Chairman Mao once famously remarked that it was too soon to know what to make of the influence of the French Revolution in contemporary politics.
Considering that Mao made the remark in the 1950s and the revolution he was talking about ended in 1799, the Chinese Communist Party leader must have been a very patient man.
I wonder what he would make of the two-week-old Zimbabwean governance talks that have already been described by some as meaningless.
This pessimism owes as much to Robert Mugabe’s historical intransigence as it does to the South African lie that we are intrinsically better than Zimbabwe.
That is why the fear of “becoming Zimbabwe” or the oft-repeated Zanufication of the ANC has become part of common language. These epithets are meant as warnings of falling standards of the state and of the party.
But with Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change talking, Zimbabwe has become us. The MDC has been ANC-ised. We were once there. Like the Zimbabweans, a murderous bunch that could not be bothered by niceties, such as sovereignty or borders, once ruled us.
Mugabe is a bad man. Make no mistake. But who is to say that FW de Klerk or PW Botha or any of their Cabinet ministers were saints?
We, the representatives of the South African oppressed, could sit down with the likes of De Klerk and Botha when their hands were dripping with the blood of South Africans whose only sin was to refuse to accept white privilege over black want as the natural order of things.
Some of the self-righteous voices who are condemning talking to Mugabe are the same ones that call Nelson Mandela a saint because he was willing to talk to Botha and later De Klerk.
The process is further complicated by their hatred for President Thabo Mbeki, whose Africanist tendencies make him a skunk among those who have appropriated to themselves the right to judge what the “right amount” of being an Africanist should be. It would vindicate their hate for Mbeki if the process were to fail.
A short recollection of history, or a reading of Peter Harris’s excellent story of the Delmas Four –the story of ANC cadres who deemed themselves prisoners of war and chose not to partake in their own trial even if it meant being hanged — could jolt their memories about what a murderous regime the South African government was until 1994.
But for some reason there are those who would like to believe that South African political thugs were more virtuous than Mugabe.
They seem to have conveniently forgotten about police hit squads that operated with impunity, knowing that their actions were sanctioned at the very top.
It was on PW’s watch that we had the longest state of emergency in the country’s history and when thousands — such as David Webster, for one — died and others disappeared or were maimed for life.
Botha got a state funeral when his long-awaited death finally arrived.
It was under De Klerk that sleeping children who were supposed to have been Azanian People’s Liberation Army cadres were shot in cold blood in Mthatha.
The Boipatong massacre and the many train massacres were funded by a government whose sole aim was to preserve white privilege. Yet, knowing all this, we had the Groote Schuur Minute and later the two Codesas.
Knowing that Mao had warned that power grows out of a barrel of a gun and that nothing lost on the battlefield could be regained on the negotiating table, we reluctantly allowed for a political solution to come from the table.
As a consequence, Mandela raised De Klerk’s blood-soaked hand in that unforgettable moment in May 1994 - and Thabo Mbeki became the first deputy president of the democratic Republic.
There are many who were rightfully repulsed by the sight.
But our personal preferences have no place in the requirements of nationhood.
Mandela led by example in that regard. We called him all sorts of names short of a deity itself because it was remarkable for a man who had gone through what he had to look beyond the hate. He set the standard.
For his part De Klerk walked away with a Nobel Peace Prize, despite having defended his decision to give the go-ahead for the murder of the Mthatha children, saying “it was a clinical security decision based on hard information”.
I reiterate, this is not meant to justify the acts of Mugabe, a man who has murdered thousands of his compatriots simply because they could trace their ancestors to KwaZulu-Natal.
The point is that in the making of nations, something has to give. It cannot be business as usual.
Slogans are great for mobilising support but are hot air if a nation is to be born. Though there are similarities, such as stolen elections, the Zimbabwe situation differs somewhat from the Kenyan process. Zimbabwe is a nation at war with itself and one election process will not be enough to take it where it needs to go.
As we learned in South Africa, self-righteousness is the last thing you need if you are to heal a divided nation. Zimbabwe needs statesmen not scorecard keepers. Besides, there are many who have already offered the latter services.
Writing on a different subject, academic and commentator Xolela Mangcu approvingly quotes Benedict Anderson’s thesis that the formation of nations is a process of remembering and forgetting.
Writes Mangcu: “All nations have gruesome stories they must remember in order to forget, and forget precisely because they remember.”
As South Africans we know this too well. Unfortunately some of our compatriots choose only to forget.