A heavy responsibility

LET there be no doubt: South Africa’s response to last weekend’s election in Zimbabwe and its outcome will have a defining influence on the life chances of many millions of people in our region. This imposes a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of President Thabo Mbeki. For, having annexed to his office decisions on South African policy on Zimbabwe, he cannot now offload the responsibility to apply South Africa’s weight in the region. He must confront the reality that Robert Mugabe is back in power and should not be there.

The moral issue should be as clear to Mbeki as it is to the majority of Zimbabweans whom Mugabe has cheated of the president they want. Mugabe bullied, swindled and gerrymandered his way to victory over his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai.

The sorry Sam Motsuenyane and others who determined the South African observer team’s report find this difficult to recognise. They were, evidently, so blinded by Africanist sympathies that they could not find against Mugabe, whatever he did. Journalists and diplomats who jeered Motsuenyane when he released his report in Harare on Wednesday seemed to recognise this. A South African-based diplomat yesterday described the report to this newspaper as “laughable”. Motsuenyane’s and his mission’s conclusion that Zimbabwe’s presidential election was “legitimate” was feeble-minded and morally dishonourable.

Mbeki is also sometimes given to judging the merits of an argument on grounds of the ideological or racial origins of the antagonists rather than on the quality of the evidence and arguments they adduce. This tendency is at odds with his modernising efforts in a number of fields, particularly economics. But Mbeki has all the intellectual equipment needed ? and much more ? to take a rational approach to Mugabe, much as he does to the issues before our economy. Let us hope he can bring himself to do so.

If Mbeki can, he will recognise that Mugabe constitutes ? now more than ever ? a malign liability to Zimbabwe, to South Africa and to the region. He will decline to make any noises about the election that will give comfort to Mugabe. He will make it clear in carefully modulated language that South Africa finds the conduct of the elections unacceptable ? though it will now deal with the victor. Mbeki will appreciate that it is vital that Mugabe absent himself, or be removed, from government in Zimbabwe as quickly as possible. He will ensure that South Africa does whatever is necessary to provide Mugabe with an easy way out ? if needs be by helping him find immunity from prosecution in a foreign state. Mbeki will understand he must establish relations with (and support) elements within the ruling Zanu-PF party and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change who recognise the need for a far-reaching compromise between them if Zimbabwe is not to implode like Somalia. He will seek out Zimbabwean notables in the churches and elsewhere whose stature and reputations for integrity and fair dealing suggest they could facilitate early moves towards a government of national unity in that country. And Mbeki will place in charge of these efforts an individual with the nous and cunning to chivvy the strategy along ? and that excludes the likes of Membathisi Mdladlana and Steve Tshwete, as well as his hubristic foreign minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Alongside this strategy, he will have to develop another. It must involve the readiness of South Africa ? with United Nations approval, and in partnership with its significant political allies in southern Africa, Botswana and Mozambique, and in the West ? to intervene in Zimbabwe if that country moves towards outright anarchy or large-scale violations of basic human rights. If Southern African Development Community (SADC) governments such as those in Namibia and Angola cannot commit themselves explicitly to democratic practice, we should not let them delay us in our duty to the people of Zimbabwe. Rather, we should be content to leave them behind.

Our attitude can no longer be one in which we humour or indulge neighbours whose behaviour has devastating effects on our currency, on our ability to attract inward foreign direct investment and on our capacity to create an environment in which our millions of poor people can prosper. We have a real interest in how our neighbours behave. Their behaviour is our business. They must be made aware that we take this view. In other words, it is time we threw out the timidity that has largely characterised our foreign policy since 1994. We have regional interests. We must advance and defend them.

Beyond them, we have continental interests. If Africa is to develop the productive forces and markets it needs in order to rise out of its poverty, some process akin that described in the new economic partnership for Africa’s development (Nepad) will have to unfold. Nepad’s lodestars include good governance, the rule of law, sound economic management and democratic government. These are values ? moral, political and economic ? on which we should brook no further compromise.

Zimbabwe is a very important test of these values. We ? and Mbeki ? must not be found wanting.

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