CAPE TOWN — As much as we might cynically blame Zuma for South Africa’s ‘’see no evil,’’ approach to Zimbabwe, the ANC’s history with President-for-Life Bob Mugabe and his Zanu-PF, stretches back to the respective guerrilla organisations’ bush war days. Here veteran journalist and media analyst, Ed Herbst, reminds us of some of former President Thabo Mbeki’s most pregnant silences when it came to shocking human rights abuses by Mugabe – and of course of SABC TV’s Mbeki acolytes – whose behaviour revealed how much they revered the Zanu-PF “liberator’’ of Zimbabwe. It’s a historical perspective easily forgotten and particularly pertinent to the drama’s playing out in the respective political organisations currently riven asunder by internal power struggles. The ANC leadership’s behaviour then and now reveals that there’s little hope of effective intervention on behalf of the international community to restore any economic stability and sanity to Zimbabwe. Today we can hardly get out of our own front door for the muck that has accumulated. Zanu-PF and those holding sway in the ANC today view the world the same way and have a rich and dark history that binds them to the grave and beyond. – Chris Bateman
By Ed Herbst*
The Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, angrily denies that his country needs food aid and rejected charges that his government inflicts human rights abuses in an interview with Sky News released today.
When confronted with the criticism of the retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu that Mr Mugabe now resembles a caricature of an African dictator, he dismissed the Nobel peace prize winner as “an angry, evil and embittered little bishop”. – The Guardian 24/5/2004
Asked why Mugabe was allowed to rule for nearly four decades, Mtetwa said: “Do you think President Jacob Zuma wouldn’t like to be a Mugabe? They’re in awe of him”.
Mtetwa said Zuma would not reprimand Mugabe for wanting to remain in power when he (Zuma) was trying to get his ex-wife to become president.
She was referring to ANC presidential hopeful Nkosana Dlamini Zuma, who Zuma has endorsed as his replacement. – Zimbabwean human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa IOL 18/11/2017
The statement by Beatrice Mtetwa, one of the anchor quotes to this article, immediately brought to mind two Robert Mugabe moments at the SABC.
The first occurred at the racism conference in Durban in 2001 where the SABC was the official broadcaster.
Mugabe was one of the keynote speakers and he launched into a blistering tirade against whites in general and Britain in particular.
A colleague was in main control during the conference when Mugabe’s speech was being reflected on a big screen. The majority of the people watching were senior black SABC executives. He said they went berserk with joy, screaming their affirmation, shouting, stomping and ululating and offering heartfelt thanks to the deities for the blessings which the great man had bestowed upon them, Zimbabwe and the African continent.
The second was when Sky News achieved the seemingly impossible in getting an exclusive interview with Mugabe in May 2004.
During the interview, Mugabe lashed out at Archbishop Desmond Tutu as his remarks, reflected in one of the anchor quotes on this article, indicate.
This attack on Tutu was one of the main selling points when Sky News marketed the interview to news agencies around the world.
One of the first news agencies it approached, for obvious reasons, was the SABC, but South Africa’s state broadcaster declined the offer.
The head of news at that time was fervent Thabo Mbeki acolyte and ANC apparatchik, Snuki Zikalala whose unwelcome return to the SABC was orchestrated by ANC parliamentarians. They had done their due diligence research and, with Zikalala having been cited before the TRC for human rights abuses and with him not having used that forum to defend himself or deny the accusations, they felt he was the ideal man for the job as the SABC’s subsequent bankruptcy and a condemnatory court judgment proved.
He was appointed a month prior to the Sky News interview and Loot-freely House waited until after the election at that time to make the announcement which it knew would be controversial.
The ANC has always idolised Mugabe and Mbeki was to emulate Mugabe with his own attack on The Arch six months later.
When images started appearing in Western media of the bloodied bodies of murdered white farmers as Mugabe started dispossessing them of their farms – with catastrophic consequences for Zimbabwe’s economy – Mbeki was slow to react and reluctant to criticise.
What happened locally thereafter was accordingly predictable as this quote from an Afriforum press release reveals:
In 2003 former President Thabo Mbeki announced against all expectations that the commando system would be abolished and replaced by a structure which would be controlled by the police (this promise has to this day not been fulfilled).
