Spitting in their mouths

It is ironic and sad that the modern democratic principles of the Commonwealth are contained in a document called the Harare Declaration — now a city that has come to symbolise the blatant abuse of the very values it helped enshrine and even gave its name to.

The Declaration of Commonwealth Principles was adopted by the organisation at a summit in Singapore in 1971, at a time when Britain’s shedding of its colonies and protectorates was nearing completion. By 1991, a more mature Commonwealth was refining its vision, mission and raison d’être in a country bordering apartheid South Africa — the antithesis of everything for which the Commonwealth stood.

The Harare Declaration commits the organisation’s members to strive for the “protection and promotion of the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth”. Among the more notable of these values was a commitment to “democracy, democratic processes and institutions that reflect national circumstances, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, just and honest government”.

Those present in Harare also undertook to entrench “fundamental human rights, including equal rights and opportunities for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief”.

Strange then that the leaders of Southern Africa who belong to the Commonwealth and whose countries sculpted the Harare Declaration should find the organisation’s insistence that Zimbabwe be pressured to abide by these principles as “punishment” and the stance taken by some Western nations on Zimbabwe as “racist”.

For the record, we hold no brief for any of the Western leaders driving the move to isolate Robert Mugabe’s government. But the Zimbabwe situation is not about Tony Blair, John Howard or any of the “white” Commonwealth members who have been derided by Africa’s leaders this week. What we care about is the plight of the Zimbabwean people, who have been deprived of the rights enshrined in the Harare Declaration.

Those Zimbabweans deserve to have the leaders of neighbouring states recognise they are full human beings. To insist that Zimbabweans should enjoy a diminished level of human rights is racist. To insist that Zimbabweans should not have the same quality of democracy as prescribed by the international charters is racist. To insist that the world should stand by while government opponents are beaten, detained and harassed by Mugabe’s party goons and security apparatus is racist.

And to suggest that those African countries that refuse to express blind solidarity with a repressive regime do so because they have been “bribed” with donor aid is extremely racist. Other African governments were highly critical because they can see the wood for the red herrings in Zimbabwe. Mugabe is not the only mampara in Southern Africa.

Southern Africa’s leaders have been telling us for years that the breakthrough in the resolution of Zimbabwe’s crisis was imminent. Dozens of delegations have been to Harare and returned bearing bagfuls of promises from Mugabe. Each time he has spat into their mouths even as they pronounced on the “breakthroughs”. He has kicked them in the teeth and thumbed his nose at deadlines his lieutenants set in the quiet talks we are asked to believe have been taking place. Southern Africa’s mollycoddling of Mugabe displays macabre ridiculousness. Enough of this nonsense.

Not all change equals progress

After the unmitigated disaster of this year’s rugby World Cup expedition, last Friday’s upheavals in the sport’s administration were inevitable.

It would have taken a miracle to keep the heads of SA Rugby MD Rian Oberholzer, South African Rugby Football Union (Sarfu) president Silas Nkanunu and Springbok coach Rudolf Straueli attached to their rest of their bodies.

But the new order looks very much like the old. Brian van Rooyen’s ascension to the Sarfu presidency would be welcome were it not for the suspicion that he has the position thanks only to the backing of Louis Luyt. It is difficult not to see the hand of the former fertiliser king — whose relish for a battle and determination to settle old scores are vividly illustrated in his recent autobiography — behind the changes.

One of Van Rooyen’s first acts as president was to scrap the quota system and this week he announced that Sarfu’s broad-based inquiry into racism in rugby and Kamp Staaldraad would revert to being an internal committee handled by the union.

In addition, four candidates were named for the position of Springbok coach. If we accept that Nick Mallett was sounded out but refused the post — rather than being overlooked — and that Heyneke Meyer and Dumisani Mhani are too inexperienced for the job, it looks like a straight race between Chester Williams and André Markgraaff.

Williams has had a lot of success with the Sevens side and might be unwilling to give that up security for what is rapidly turning into a poisoned chalice. Which leaves Markgraaff, a man whose previous tenure as coach ended when he was taped referring to black members of his union as “kaffirs” — and who is known to be close to Luyt.

These developments put more pressure on the government-appointed King commission, convened after the Geo Cronje/Quinton Davids affair, to look very closely at racism in rugby. Our ever expanding minister of sport should not be tempted to believe that all change equals progress.

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