Mbeki's prescient warning to Bob

A scathing critique of President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF written by President Thabo Mbeki sheds new light on the South African leader’s private view of the Zimbabwean crisis.

The 2001 discussion document was penned by Mbeki as a “humble contribution to the work that Zanu-PF must carry out”.

To be published in the June edition of New Agenda, it was leaked to the Mail & Guardian this week.

It appears to clear Mbeki of the charge of being a covert admirer of Mugabe’s dictatorial regime. But it raises major questions about why he has doggedly pursued a policy of appeasement—which never looked like succeeding and has done South Africa’s international standing great harm.

In the document Mbeki clearly sympathises with Zanu-PF as “the party of revolution”.
Indeed, his perspective is that through its economic mismanagement and political mistakes, the ruling party is fuelling the rise of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

But he encourages Mugabe to work with the MDC and expand Zimbabwe’s international “circle of friends”. He warns the Zimbabwean leader not to drive anyone away on the basis that they are guilty of “imperialist machinations aimed at limiting national sovereignty”.

“To resort to anti-imperialist rhetoric will not solve the problems of Zimbabwe but may compound them.”

Mbeki warns that Zanu-PF has lost the backing of most Zimbabweans and has been taken over by “war veterans” responsible for violence and intimidation. There is a “clear alienation of the masses from the system of governance”, giving scope for the formation of the MDC.

“The disjuncture among the ruling party, the state machinery and the people is also expressed by evidence of corruption within the public sector and the desertion of large numbers of public sector workers to the opposition party,” he writes.

Interestingly, given his reluctance to criticise Mugabe’s human rights abuses publicly, Mbeki argues that Zanu-PF has become “an opponent of the democratic institutions of governance and democratic processes — for whose establishment many militants lay down their lives”.

Perceptions that Mugabe is a dictator “will inform the hostile global response to Zimbabwe ... it will not diminish in its intensity but will get worse”.

“The party must admit to itself that it has created the condition for others to reach these conclusions,” he says. He urges Mugabe to encourage free, open and critical discussion and ensure press freedom.

The document asks whether it is “strategically and tactically correct” for Zimbabwe to be in confrontation with the United Kingdom.

It also reminds Mugabe of the potential fallout for South Africa—a worsening economic crisis in the form of migration, pressures on the rand and “regional contagion”.

Mbeki remarks that although Zimbabwe played a leading role in Africa after independence, it is now viewed as a country in crisis, threatened by social and economic collapse.

“Support in Africa is lukewarm and hesitant, while countries in Southern Africa are fearful of the consequences of a deeper crisis in Zimbabwe. Globally it is presented as a negative factor in the context of the development of Southern Africa and Africa,” he writes.

Read the document (PDF)

The Mbeki-Mugabe Papers

He traces the start of Zimbabwe’s problems to its economic policies. Zanu-PF wanted to “do what it could to quickly improve the quality of life of the black majority”, initially using its budget and donors to fund education, health, welfare and rural development programmes and improve public sector salaries, school enrolment and black farmers’ maize output.

But rising expenditure led to a high budget deficit and ultimately the collapse of social services. When the budget could no longer carry the burden the government was forced to call on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for help.

“What has seemed to be the fertiliser that ensured the growth of these services would turn out to be the toxic substance that would kill these services,” Mbeki writes.

He also criticises the Zimbabwean government’s lack of efforts to encourage the growth of the productive sector.

Underscoring falling voter turnout in elections, Mbeki says Zanu-PF has grown so complacent that “they no longer need the conscious defence of the mobilised masses”.

He warns that the 2000 parliamentary election showed that almost half Zimbabwe’s population had lost confidence in the ruling party.

“As membership of the party of revolution translated into access to positions of employment, resources and authority, so did the structures of the party begin to atrophy and to wither away as representatives of the popular will.”

Mbeki also accuses Mugabe of eroding democratic practices within his own ranks.

“This is what has elevated the ‘war veterans’ to the position they now occupy as the ‘true’ representative of the revolutionary project in Zimbabwe. The war veterans have achieved a level of autonomy that further weakens the capacity of the party of the revolution to influence and lead the masses of the people.”

He accuses the veterans of attracting the “lumpenproletariat”—criminal elements—into its ranks and tells Zanu-PF to distance itself from them.

Mbeki suggests that Zimbabwe does not have the strength to confront and defeat the UK and that a conflictual relationship will discourage the developed world from helping to resolve Zimbabwe’s land question.

He suggests that Zanu-PF soften its critical stance on the IMF because “in reality, it cannot do without support and assistance from the IMF”.

Zimbabwe cannot afford to “end up in a situation of isolation, confronted by an array of international forces she cannot defeat, condemned to sink into an ever-deepening social and economic crisis”, he writes.

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