During last year’s presidential elections, Zambians demonstrated against Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe who had arrived in their capital for their new president’s inauguration while votes were still being counted. I wrote then that, by openly chiding Mugabe on African soil, Zambians were sending a subtle message to Zimbabweans and I stated that we had witnessed the beginning of a resistance to Mugabe’s useless populist rhetoric and behavior. I said that it would happen again. There comes a time when talking is deemed counterproductive and this is almost always after several attempts have been made to reason with a friend without success.
Another Mugabe humiliation by Africans on African soil came a couple of weeks ago at the last SADC Summit in Zimbabwe. It was a summit different from any other in that, for the first time, two African presidents supported each other in confronting, blaming and chiding Mugabe about misrule. South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, tired of the deafening noise from across Africa as to why “foreigners” were being brutalized and killed in South Africa, suddenly turned the tables on the whole of Africa and wondered what those foreigners were doing in South Africa in the first place. “As much as we have a problem that is alleged to be xenophobic, our sister countries contribute to this. Why are their citizens not in their countries?” Zuma asked. This is a question that Kgosi Kgafela should have answered in his rumbling article in last week’s Sunday Standard. “If a [foreigner] King is treated this way,” Kgafela asked, “what more of the ordinary foreigner from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Somalia, Ethiopia etc.?”
This is the same Kgafela whose flight to South Africa was caused by issues, including the illegal flogging of foreigners, who now wonders why a ‘foreigner king’ is treated in such a deplorable manner in South Africa. Instead, the lawyer king blames it all on corruption in South Africa. There is a saying in my Karanga language in Zimbabwe that says “mwana wa She muranda kumwe”,loosely translated to mean ‘a royal at home, a servant abroad’. I am glad that, at least, Kgafela was not as physically abused as he did to the Zimbabwean foreigners at his kgotla in Mochudi.
As Zuma was trying to get answers from regional leaders as to why foreigners were camped in South Africa, Mugabe tried to play his populist nonsense and weave his way out of a very disturbing issue in the region. Zuma, president of a country that I personally blame for prolonging the deadly fiasco in Zimbabwe by supporting Mugabe for business purposes, now wanted to make sure that Mugabe does not have any path out by blaming xenophobia on South Africa. SADC’s Vice Chair, Botswana President Ian Khama, immediately jumped into the fray as a stunned Mugabe was contemplating a response to Zuma. Khama, thankfully, was not as diplomatic as Zuma and went straight for the jugular, saying that it is “because of some of us who have mismanaged our own economies that we have an influx of foreigners into South Africa”.
Unbelievably, even Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi supported both presidents. SADC usually gives Mugabe standing ovations, especially South Africans who did so as recently as two weeks ago, just days before the xenophobic attacks. They always applaud him and laugh at his jokes while Zimbabweans are being killed by this man. No other country has propped up Mugabe more than South Africa, much as no other country propped up Ian Smith than South Africa. To hear a South African leader say these things in such a dismissive and angry manner about the man they have supported through his commission of genocide, through economic ruin of his country and human rights violations of people he is supposed to care for in his own country is something the world must take note of. To me, Zuma gave Mugabe a message that the old bugger should pay attention to.
But it is too late. The damage Mugabe did to Zimbabwe was achieved through the support of South Africa, which could easily have assisted Zimbabwe in the right direction but, instead, it sought to economically exploit Zimbabwe without a care to the political situation. As we can see, both in Zimbabwe and Botswana, that move backfired. We have problems now; problems that South Africa itself nurtured and encouraged. Xenophobia? Yes. Why?
Because, for 35 years, the African Union, SADC and, in particular, South Africa, encouraged Mugabe as he hurtled in the wrong direction. Tell me an African country, just one, that admires Mugabe’s economic policies and politics. Name just one! And, please do not quote Julius Malema; we are trying to be serious here, please. Ian Khama rightly told Mugabe that he should fix his economy because what happened in South Africa could happen in Botswana, adding that misrule and mismanagement of the economy is endangering the security of neighbouring countries. Khama was upset, and rightly so. He left the meeting after giving his contribution and flew back home.
When less is said, more is understood. Ian Khama, like most other leaders, has whispered in Mugabe’s ear over the years. But Mugabe loved to play a false character of Africa’s statesman while ruining his country and, as a result, complicating things for Zimbabwe’s neighbours. Khama left because he had no time to be lectured about the value of independence and how foreign countries are conspiring against Africa. Kgosi Kgafela should not have bothered to give us a dictionary’s explanation of the word because xenophobia is real, as he, himself has found out first hand. But I could not help feeling sad for Kgafela when he said, “When corruption victimises a duly crowned King with gross injustice…” Corruption? How na├»ve! Kgafela, Zwelithini, Mswati and other so-called “kings” must enjoy their time now because times are changing. People can no longer talk of royalty, something that comes by accident of birth, in the same breath as democracy. Our African kings and kgosi kgolos should not look at British royalty in the same way they do theirs. Our kings and chiefs are of tribes not nations and that is not kosher, especially when some of these royals receive monthly paychecks from government.
Taxpayers’ money turns any royal into a civil servant…the people’s servant. Besides, no king or chief is above the law. I believe that King Zwelithini of the Zulu tribe and who receives more than R65m from villagers as far away as Mmabatho and Messina where they don’t even know him will learn to appreciate his limits. Now, a democratically elected government is spending taxpayers’ money trying to contain incendiary outbursts by an unelected tribal leader whose comments affected the entire nation and continent even endangering the lives of South Africans outside its borders. The back and forth jocking for power between elected governments and traditional chiefs has to be stopped, much as Kgafela is intent on doing in Botswana. The unfortunate thing, though, is that in this day and age, chiefs are pawns that only exist to be used by government officials because, as I said earlier, no chief or king is above the law. The problem of xenophobia is not corruption; it is caused by presidents who abuse their people, economy and rule causing their own responsibilities to be taken care of by others elsewhere. I became a refugee in Botswana, not because of corruption, per se, but chiefly because of misrule and foreigners make it worse when they give Mugabe standing ovations. Ian Khama’s behavior at the last SADC Summit in Harare is only a small prescription of solving xenophobia. Africa must tell Mugabe that time for talking is over.