Quiet diplomacy or quiet complicity

Then hundreds of people were butchered... Ramaphosa needs to show real leadership

President Cyril Ramaphosa (GCIS) (Siyabulela Duda)

Saturday 12 April 2008, will forever be the day that most Zimbabweans would wish had never happened, and will forever be embedded in their minds as the day that a prominent and respectable statesman had an opportunity of a lifetime to save the lives of numerous citizens of a fellow southern African country, but messed it up in a grand manner, by denying the existence of a crisis – such that, barely two months later, hundreds of innocent civilians had been butchered, in the one of the most cold-hearted atrocities ever witnessed in post-independence Zimbabwe.

When Zimbabweans went to the polls, two weeks prior, to choose a president, they had already spent the past eight years imploring the international community – with special focus on regional organizations, namely the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), and African Union (AU) – to regard the catastrophic and dangerous appalling human rights and electoral situation in the country with the seriousness it deserved – yet, what they received was deafening silence at worst, and some cosmetic and ineffectual diplomatic endeavors at best.

Most Zimbabweans pinned their hopes on South Africa (SA) – being their biggest trading partner, and the strongest economy, both in the region and on the continent, at the time – to play an expected big brother leadership role in resolving the clearly ticking time-bomb, that was bound to explode any time, as the Robert Gabriel Mugabe tyrannical regime unleashed its rein of terror on its own citizenry, particularly those deemed opposition supporters, with reckless impunity.

However, all that was so tragically witnessed was disturbing indifference from then SA president Thabo Mbeki, who disingenuously practised what he preferred calling ‘quiet diplomacy’, which proved to be nothing more than veiled support for the continued repression of the Zimbabwean people by their own leaders – who were supposed to protect them – as it became unequivocally certain that, so-called ‘quiet diplomacy’ without any teeth, censuring, and action is useless.

In fact, it proved extremely dangerous – as, at times, it is far much better not to be involved in a crisis at all, than being involved, yet showing tacit approval for the heinous acts being committed – since this merely emboldens the perpetrator to even take them a notch higher.

Thus, when the 2008 presidential elections came, and it was clear that Mugabe had lost to the opposition’s Morgan Richard Tsvangirai – the electoral body withheld the official results for weeks – thereby, prompting Mbeki to issue his most infamous, “there is no crisis in Zimbabwe” statement, which gave the Mugabe regime confidence to undertake one of the most vicious barbaric attacks on an innocent people, with the resultant needless loss of hundreds of lives.

Oddly enough, on 11 June 2008 – barely two months after that most unfortunate proclamation – Mbeki made an embarrassing U-turn, now admitting that there was, indeed, a crisis in the country – an admission which set in motion subsequent negotiations for a Government of National Unity (GNU) between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, that was formed on 13 February 2009.

Of course, some will rush to say that Mbeki finally did a wonderful thing, as he managed to bring the adversaries together – ushering in a period of relative peace and stability – but, that would be insincere, as the main question should be, “Why did Mbeki flirt with this obviously volatile state of affairs, even appearing to be protecting Mugabe’s ruthlessness, and then only springing into action when hundreds of lives had already been massacred?”

Could these people – who were fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters – not have been spared, had those with the power and influence to exercise leadership, done was expected of them?

Fastforward to 10 August 2020, and the so-called ‘new dispensation’ of Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa – which itself, came to power through a military coup d’etat that toppled Mugabe (then, forcing some of us to ask, “Who really in Zimbabwe harbours illegal regime change agendas?”) – is under both local and global scrutiny on allegations of state sponsored violence and brutality perperated on innocent civilians, journalists, lawyers, as well as opposition, human rights, and labour activists – especially, those who have fearlessly exposed corruption at the highest echelons of power, and those who have gallantly stood up and spoken out against government maladministration-induced poverty.

The country’s citizens – already living under a dark cloud of fear for as long as they can remember, but faced with a sudden resurgence of state savagery – are, again, calling upon the international community, particularly SADC and AU, to assist them, and save them from the sadistic hands of their own leaders – as these are in gross violation of Zimbabwe’s own constitution, 2001 SADC protocol on Politics, Defence, and Security, 1981 African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, as well as the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance.

There was renewed hope when the current AU chairman, South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa, wisely sent his envoys, Sydney Mufamadi and Baleka Mbete, to Zimbabwe on 10 August 2020, to meet with the country’s leadership, and other stakeholders, to discuss this grave matter.

However, that hope soon turned into apprehension, as news came out that the delegation had only met the Zimbabwean government – yet, a country’s leadership transcends merely those in the adminstration, but also the opposition, civil society, churches, media, and the victims themselves, who are all part of this equation…as without them, everything else is a grand sham, sheer water of time, and mere theatrics.

As to be expected, nightmares of the early 2000s Mbeki debacle immediately returned, as most Zimbabweans fear the dark days of useless ‘quiet diplomacy’ – which, was nothing more than ‘quiet approval’ of the brutality unleashed by the regime, inevitably leading to the massacring of hundreds of innocent lives.

Could this be Ramaphosa’s trajectory?

We earnestly pray that is not the case – as the people of Zimbabwe have shed enough tears, and shed enough blood – just to keep a power-hungry, kleptomaniac, and blood-thirsty elitist opportunistic ruling clique in power.

What else can a perpetually traumatized and savaged population think, when a supposed mediator only listens to the perpetrator, yet does not bother with the victims? Yes, talk to the perpetrator, but also talk to the witnesses, and most importantly, talk to the victims.

As a crying people of Zimbabwe – forced to live under a constant and unending cloud of repression, subjugation, and brutality, since the colonial era – we sincerely implore all those who genuinely care about our lives, to be honest brokers in this crisis, since that is exactly what it is – because, anything else, would just be a thumbs up to further oppression, which can only be a serious threat to both the country’s and region’s peace, security, and stability.

Ramaphosa needs to learn from the lethal mistakes of Mbeki, and not repeat them – as the crisis in Zimbabwe is real.

The Zimbabwe regime is not a victim of some Western conspiracy, but rather the citizens are the victims of their leaders.

There is no ‘illegal regime change agenda’ at play here, but an impoverished starving people who can not take this suffering anymore. Besides, the only ones to actually carry out any semblance of ‘illegal regime change’ are the ones in power today, who staged a coup d’etat in November 2017.

All the people want is a just, fair, and free society – as espoused in the ideals of the liberation struggle – where everyone shares in the national cake (and not just the ruling elite), can freely express themselves without fear of reprisal, and are paid what they deserve.

That’s all we have ever clamoured for…and those want to remove each other from power should not involve us in their own plots, and use that as justification to brutalize us. The real issue is simple – #ZimbabweanLivesMatter. Period.

© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263733399640 / +263715667700, or Calls Only: +263782283975, or email: [email protected]

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