“Why SADC leaders support Robert Mugabe”

29 Apr 2007

Dear Editor

There has been international outrage against African leaders, especially those in the SADC region, over their failure to castigate Zimbabwean President Mugabe for his continued dictatorial behaviour towards opposition in his country.
These criticisms have intensified in recent weeks following the detention of Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara; two men who lead two factions within the MDC.

Tsvangirai’s re-arranged face (a clear reflection of the police heavy handedness and cruelty) shown on television world wide bears testimony to Mugabe’s increased brutality and determination to completely smash and silence any voices of dissent coming from the opposition or anybody who dares challenge his chaotic leadership. The old man has, in recent years, become so paranoid that any form of opposition would be met with the most brutal response as was the case with the two opposition leaders and some of their lieutenants.

The question however, everyone is asking is why have the SADC leaders in particular not taken their colleague to task in the wake of such acts of barbarism and brutality against his own people?
Whilst we all ponder over this question, the most intriguing thing nevertheless is that the SADC leaders confronted with this whole political drama have continued to show unwavering support for their wayward colleague.

The most logical and pragmatic thing one would have expected is for these leaders to have long told President Mugabe to go to hell, more so that the problems ravaging his country have adversely affected some of the neighbouring countries notably, Botswana and South Africa. These countries continue to witness daily influx of illegal Zimbabwean immigrants who are desperate for whatever nature of jobs they could lay their hands on. Of course, some of them take advantage of the chaotic situation to engage in criminal activities, some of which are of the most heinous variety.

As I have already stated, in spite of these glaring abuse of human rights, the SADC leaders have consistently stood by their man in Zimbabwe, and my conviction is they will not budge from their position now or at any point in time in the near future. There are reasons for this, which I wish to share with the reader.

The first real reason in my view dates back to the strong relationship and ties during the liberation struggles waged against some of the most repressive and brutal white regimes which legislated the most outrageous laws ever passed against humanity in the world. The current leadership in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Mozambique are all products of war against illegal white occupation.

Some of the comrades in these liberation movements even fought alongside each other to evict the oppressors from their countries. The ZANLA forces of Mugabe, for instance, honed their guerrilla skills and tactics by fighting alongside FRELIMO against the Portuguese illegal occupation of Mozambique, while the ANC’s Umkontho we Sizwe and the ZIPRA forces of Joshua Nkomo based in Zambia also had very close ties during this period of total carnage and onslaught by the white regimes against the defenceless blacks.

Another factor that bound them together was their socialist ideological perspective, even though all of them today practice something different from what they preached then. They still continue to regard each other as comrades and this has become the umbilical cord that binds them together.

Lastly, but very importantly during that period of tribulation, they got most of their support in the form of military assistance from the same source mainly the now defunct Soviet Union, China, Cuba and others which were more socialist inclined.

To complicate the situation even further, the United States even supported UNITA’s rebel leader Jonas Savimbi in the civil war against the MPLA legally constituted and mandated government in Angola which is still the current government.

For anyone therefore, to expect the Angolan leadership to criticise Mugabe under pressure from the Americans is just unreasonable. In spite of the relatively normalised relationships between the western countries particularly, the USA and Britain and these former liberation organisations, there is still so much mistrust since the dark days of the struggle. It must be noted here that just before he retired, former Namibian President Sam Nujoma told Prime Minister Blair to his face that should any country dare invade Zimbabwe his army would militarily rally behind Mugabe to crash such aggression.

Botswana, in particular, which is directly affected by the volatile situation prevailing in Zimbabwe, finds itself in an awkward position in this whole situation, first because it’s certainly outside the club of friends or former liberation movements. Just to digress a bit, I wish to argue here that the diversion of Zimbabwean railway activities from Botswana to Beira to link up South Africa railways was indeed confirmation of the position.

The demands by our media, politicians, including those of the ruling party calling on President Mogae to openly condemn Mugabe are just wishful thinking as Botswana just doesn’t wield any political influence in the SADC. In fact, Botswana is playing it safe by not being confrontational to Mugabe in view of the fact even if Mugabe was to rescind to international pressure and sanctions and therefore, resign (which of course is just a dream); chances are that ZANU-PF will continue to win the elections not just through rigging, but mainly because the opposition is divided. This would mean that a ZANU government even without Mugabe would possibly punish Botswana economically for its previous utterances against its leader and party.

By the way, an economically and politically stable Zimbabwe with its population of 12 million plus would certainly benefit Botswana’s economic prosperity, hence President Mogae’s cautious approach to the volatile situation in Zimbabwe. As it is, he would rather appease Mugabe as he does so often than to antagonise him.

The question then is what can be done to bring back sanity and democracy to Zimbabwe? My view is that only Zimbabweans can bring down Mugabe to his knees through the ballot box, and I believe the voters there have previously shown that they can do it, but have been let down by the split in the opposition. The MDC split was a complete disaster amidst the chaotic situation in Zimbabwe. While the leadership of both MDC factions continue to cry wolf, my analysis of the situation is that they are largely to blame as their split has given ZANU-PF the impetus and leverage to rebuild itself.

Civil society in Zimbabwe including the church need to be heard rather than to believe it’s a problem of the politicians alone. Of course I understand the major problem facing civil society in general including in Botswana, it is usually led by middle class which is highly notorious for hibernating under trying political upheavals. A large number of the middle class in Zimbabwe have skipped the country with their children to look for jobs and education mainly in Western countries leaving the poor unemployed or the general masses led by the divided opposition to face the wrath of the Mugabe regime. They have been given political asylum in such countries as America, Britain, Canada, and Australia and can only pray for things to improve before they could return to the motherland with accumulated wealth to join the poor who remained behind to face the merciless regime. Bare-knuckle fighting is not in the vocabulary of the middle class as they are preoccupied with accumulation of wealth. As long as they continue to play this hide and seek kind of game, Mugabe’s leadership will certainly be prolonged.

In summary, only reconciliation of the opposition, the return of the middle class from luxury abroad to participate in the struggle and the active participation of the local church will bring glory to the citizens of Zimbabwe. The current sanctions imposed by the west on those in leadership, have dismally failed to weaken Mugabe, and international hope that African leaders would put pressure on the regime remains just another hope as Mugabe matches on with the full support of his SADC counterparts in total defiance of international pressure to respect the rule of law.

Philip Bulawa
Botswana Congress Party
Townsville
Australia.