27 January, 2013

Pretoria's Support to ZANU-PF

by Hussein Solomon

I can still remember those heady days which brought an end to the odious apartheid regime, when South Africa’s first democratically-elected president, Nelson Mandela, enunciated the foreign policy principles of the post-apartheid state: human rights was to be both the bedrock of the new policy and the moral compass to guide the affairs of state.

Anti-apartheid activists such as myself were of the opinion that the new democratic South Africa would not only serve as a bastion of freedom in the region but through its foreign policy would be able to project those values onto the rest of the continent. This was not to be. In recent years, we have chosen to protect dictators like Sudan’s Omar el Bashir and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. For ordinary Zimbabweans who had suffered much in the cause of the anti-apartheid struggle, it must be a bitter irony that those now in power in South Africa have chosen to support their oppressors in the form of a corrupt ZANU-PF under the geriatric leadership of Robert Mugabe.

I refer, of course, to this week’s revelations that the South African Air Force is transferring a fleet of Alouette III helicopters to the Zimbabwean military. What makes this gift particularly ominous is that fact that the Zimbabwean military is well-known to be partisan and the top structures of its armed forces have made clear their support to ZANU-PF. The political opposition in Zimbabwe is right to question Pretoria’s “generosity” knowing full well that Zimbabwe is on the eve of an election and that the military can now deploy these “gifts” in the service of ZANU-PF. To compound matters there is abundant evidence that the intimidation against Zimbabwe’s political opposition has escalated in recent weeks.

Moreover, as a Southern African Development Community (SADC) mediator, how could Pretoria possibly be seen as neutral in the ongoing tension between ZANU-PF and the political opposition? Put simply, how can Pretoria be viewed as referee and player at the same time?

As a South African I am ashamed that the Zuma presidency has strayed so far from the founding principles of our democratic state enunciated by Nelson Mandela. Our actions, too, also betray our anti-apartheid struggle and its noble ideals. This is a sad day for South Africa, Zimbabwe and the whole of the Southern African region.

07 January, 2013

Another Wasted Year for SADC

by Hussein Solomon

Exiled Zimbabwean writer Chenjerai Hove recently lamented that politics in his native country was not about persuasion but about forcing people to shout allegiance at the barrel of a gun. Indeed this trend seems to be escalating as ruling party ZANU-PF thugs and their allies in the security services seek to crush dissent by intimidation in the run-up to elections later this year. Doubts over the fairness of the upcoming elections were further raised with the resignation of Reginald Austin, a respected lawyer, who also served as the head of the country’s Human Rights Commission. He quit his post in protest at the lack of independence and lack of resources given to his Commission. Clearly the ruling ZANU-PF party of octogenarian Robert Mugabe cares little for human rights, democracy and Zimbabwe’s hapless citizens.

In all this, the much vaunted Southern African Development Community (SADC) is nowhere to be seen. From the very beginning its approach to the crisis in Zimbabwe vacillated from the limp-wristed in its dealings with Mugabe and his cronies to support to this odious regime. An example of the latter occurred when one of SADC’s own institutions, its Tribunal, declared that Harare’s land seizures to be illegal. In response, SADC moved quickly to dismantle its own Tribunal. It is this same SADC which proudly declared that it stood for the respect of human rights. It seems that where human rights conflicts with the demands of an authoritarian and rapacious state – it is the latter which prevails.

A similar situation is fast developing in the tiny Kingdom of Swaziland – home of Africa’s last remaining feudal monarch – King Mswati III. Whilst excruciating poverty is the lot of the majority of Swazis, the king and his wives and various members of the ruling family live in opulent luxury. One Swazi student I spoke to compared the situation to France in July 1789 – just before the storming of the Bastille. He may be right. As in France, ordinary Swazis are refusing to take this any longer and protests and violent crackdowns on the part of the authorities have become the norm. Where is SADC in this? Nowhere! There is no leadership emanating from Gaborone, the site of SADC’s headquarters, regarding the unfolding tragedy in Swaziland.

Meanwhile, the lack of strategic direction in SADC itself is nowhere more evident than in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which after the secession of South from North Sudan, is Africa’s last country. Despite the fact that the situation in the east of the country where Tutsi-dominated M-23 rebels have captured large swathes of territory has dominated SADC’s Extraordinary Summit on 7th and 8th December 2012, the reality is that it does not seem to understand the complexity of the crisis – and refuses to acknowledge the fact that President Joseph Kabila’s government has made the crisis worse with its inflamed xenophobic rhetoric against the Banyamulenge Tutsi living in the east who have made common cause with their kinsmen in neighbouring Rwanda rather than trust the government in Kinshasa with their protection. Under the circumstances, its is President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda playing a key role to end the crisis in the DRC as opposed to SADC.

2012 will surely go down as another wasted year for SADC.