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.