Failing Zimbabwe

IF deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahad really believes there will be credible elections in Zimbabwe, why is he also begging the developed world not to back off the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) if things go wrong?

Pahad repeatedly argued this week that there should be no collective sanctions imposed on Africa for Zimbabwe’s misdeeds. Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota voiced similar anxieties, warning that Western enthusiasm for Nepad would inevitably wane if Africa failed to deliver on its pledges of democratic practice.

To the dismay of many ordinary Zimbabweans, South Africa’s “policy” has been to make stiff formal calls for electoral propriety, express confidence in President Robert Mugabe’s bona fides and send an observer team. Anything more than this ? even the mild step of declaring that the region will reject an irregular poll ? would be “premature”, the government argues. South Africa’s 1994 vote is trotted out to show that high levels of pre-election violence do not preclude a credible process. The most obvious difference between 1994 and now is that by polling day all South African party leaders were committed to a violence-free, properly supervised election in which all adults would freely participate.

Mugabe, by contrast, continues to harass journalists and play cat and mouse with international monitoring teams. More importantly, he shows no sign of dismantling the machinery of violent intimidation, involving state agencies, set up to ensure his political survival.

Writing in Business Day, the respected Zimbabwean political scientist Eliphas Mukonoweshuro describes a shadowy civil-military body called the National Command Centre, based at the Zanu-PF head office, which links top party officials, public servants, the security forces and “war veterans”.

It is this, he argues, that lies behind the violence that has racked Zimbabwe this year. Mukonoweshuro points to other sinister moves to subvert the popular will. These include moves to have constituency results decide the outcome, rather than total votes cast, and regulations preventing monitors and election agents from accompanying ballot boxes in transit.

This raises the question of how observers, spread thinly over a large country, can certify the election. How can they keep tabs on intimidation if it is abetted by law enforcement agencies? How will they determine whether voters have stayed home out of fear?

Every effort should be made in the remaining three weeks to create conducive electoral conditions and bolster voter confidence. It is not too late for South Africa to protect its own interests, and those of the continent, by toughening its stance.

Reversing Verwoerd

Not since Verwoerdian social engineering led to the birth of Bantu education has the tertiary sector been asked to accept change as radical as now.

Education Minister Kader Asmal, like apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd, is a man of grand vision. Verwoerd’s jaundiced view of society led him to sick solutions. The grandiosity of these solutions ensured maximum damage: a society deeply scarred. The effects of Bantu education ? a citizenry whose access to opportunity remains racially skewed and an education system mismatched to the demands of a modern economy ? represent among the ugliest of those scars.

Enter Asmal. Acting on his understanding of the problems facing education, and working with experts such as the ministerial national working group that reported this week, Asmal has been designing a grand solution. And this solution demands massive change and sacrifice in higher education. Whole institutions will disappear or be swallowed by others. Identity, autonomy ? and cushy jobs ? will be lost.

Predictably, there has been a chorus of protest. Fort Hare and Rhodes universities, for example, are balking at their planned merger. One has a proud anti-apartheid record, the other a proud academic record.

But opposition will come not only for reasons of institutional interest. Asmal has already had to run a gauntlet of criticism and a lawsuit from elements within Unisa, another university affected by the changes. Here council head McCaps Motimele and new vice-chancellor Barney Pityana led the charge ? arguably out of personal interest.

Another level of opposition may well come from within Asmal’s own party, and for sentimental reasons. For surely there will be many in the African National Congress who will resist the loss or partial loss of identity of anti-apartheid bastions like Fort Hare, the University of Durban-Westville and the University of the Western Cape ? while Rand Afrikaans University, Pretoria University and Stellenbosch University, arguably former pillars of apartheid, will be left unscathed.

Asmal’s plans are not above criticism. Any grandiose plan for change has to be carefully scrutinised, and if necessary resisted, because of the potentially far-reaching consequences of such change. But let Asmal’s opponents also remember that transformation ? which many of them endorse in principle ? cuts both ways. It is intellectually dishonest to oppose Asmal’s plans out of personal or sentimental interest.

The only criterion must be whether Asmal’s grand vision will help heal the scars left by Verwoerd’s.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories


Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: George Euvrard, the brains behind our cryptic crossword

George Euvrard spoke to Athandiwe Saba about his passion for education, clues on how to solve his crosswords and the importance of celebrating South Africa.

Poachers in prisons tell their stories

Interviews with offenders provide insight into the structure of illegal wildlife trade networks

More top stories

No one should be as rich as Elon Musk

The reactions to Elon Musk’s billionaire status are evidence that far too many South Africans have not fully grasped the destructive consequences of inequality. Entrepreneur...

Department of basic education edges closer to releasing matric results

The basic education department has said that it is almost done with the marking process and that the capturing of marks is in progress.

The rare fairytale of Percy Tau

Through much hard work and a bit of good fortune, the South African attacker has converted a potential horror story into magic

Somali troops may have been drawn into Ethiopia’s civil war

The Mail & Guardian spoke to Somalis about their relatives who disappeared after signing up for military training and fear they may have been killed

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…