Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

‘Mugabeism’ on the rise in South Africa too

Posted by CM on June 20, 2007

by Rhoda Kadalie

While the movie, The Last King of Scotland, was being shown around the country, our own cricket-loving survivor of the British empire, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, received a standing ovation and a few Oscars from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Mugabe recently demonstrated his hold over the club by using the full might of his repressive state to persecute his opposition, knowing full well that not one African leader would dare oppose him. He knows the quest for solidarity with brothers in arms overrides the quest for renewal. He knows his fellow liberation leaders will not let him down, even if he instructs his goons to clobber Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), to death. He knows that support for the MDC as an alternative government is anathema to African despots keen to preserve liberation movements as ruling parties.

Mugabe, clearly, more than anyone in the SADC and the Commonwealth, has a profound understanding of the mind of the African political leader, an issue that has baffled psychologists, social anthropologists and literary scholars alike since the demise of colonialism. He knows that African leaders, except a rare few, are unwilling to shake off the bonds of their own oppression and will use their psycho-political “wounded-ness” to extract loyalty from their followers long after liberation.

The inability to resolve the deep loss of dignity and wounded-ness wrought by colonisation, and in our case apartheid, leads to a destructive “acting out” when African political leaders assume positions of power. The seeds of this oppression are so deeply embedded in the victims’ psyche that unless they have the courage to resolve it, it leads to all kinds of antisocial behaviour, especially in the political arena, where clinging to power long after the sell-by date has become a permanent feature of the politics of the continent.

John Kane-Berman’s recent column was a pertinent reminder that Mugabe’s career as a human rights violator started the day he come into office. The pattern of abuse is clear and, lest we forget, the Fifth Brigade’s pogrom against the Matabele happened early in
Mugabe’s reign. So, SA’s fear of Mugabe is a recognition that “Mugabe” is on the rise here too. In condemning Mugabe, President Thabo Mbeki and the African National Congress (ANC) know they would be criticising their own propensity to do the same, especially with a populist contender such as Jacob Zuma waiting in the wings. The failure to deal with Mugabe is our failure to deal with our own internal Zimbabwe.

This dilemma is summed up no better than in a recent interview with the Financial Times, in which Mbeki acknowledged the intertwining histories of SA and Zimbabwe : “So we have this history in common … When things go wrong in Zimbabwe, we feel that. I am not talking of refugees coming here … I am talking of marching in step.”

Deep down, our political leaders know that our instruments of democracy are not sound enough to deal with a negotiated settlement that promised delivery of services as a quid pro quo for ANC rule. Under circumstances where it is easy to create a facade of well being through black economic empowerment, affirmative action and employment equity — with very little trickling down to the masses — the situation is potentially explosive for those who want to remain in power, with the poor and unemployed growing more and more restless by the day.

It is easy to amend the constitution to extend the term of office of the president — as happened in Uganda and other African countries, especially where opposition and mechanisms of accountability were weak. SA’s constitution cannot necessarily deal with a ruling party that has an overwhelming hold on executive power, where struggle credentials override merit and Parliament is secondary to the might of Luthuli House. It is quite possible to have all the instruments of democracy in place while in fact citizens remain excluded from real power and an equitable share of the state’s resources.

African leaders who invoke nationalist rhetoric about identity, race, renaissance, cultural pride, traditions, the renaming of streets, airports and towns as mobilising tools to keep the masses on board, pretend they do this in the interests of their followers and divert them from issues that matter.

In this context, talk of decolonising the mind is counterproductive and reminds one of the late Zimbabwean writer Dambudzo Marechera’s potent statement : “I don’t hate being black, I’m just tired of saying it’s beautiful.” The negation of previous influences, good or bad, does not recognise the impact the past has had in forming our psyche. Appeals to the African renaissance and essentialism that extol the virtues of black pride in our nationalist identities are fatal if we are unable to resolve our own internal Zimbabwes.

The presidential rhetoric in favour of Zimbabwe and the condemnation of sanctions is the beginning of a betrayal of our inner SA — a psychosocial condition for which there is a remedy : the promotion of a truly open society.

*Kadalie is a human rights activist based in Cape Town.

Business Day

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