African Democracy

July 16, 2008

Business as usual in Pretoria

Filed under: South Africa — africandemocrat @ 11:22 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

At the opening of Parliament in Cape Town this year, South Africa’s President Mbeki announced his theme for this year as , “Business Unusual”.

South Africa had just experienced more than a week of electricity shortages and mines were forced to close down their operations for safety reasons.  Mbeki promised to deal with issues that directly impact the lives of South Africans promptly and effectively.

Since then, Mbeki has survived a serious discussion by the ANC/COSATU/SACP alliance to force him to stand down.  The alliance partners decided that the political instability that would result from firing him would be worse than leaving him to finish his term in office.

In December 2007, the African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party, met in the Limpopo Province capital of Polokwane and elected Jacob Zuma to be its President.  While Jacob Zuma enjoys popular support within the ANC and alliance partners the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party and also amongst his fellow Zulus in Kwazulu-Natal Province, surveys have indicated that he doesn’t have the same support in the rest of South Africa.

South Africans are nervous of “The Showerman” as he has been dubbed because of his bizarre claim that taking a shower after having sex with a woman known to be HIV positive would protect him from HIV infection.  Zuma is due to stand trial for corruption, and his personal life has been in the spotlight in two very public trials.  It has been demonstrated in court that Zuma is quite incompetent at budgeting for his own household and hence vulnerable to the largesse of donors or those offering bribes.  The rape trial ended with his acquittal, but illustrated that Zuma tends to not know when it is prudent to keep his pants zipped.

Nevertheless, the way in which President Mbeki has gone about his business this year is causing many South Africans to think that Zuma, for all his blatent faults, might very well be a better President than Mbeki has been.

Mbeki’s role as the SADC-appointed mediator for Zimbabwe is widely criticised within South Africa.  Many, if not most, South Africans think that he is biased towards Robert Mugabe and should recuse himself.  He has refused to utter any public condemnation of the ZANU-PF brutality whatsoever.  At least Zuma has done that.  It illustrates that having Mbeki as President of SA and designated mediator for Zimbabwe is a profound conflict of interest.  He finds himself unable to act in South Africa’s interests because that would undermine his credibility as mediator.  Replacing him as chief negotiator in the Zimbabwe crisis with someone from outside the region such as Kofi Annan seems an eminently sensible action.

The way that Pretoria has handled the flood of refugees from Zimbabwe is incomprehensible.  Mbeki has stated that they are not refugees, but “economic migrants” seeking better opportunities in South Africa.  Maybe a few Zimbabweans have had better job offers in South Africa, but those few thousand economic migrants left years ago with legal papers.  The millions of Zimbabweans that have fled their country, entering South Africa illegally have been trying to escape from famine, grinding poverty and political violence.  They come to South Africa hoping to find safety and enough food to survive.

Instead, because the Mbeki government refuses to state categorically that there is indeed a crisis in Zimbabwe, political, economic and humanitarian, the Zimbabweans flooding into South Africa are refused refugee status, are treated as illegal immigrants, and South Africa continues to deport thousands back to Zimbabwe.

What South Africa should be doing for Zimbabweans is to recognise that they are indeed refugees from famine and politically motivated violence and set up refugee camps in the Limpopo Province.  There the refugees can be provided with shelter, clean water, food and basic medical care with the assistance of the international community.

But to do the right thing that South Africa is required to do as a signatory to treaties concerning refugees requires that Mbeki calls the situation in Zimbabwe a crisis and publically admits that Mugabe and his ZANU-PF military junta are indeed using violence against their fellow Zimbabweans.

That, President Mbeki, would be Business Unusual.  Instead, we’re likely to see the situation in Zimbabwe and in South Africa gradually deteriorate for the next 9 or 10 months until we finally get a new President. 

Pity the next person to be sworn in as President who has to clean up the mess that Mbeki looks likely to be leaving as his legacy.

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