the struggle, the outcome of which was a constitutional democracy, would find it impossible to denounce lies about it. 

It has become fashionable in the era of Bell Pottinger and the Guptas to delegitimise South Africa's constitutional democracy. It's not only rhetorical. There's a systematic attack on the Constitution and state institutions. The aim is to divert public attention from government failures and looting of state resources.

In a recent article, President Thabo Mbeki raised concerns that the architect of the South African Constitution, the ANC, is working against it. I suspect the lies told to Mugabe by a South African minister, which Mugabe shamelessly peddled, emanated from the context of the ANC disowning what it fought for.

If opposition parties, civil society, the courts and media didn't stand up and defend our constitutional democracy, we would live under laws written by Bell Pottinger and the Guptas.

The failure of the government to defend and advance the Constitution, the outcome of the transitional negotiations that included many political parties including the ANC, is finding expression in our international relations.

We don't have a discernible foreign policy to protect and enhance our international prestige. Nor do we have leadership to conduct a policy grounded in our Constitution.

Once regarded as a middle power in world affairs, punching above its weight, South Africa is descending fast. The government's policy of aloofness to Zambia's democratic crisis shows we have become irrelevant.

The policy of aloofness was best explained when Zuma told Parliament that the crackdown on opposition parties in Zambia is an "internal matter".

As if this embarrassing explanation is not enough, our Number One diplomat, the president, doesn't know why a wife of a head of state who committed a serious crime in South Africa was given diplomatic immunity. The reason the president doesn't know, he tells the nation, is that he is not a lawyer.  

With this kind of leadership it would be too much to expect an arrogant and ruinous dictator like Mugabe to respect us.

- Mpumelelo Mkhabela is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) at the University of Pretoria. 

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