JUST over a decade ago, we saw levels of desperation and the real fear of losing political power drive one Robert Gabriel Mugabe to attack the very core of his country’s economy, uprooting white farmers after accusing them of all sort of things.
Some of his accusations were probably right, but none of them justified Mugabe’s criminal methods. Clever blacks who asked difficult questions were also hunted down, killed, jailed, or made to disappear. Many are still to be accounted for to this day. By then Mugabe had tasted political power for over 20 years and, in his own eyes and the eyes of those around him, no one else was fit to rule this once great country.
He had done it before, with the massacres of Matebeleland, and got away with it. His actions were not inspired by love for his country or the hard-working people of Zimbabwe. The man and his band of Zanu PF kleptocrats were out for what they feared would be the last kill, thinking only of themselves, their friends and families.
Some of you might recall that Mugabe even warned at the time that Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the then popular Movement for Democratic Change, would enter State House (the presidential seat) as president of Zimbabwe only over his dead body.
The honest among you will also remember that Mugabe had sympathy in the region. Then South African president Thabo Mbeki – he who apparently loves Africa so much – had apparently bought into the tired and nonsensical paranoia that went with the narrative that the MDC was a CIA tool aimed at bringing regime change to Zimbabwe to benefit the West.
Both the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and the African Union (AU) also seemed to go with this silly narrative, clearly failing to believe that even the people of Zimbabwe could reach a point of gatvolness and demand political change in their country while Mugabe was still alive. But, given that both regional and continental organisations were still firmly in the clutches of old political dinosaurs, unrepentant despots and for one Omar al-Bashir, a political fugitive on the run from international criminal justice, Zimbabweans were pushing against a brick wall.
Today, there is total silence in the corridors of Sadc and the AU when the economy of Zimbabwe crumbles right before our eyes and those of the world. Those who are easily charmed by Mugabe’s empty, yet poetic speeches are conspicuous in their silence.
Here in South Africa, we’re now witnessing symbols that were used to bring us together at the dawn of our democracy being used to tear us apart – by the same people who urged us then to unite around them. Key among these symbols was the idea of Nelson Mandela and racial unity. We all embraced the nascent ideal of a rainbow nation, believing that we would, over time, hold hands as a nation to make this the greatest nation in Africa and the world.
Today, clearly driven by political desperation, our leaders are out to tear us apart again. They seem to forget where we come from and, importantly, how destructive we can be when we do not pull in the same direction. When it suits them and their superficial notions of nation building, the two-faced leaders urge us to unite around the ideals preached by Nelson Mandela, and when desperate for political survival, they want to tell us who has the right to use Mandela as a symbol to inspire and who doesn’t.
Madiba belongs to the world – not just one party
No one can deny that Nelson Mandela was a lifelong member and leader of the ANC. But in his last days, Mandela was president and leader of all South Africans. In fact, much of the African diaspora and other people of the world celebrate him to this day as one of the icons of the 21s century, placed among the best of the best.
No one, and no political party, can claim Mandela the unifier for its own. If this were the case, they must also insist on being the only ones to celebrate his birthday, Mandela Day, and tell everyone else to stay away from such celebrations. They cannot have their cake and eat it.
We, the people of South Africa, are complicit in the madness if we allow political desperation to be used to divide us. The South African constitution and, before it, the Freedom Charter, proclaims South Africa to belong to all who live in it, none more so than the others.
We are wrong to allow elderly, ageing politicians who seem desperate to cling to power Mugabe-style to mess up our country in their dying years. All South Africans have the right to use the uniting ideals of Nelson Mandela to inspire others – and all South Africans, irrespective of racial, ethnic, and religious background, have the right to dream.
It is nonsensical for these elderly leaders to tell us that South Africa will never be ruled by a white man or woman again. We have strong institutions, albeit under constant attack from the same leaders and their cronies, which will ensure that never again shall apartheid return to our land.
Electoral fear-mongering that appeals to people’s raw emotions and painful memories of the past cannot be right; it even borders on treason when it encourages the people of our country to alienate others on the basis of their skin colour and creed. Our country deserves better. It deserves leaders in business, in government, and in other sectors of the society who will rally South Africans on the basis of ability, skill, secular humanity, and a sheer desire to be the best.
We should cultivate the leaders we deserve in each one of us, but we should also vote for people who share Nelson Mandela’s dream of uniting our nation across all historic divides. Only that would be good for South Africa and for the place this country wants to occupy in the global community of nations.