Zuma’s attack on Mbeki

2007-12-12 00:00

DELIVERING the keynote address at an international Human Rights Day lecture at Wits University on Monday, ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma made a systematic — if partially veiled — attack on the administration of President Thabo Mbeki, his rival for the ANC president’s position. Referring obliquely to the idea that state organs are being abused to target him, Zuma emphasised that such organs must operate under the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution and said that since the separation of powers is a vital pillar of democracy, public vigilance is essential to prevent the Executive from having undue influence over the judiciary or Parliament. Similarly his references to the scourges of crime and HIV/Aids implied sharp criticism of the Mbeki administration, its lack of the will to deal effectively with crime, and its misguided and blinkered approach to HIV which should, he said, be treated as a national emergency.

Notably, he focused also on Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy” policy towards Zimbabwe and said that it was tragic that there were world leaders who witnessed repression and pretended it was not happening or was exaggerated. History would deal harshly with influential leaders who stand by and watch as dictators destroy nations.

Zuma’s speech and, significantly, the “quiet diplomacy” comment, came the day after the conclusion of the two-day summit in Lisbon at which 67 African and European leaders had gathered in the hope of forming a relationship of genuine equals. Unfortunately, the summit revealed some stark differences, of which one emerged after German Chancellor Angela Merkel had accused Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe of “harming the image of the new Africa”. Instead of being gratified by the approval inherent in his phrase — approval of him, of other African leaders and of the continent as a whole — Mbeki accused Merkel of being out of touch with the political situation in Zimbabwe. In other words, for whatever reason — Africanist solidarity, perhaps — Mbeki’s obstinate myopia in relation to Mugabe persists and, to the great disappointment of thinking South African democrats, he remains an apologist for the dictator to the north.

Zuma’s forthrightness on this and other subjects is clearly part of a clever strategic plan. Such straight talk will resonate with many: a welcome breath of fresh air to ease what has become long-term anger, frustration and jaded disillusion.

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