Max du Preez

'Take a stand on Zimbabwe now'

2007-04-04 08:16

Max du Preez

Foreign policy is not something that can be determined by popular opinion. But there is a point where a country's foreign policy can become so starkly in conflict with the general spirit and sense of morality of a nation that it becomes illegitimate.

That is certainly now the case with South Africa's policy towards Zimbabwe. As a citizen I accept that I don't have all the information my president or minister of foreign affairs has and that I don't know all the subtleties and inside dealings between my country and Zimbabwe.

My government has decided not to inform me and other citizens what exactly motivates them on this issue.

Ashamed to be South African

As things stand, I feel deeply offended by and ashamed of my government's stance towards Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF.

In fact, I'm again in that space where I was twenty years ago when I was travelling outside the country: I was so ashamed about the apartheid government's policies that I lied about being a South African.

When people noticed that I didn't exactly speak English like the English, I explained it away by saying I was from New Zealand or Germany. (At least when at home I could join in the struggle against apartheid and did so - how do I fight this new shame?)

I challenge any cabinet minister or senior member of the ANC to go to the townships of Harare or Buluwayo and defend South Africa's relationship with the Mugabe regime to ordinary Zimbabweans.

They are disappointed, bewildered and angry about how South Africa has allowed itself to be used by Mugabe to further assert himself and to continue with his oppression of his own people and destruction of the economy. I have had several such discussions, the last one late last year.

Ordinary Zimbabweans are very proud of how we in South Africa had defeated apartheid and established an open, tolerant and prosperous democracy.

We symbolised the renaissance of the continent. We were supposed to be their greatest allies in their struggle to achieve the same in Zimbabwe. Instead, we have aided and abetted Zanu-PF.

Different Human Rights in Africa?

I accept that a form of "quiet diplomacy" could be a legitimate way of dealing with Zimbabwe. I accept that diplomacy cannot be conducted from the rooftops. I also believe that sanctions and boycotts should not be a part of our Zimbabwe strategy.

But when Robert Mugabe tells his party faithful in public that nobody rebuked him at the recent meeting of SADCC heads of state; that he admitted to them that his police had beaten up the leader of the opposition, but that "he was asking for it" and they condoned that, then I need my president to stand up and either deny it or explain his behaviour in public.

I object as an African and a South African to the way my elected government is seen as condoning the gross violations of the human rights of fellow Africans.

The message they're sending to the rest of Africa and the world is that Africa doesn't regard human rights and human dignity very highly; that in Africa life is still cheap and freedom expensive.

We all gasped in shame and horror when victims of the apartheid regime told their stories of murder, torture, kidnapping and assault to our Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Now we are looking on when the same treatment is being meted out to our cousins across the border, and we do nothing. It is an internal affair, we say. We'll get them talking to each other, we promise.

I accept that my president has the right and the task to determine how we deal with other countries. But I demand that my president stand up and tell me and the rest of the world that we find Mugabe's behaviour offensive to our conviction as Africans and South Africans of how we believe governments should behave towards their citizens - a conviction based on our own constitution.

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