The ideological removal with deliberate intent of the efficient commando system and the deliberate failure to replace it with a system of equivalent efficacy deliberately left South African farmers increasingly more vulnerable as the subsequent primeval murders of more than a thousand men, women and children and the recent Black Monday gatherings indicate.
Mbeki shared Mugabe’s antipathy towards whites and here’s how Tony Leon described that antipathy in his 2008 book On the Contrary – Leading the Opposition in a Democratic South Africa:
Once established as president, Mbeki started to increasingly fine-tune his perspective. In parliament at the State of the Nation debate on 4 February 2000, he thought it necessary to draw the nation’s attention to an email sent by a racist engineer in KwaZulu-Natal (dismissed for his trouble). Mbeki was happy to provide the quotation in full.
Quite why he saw fit to treat parliament to this vituperative filth was not clear. But he was prosecuting his race obsession – and to place it back, front and centre on the political agenda. (P523)
When ethnic hatred motivates and drives political ideology, the consequences are universally tragic – you can think of your own examples – but that lesson was brought home to me while watching a recent BBC ‘Our World’ documentary, The Butcher of Bosnia about the trial and conviction before the International Criminal Tribunal of Bozsnia’s Radovan Karadžić and the genocidal deaths of a hundred thousand civilians that led to that trial.
Tragically, and in my subjective opinion, South Africa was also to suffer adverse consequences of Mbeki’s expressions of ethnic antipathy because my personal sense is that he saw ‘Big Pharma’ as white – which is hardly true when one considers how much pharmaceutical research and manufacture takes place in India for example.
Whatever his motivation, Harvard University research shows that his stance on Big Pharma’s anti-retrovirals resulted in the lingering and painful deaths of more than 300 000 people. The majority of those HIV-AIDS victims were black and the state broadcaster, controlled at the time by his acolytes like Christine Qunta and Snuki Zikalala, bears much of the responsibility for that outcome and they also openly manifested an equivalent antipathy towards white South Africans.
The anti-Mugabe marches in Zimbabwe last Saturday took me back to the anti-National Party march in Cape Town which I covered as a reporter for SABC TV news on 2 March 1990. Initially we did not believe the news we were receiving from colleagues in parliament – the unconditional release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC – and we were stunned when we realised that it was true. The marchers, Boesak, Tutu et al, were pushing against an open door!
The marches in South Africa on 7 April this year against State Capture and the Zuptoid Turdberg had much in common with last Saturday’s march in Zimbabwe against the corruption of Robert and Grace Mugabe – what they called the ‘new Chimurenga’ . There was, however, one significant difference – even in his rambling and defiant address to the nation on Sunday night, Mugabe did not emulate JZ783 in deriding the marchers in Harare and other places in Zimbabwe as racists.
During last week’s Zimbabwean marches, participants were unanimous that they wanted Mugabe’s friends with benefits, Jacob Zuma and, more specifically, Thabo Mbeki to butt out. They recall with rancour Mbeki’s denialism over the xenophobic violence in which so many Zimbabweans were murdered and maimed.
Zimbabwean human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, speaking at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Johannesburg, pointed out that, on the watch of Zanu-PF, $15 billion in diamond revenue had been snouted and the similarities with our own country and, for example, the Turdberg role in the Eskom and Prasa scandals – as detailed in the Guptaleaks – are compelling.
ANC hero and former Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe effectively destroyed Zimbabwe’s economy. The unemployment rate there currently stands at 95% and the country is now poorer than Britain was before the start of the industrial revolution. It seems likely that little will change in the short term in Zimbabwe as a result of his ousting, just as little is likely to change here when the catastrophic reign of JZ783 finally ends.
