Mbeki Remembering Mugabe: Nostalgia and Talking Back at Blair
By Takura Zhangazha
South Africa’s former president Thabo Mbeki recently gave a relatively brief speech on the legacy of the late Robert Mugabe. He was speaking at a memorial service organized by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in Durban, South Africa.
Mbeki’s speech and probable future interviews on Mugabe was always going to be highly anticipated. Not only because as president of South Africa and in various capacities within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) he was pivotal in defending what he considered Zimbabwe’s sovereignty.
By default this was also seen to be a defense of Mugabes leadership by Western superpowers.
And as expected in his eulogy Mbeki was always going to touch on the shared history of the ANC and Zimbabwe’s liberation movements. Including the all important post Zimbabwe independence decision under Mugabe’s leadership to delay a radical land reform process in order not to railroad the independence negotiations of South Africa.
He however made a rather outlandish statement by saying that not a single Zimbabwean wanted Robert Mugabe deposed from power. And that such a motive was largely motivated by ‘outsiders’. He also made reference to the media as being key in this narrative of Mugabe’s ouster and that even the main opposition political outfit, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) wanted help to help ‘us find each other’. As opposed to seeing the back of Mugabe. With his own emphasis as of old that the ANC during his leadership was keen on the reality that the people of Zimbabwe be allowed to determine their own destiny.
Mbeki also mentioned the Global Political Agreement for which he was SADC’s appointed mediator, as showing in part the character of the country that Mugabe wanted to leave behind as his legacy. While not going into its details, it was evident that Mbeki valued the GPA and the reforms it brought to Zimbabwe. However to imply that it was part of Mugabes vision might be taking things a tad too far as this was also co-authored by opposition leaders. And in any event, it was to be a short lived political arrangement that Mugabe was happy to see the back off, apart from constitutional amendments that allowed him to retain the executive presidency.
But perhaps that is all moot and for the historians to adjudge as to the GPA’s durability and legacy.
The most controversial point that Mbeki raised in his speech was that at some point former British prime minister Tony Blair had some sort of plan to use force to effect political change in Zimbabwe. (It would be useful to also remember that they were once very good friends espousing the ‘third way’ in global development policies.)
Citing a retired general who stated in his memoirs that he was surprised that Blair had asked him of the feasibility of military intervention in Zimbabwe, Mbeki sarcastically makes the comment that Blair would deny this.
Soon after Mbeki’s lecture, a former minister in Blair’s cabinet Peter Hain tweeted that it was ‘fantasy’ that Britain ever considered an invasion of Zimbabwe.
The good thing for Zimbabweans, regardless of whoever is telling the truth, is that there was no military invasion of our country. Iraqi, Libya or Afghanistan style. And for that we owe SADC and probably Mbeki himself a lot.
What I also found intriguing was the Pan African narrative that Mbeki intended to demonstrate full knowledge of. And the inference of the necessity of compromise and learning from each other of the main liberation movements in the region. It was almost as though Mbeki knows that what he values as the actions of Pan African solidarity of old together with an attendant nationalist consciousness is dying.
The only catch is that there are many reasons for this, which include but are not limited to the fact our nationalist leaders failed to grasp generational praxis. That is, the ability of the leaders to build organizations that function organically and with an understanding that democratic value systems transcend one person’s particular leadership.
The deficit in this preferred understanding are glaringly clear with the continued specter of xenophobia in South Africa and undelivered promises of liberations struggles across generations. And more significantly in our leaders’ latter day tragic embrace of neo-liberalism as inevitable and without an alternative.
Takura Zhangazha, a political commentator writes in his personal capacity.