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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
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
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 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
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
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
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. Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. * Only comments that contribute to a constructive debate will be approved by moderators.
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