Mbeki’s mediation role – that of cringing supplicant

LET there be no misunderstanding about SA's position in the Zimbabwean crisis: Robert Mugabe has brought SA's government to its diplomatic knees and reduced President Thabo Mbeki's regional leadership role to that of a cringing supplicant, begging for co-operation, says Business Day Johannesburg, in its leader on Monday, June 30.

Mbeki’s intercession at the United Nations Security Council to prevent it from declaring Mugabe’s regime illegitimate, and his lobbying the African Union (AU) to permit the Zimbabwean status quo to remain at its summit in Egypt this week, serve only to confirm his submission to Mugabe.

Mbeki has always thought he could finesse Zimbabwe. He distrusts the Movement for Democratic Change of Morgan Tsvangirai and has actively sought to maintain a role in government for Zanu (PF). Mugabe has been promising him it’ll happen and our deluded leader believes him, no matter how often he gets let down.

Now, his moral and political defeat at the hands of a petty despot is as ignominious and as humiliating as any on the battlefield. And it is a defeat into which Mbeki’s cowardly leadership has marched this country and led to the slaughter of the most vulnerable members of Zimbabwean society.

It is a defeat that has shamed the heroes of SA’s and Zimbabwe’s liberation struggles and threatens to undo the defining character of our societies, of victory over tyranny and human bondage, and a striving for a just and egalitarian future. It is a defeat for which Zimbabweans and South Africans will pay for years to come.

However much Mbeki and other apologists for Mugabe wish to assure the world that this is the endgame, it is far from over. At every round of appeasement and resounding failure of quiet diplomacy, the junta’s hand has been strengthened; it has proven that it will pursue venal and self-preserving interests until it has squeezed every last drop of blood out of the people and starts to consume itself.

The price for SA is that its credibility in mediating in the Zimbabwean crisis is lost, along with its status as regional leader.

By backing Mugabe, Mbeki has made his dream of an African renaissance a mere delusion of grandeur. The opportunity created by SA’s liberation to free Africa of stereotypical political violence and the archetypal tin-pot dictator is lost.

Mbeki’s insistence that SA and the world had no business interfering with the internal affairs of Zimbabwe has become a self-fulfilling prophecy: now there is nothing he can do to prevent the Zimbabwean crisis playing out to a tragic end.

Of course, his game is clear. Suffer, now, the ignominy of Mugabe’s election victory” for the greater good. This time, for sure, he will go and Mbeki’ s diplomacy will triumph. Unfortunately, that isn’t what Zimbabweans voted for in March. They voted Zanu (PF) out of office — Mbeki stepped in and brought them back.

SA is clearly no longer in a position to mediate or intervene effectively. Yet the lesser option does not mean nothing is to be done. Despite Mbeki’s diplomatic defeat and lack of credibility as a regional leader, and despite the fact that he has Zimbabwean blood on his hands, he still has a voice.

Mbeki should, and must, publicly demand an end to the brutality. He should then acknowledge Tsvangirai’s electoral victory, and seek his advice on how to proceed.

An about-turn in his stance will not redeem Mbeki’s failure, but it would, even at this late stage, be the right thing to do. Unfortunately for him, Mbeki is no Henry Kissinger, and realpolitik is a game best played by the strong.

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