At the weekend, former South African president Thabo Mbeki told young people at his eponymous Thabo Mbeki Foundation that he was against the idea of South Africans (or other foreigners for that matter) interfering in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe by seeking to influence leadership change.
More specifically, he took a stand against South Africans who said President Mugabe should step down from leading Zimbabwe, something that has become a habit of South Africa’s opposition figures such as Mmusi Maimane of the Democratic Alliance and Julius Malema of the Economic Freedom Fighters.
Both men have made these pronouncements in recent times much to the delight of local opposition and its cheerleaders who revel in such misplaced solidarity which, as far as we understand, goes beyond mere camaraderie.
The solidarity has roots in regional opposition’s mutual tutelage and sponsorship by imperialist forces from the West. Former president Mbeki, who facilitated inter-party talks that led to the formation of the inclusive Government of Zanu-PF and the two MDC formations in 2009, was even more forthright.
He said: “I would fight with any South African who stands up to say: ‘I, as a South African, say Robert Mugabe must go’ . . . I say it is none of your business. It is the business of the people of Zimbabwe.”
Mbeki knows about the Zimbabwean situation, system and underpinnings better than many South Africans due to the role he played in the formation of the inclusive Government.
He is thus better qualified to talk about Zimbabwe than most South Africans — not to mention novices and mafikizolos like Maimane and Malema. Mbeki’s intervention can be understood in the context of his pan-African grounding and his remarkable statesmanship that has earned him a lot of respect in Africa.
He has been involved in a lot of diplomatic and conflict-resolution mechanisms. He certainly knows what he does. Mbeki has shown that he is a principled man.
In a matter like Zimbabwe’s where there is a lot of political capital to be made — and lost — it is tempting for politicians to go cheap and take the easy road.
There are a number of notable characters that have fallen for this in the Zimbabwean question, including the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. But Mbeki has resisted that and we do not underestimate the cost that has come with his principled and well-considered stance.
He is disliked in opposition circles, sometimes most bizarrely, for not having aided the regime change project which was driven by the West to unseat President Mugabe over the land reform, hence the unceasing effort to find a so-called reformist in Zanu-PF, given Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC-T embarrassing failure.
The West — United States, Britain and the European Union — wanted to use South Africa, a neighbour and regional power as a point country in the regime change agenda.
Mbeki would not be a willing tool. However, it would be remiss to mention Mbeki in isolation. South Africa as a state and the ruling party, the revolutionary party, the African National Congress, ought to get the credit they deserve for being ideologically clear and having a progressive foreign policy.
We recall Mbeki at some point saying that South Africa had done more for Zimbabwe than hostile Western countries.
Which is the point.
President Jacob Zuma and Kgalema Motlanthe, who had a stint in between Mbeki and Zuma in 2009, have all followed South Africa and ANC’s template and remained steadfast in refusing to be willing tools of the West.
This is very important and Zimbabwe remains grateful to South Africa and its visionary leaders.