Pat Buchanan correctly observed that “when loyalists defect and seek to profit from that defection, it is usually a sign of a failing presidency”.
His diagnosis is a fair measure and appropriate description of the position that Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, George Bush and President Thabo Mbeki currently find themselves in.
In the case of the latter, it could not have come at a more inconvenient time — a world economic crisis with major concerns for Africa in the form of the food and petrol prices, regional conflict arising from Mugabe’s refusal to hand over power that is the misbegotten progeny of our policy of “quiet diplomacy”, and local bedlam that owes much of its steam to both the global and regional concerns, as well as a failure of government to deliver on promises made to the masses of this country.
What this country desperately needs right now is a government that is not circumscribed by the liberation struggle, and identifies with the majority of the people of South Africa — in this case, the greater part of which comprises the poorer communities of this country.
While ordinarily awaiting the changing of the guard via an election we would expect a turbulent period, as we experienced with the recent example of PW Botha and FW De Klerk, unfortunately circumstances dictate that we can no longer afford the luxury of waiting that long.
The fair and just resolution of the problems in Zimbabwe has now become pivotal to South Africa’s future; Mbeki has made it patently clear that he will continue to support Mugabe and the Zanu-PF, which is a source of major concern.
A strong and free Zimbabwe would relieve us of millions of exiles, provide a reliable trading partner and promote stability throughout the region. If you have regard to the strengthening of the rand each time the world hears positive news from Zimbabwe, and vice-versa when the Zanu-PF open their mouths, then this much is also the view of the world community.
A free Zimbabwe would attract much-needed aid and investment to Harare while freeing up valuable resources currently used to assist their exiles. These would then be available to assist our poorer communities and demonstrate the government’s commitment towards delivery.
Investment in a more stable region speaks for itself. Investors hate uncertainty and right now the message coming out of the SADC is that this region is made up of unreliable dictatorships or countries unwilling to help themselves or each other.
In the Business Day, we read about our president telling the G8 to step up the implementation of Nepad. Coming on the back of reports of our being the most xenophobic country in the world, advising the United Nations Security Council to ignore Zimbabwe and telling the US to butt out of Africa, I’m sure they must be racing for their chequebooks.
When this continent’s leaders start telling and showing the world that they want help for their people, rather than themselves and an elite few, that is the day they might start taking us seriously. Every time the world donates or gives aid it lands up lining the pockets of the people who gave rise to the need for it in the first place. Worse, whenever the international community puts forward suggestions as to possible local solutions, they get the middle finger.
Consider for example what a proposal by our government along the following lines would do for our standing in the world community: That we will take an extremely dim view of any further violence by Mugabe and the Zanu-PF and hereby call for international observers, monitors and peacekeepers in order to ensure a fair election.
The cost of Zimbabwe, for too many reasons to mention here, is a massive component of the ANC’s current problems on non-delivery to our poorer communities. Ironically, and if we stand by THESE PEOPLE, she could be our best friend, biggest ally and a huge boost to our economy.
To help ourselves while helping Zimbabwe we need a South African leader to stand up and be counted.
In terms of our local problems, we are witnessing exiles who refuse to even accept food from this government. Not only have they let down our poorer communities, as even Jacob Zuma found out when he called for calm, but angered an entire continent as I witnessed when I appeared on a show on xenophobia for the BBC recently.
Wherever you look, be it at Polokwane, Bloemfontein (ANCYL) or many other ANC elections, the party comes across as being at war with itself. It needs a decisive leader to call the party to order and conduct itself as a ruling party befitting its history, as well as the great leaders of its past, sending out a message to its followers, the vast majority of South Africans, that in a calm, dignified, firm and friendly way both here and abroad it will tackle the areas of concern.
Jacob Zuma, with strong support from the likes of Winnie Mandela, Motlanthe, Nzimande, Vavi, Sexwale and Ramaphosa, can provide that leadership. Because even though they do understand the debt they owe the Zanu-PF, they also know that there is a bigger debt that needs settling here — the one owed to the masses who comprise the poorer communities of South Africa.
Leaving aside prejudices against them, people will be hard-pressed to doubt their courage, which was clearly there for all to see during apartheid. With experience there can be no doubting that they are demonstrating far more maturity.
Strong leadership also means they have to tackle a host of other areas immediately, ranging from corruption, redistribution, cronyism, crime to electricity and health; in each case leaving no doubt that there will be accountability for all.
In terms of our relationship with the world, I am not asking South Africa to vote Western, against China and Russia, or anything else. Quite the contrary — I’m asking that we look at each issue on its merits so that, for example, we don’t vote against resolutions seeking to assist victims of rape and homophobia. That we respect the world view rather than a handful of self-interested dictators when it comes to issues like Zimbabwe. That South Africa be considered a mature democracy that can be relied upon to do the right thing.
As we lead, so Africa may, and here’s the hope, follow.
South Africans of all races agree that we would hate to land up like Zimbabwe. The way to avoid it is to start doing what is in the interests of the people, so that they don’t think the government is made up of a bunch of cronies who take everything for themselves and aren’t accountable to anyone. Target the areas that concern us all and take the measures, sometimes unpopular, that need to be taken.
This cannot be achieved with a failing presidency. All the ANC will get out of that is a means of deflecting blame while possibly allowing one of the biggest disasters in our history to take place — the continuation of the Zimbabwean debacle. If that should transpire, the new government will be drowning in its aftermath.
And if that be so, who will give a damn about who is to blame for it?