The following extract from Tony Leon’s book On the Contrary is telling in that regard:
As the situation worsened in Zimbabwe — and following another visit I paid a few months later to inspect the farm seizures and worsening fuel situation — Colin Eglin urged me to seek a meeting with the Foreign Minister, Dr Nkosazana Zuma. It would be fair to say that neither of us was a charter member of the other’s fan club; but I heeded his advice. I detailed all I had seen and heard, offered some modest analysis, and suggested that perhaps our embassy in Harare should conduct a more thoroughgoing and inclusive approach to its information-gathering — and inﬂuence-seeking — operations. She listened in largely polite silence, took no notes, and the meeting was unwitnessed by any departmental official. I left the meeting dismayed, if not altogether surprised. It was clear that little would be done to deter Mugabe from proceeding down the road to tyranny. (P359)
They’re all as thick as thieves. Proof of that was the long struggle by the Mail & Guardian to gain access for the public to the Khampepe Report which detailed how Mugabe rigged the 2002 Zimbabwe election.
In 2005 Snuki Zikalala, a leading propagandist for the Mbeki faction, tried to mislead the South African public about the situation in Zimbabwe, resulting in Marianne Thamm’s amusing but disturbing article ‘Let them ring room service’. An excoriating judgment in the South Gauteng High Court emphasised the point she made.
As a recent article in The Conversation indicates, military interventions rarely result in increasing democracy, indeed the opposite usually occurs as the South American experience proves. We and the Zimbabweans can but hope that the new regime there does not emulate the South American example.
The ANC reveres Robert Mugabe not least because he and his wife are alleged to have snouted as many as 16 farms. But it reveres Fidel Castro even more because he managed something which will be beyond Mugabe’s malevolent and now non-existent reach – he snouted his own island while becoming one of the world’s richest men and immiserating his country in the process.
Castro’s fornicating feat of having nine children by five different partners is handily de-feated (sorry) by ANC revolutionary heroes like Sicelo Shiceka. He was described in a Chris Barron obituary as a ‘notorious philanderer and high-living abuser of the public purse’ and he sired dozens of out-of-wedlock children for whom he did not pay papgeld. And then there is our very own Jacob (Baby Shower) Zuma…
In this regard Mugabe has failed and the good life of casual destruction by his wayward sons will end in the very near future – unless the ANC can intervene on their behalf as it did with their mother.
(To be fair, Castro never emulated two of the Mugabe accomplishments: Robert Mugabe miraculously won a lottery organised by the state bank for all its customers and Grace miraculously achieved the world’s fastest Phd which was awarded by the University of Zimbabwe two months after she started studying. Her ‘thesis’ has, unsurprisingly, never been published.)
The ANC unashamedly admires the world’s leading despots and human rights abusers and President Thabo Mbeki provided asylum for Haiti’s Jean-Bertrand Aristide with the costs of his five-year residence here being funded not by the ANC but by you and I. It remains to be seen whether the Turdberg faction of the ANC extends a similar invitation to the Mugabes.
When the Grim Reaper finally claims Mugabe, I am sure that the hungry people of the glorious National Democratic Revolution’s Zimbabwe will react with same cathartic joy that this elderly Cuban exile experienced when she heard of the death of Fidel Castro – but such joy will not be shared by the African National Congress.
Mugabe is, to them, the way and the snouting life.
The ANC has never met a despot it does not like and it loves Mugabe which is why it remained silent over the Gukurahundi massacre and Operation Murambatsvina. Now, having done its due diligence research, it sent as an envoy to meet Mugabe the recently-appointed Minister of State Security, Bongani Bongo who, as the Sunday Times reveals, is accused of having tried to bribe the evidence leader in the state capture investigation, Advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara – which compounds a litany of corruption scandals in which he and his wife are implicated.
In closing: On Saturday 18 November, I watched from 18h30 a fascinating half- hour panel discussion on eNCA about the situation in Zimbabwe and, at 19h00 I switched to the SABC expecting visuals of the euphoric but peaceful countrywide protests against the Mugabes in Zimbabwe to be the lead story.
It was not.
I was shocked but, in retrospect, not surprised when several minutes at the start of the bulletin were devoted to the SABC’s lead story – a Skype interview with Robert Mugabe’s nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, sourced from Reuters, denouncing the military intervention and saying that Grace Mugabe was ready to ‘die for what is correct’. A minute or so of the insert was devoted to Zuma but the sound quality was so bad that one could not hear what he was saying.
The SABC remains captured, the enforcers who were in substantial measure responsible for the death of Suna Venter retain their power and the indifference to professional standards of broadcasting continues without respite and without shame.
This is how the ANC rolls.
- Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity.