Tuesday, 30 July 2013

In praise of Thabo Mbeki.


By Takura Zhangazha.*

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki is rarely acknowledged for the positive role that he played over and about mediating the Zimbabwean political crisis from 2007 to 2009.  In making this assertion I am aware there are those who have controversially and without direct evidence accused President Mbeki of being sympathetic more to Zanu Pf during his tenure as the SADC appointed facilitator/mediator of our political crisis. I prefer to consider President Mbeki’s role in our country from a more objective standpoint.

The Global Political Agreement when it was eventually signed in September 2008 was not the sum-total of SADC mediation under Mbeki in Zimbabwe. The mediation process, for those with shorter memories, began in earnest in March 2007 when SADC after meeting in Tanzania and in the wake of the brutal assault of members of the opposition on March 11 of the same year, seconded President Mbeki to Zimbabwe.  

The secretive character of the mediation correctly raised eyebrows in civil society circles but to all intents and purposes, the responsibility for Constitutional Amendment number 18 which brought into being the holding of harmonized elections resided with the political parties. Mbeki merely provided an engagement framework.

By the time we held our first harmonsied elections in 2008 the impact of the SADC mediation was all too apparent, and where the Presidential election result was in dispute, it fell upon President Mbeki to assist in resolving the impasse. The different opinions over the eventual GPA that was signed after three months of negotiations are well recorded and known. 

What would however be unfair is to put the blame for the inadequacies of MDC-T’s placement in government on the shoulders of the mediator. Our national leaders had to etch out an agreement at some point given what they had all referred to as their non-negotiable matters. That Mbeki demonstrated the relevant patience with these same said leaders and kept ‘liberal interventionists’ at bay must be applauded.
The essence of Mbeki’s mediation was guided by what may appear as a dictum, but was of fundamental importance. The principle was that Zimbabweans and their leaders had the capacity to resolve their problems without direct intervention or by way of international dictat. 

That is why the responsibility to lead was not so much with the SADC facilitator but with the political leaders in Zimbabwe and their supporters. As the SADC facilitated inclusive government comes to an end, there are many questions that are left for historians and political scientists to answer or address. A key one would be whether or not the government worked. Because its primary mandate was initially never intended to last a full four years or even be in tandem with the constitutionally given five year time-frame for elections, the blame for its continuation resides at the doorsteps of its principals and not with President Mbeki.

 For added measure, its eventual long duration was to indicate that indeed the political parties in the inclusive government may have agreed to get along for longer than had been stipulated. The dragging and regular politicization of the constitutional reform process is the best possible indicator of this assertion.
Disputes that emerged within the context of the inclusive government were Zimbabwean ones and not engineered externally. 

This is a key point to make because while in its initial stages the inclusive government was an unpopular entity, the reality that it became over the years has vindicated Mbeki’s approach. This in the sense that there was need to ensure that the country remains stable and that reforms that were to be made were to be done collectively by the three political parties represented in our Parliament. That the reforms undertaken by the inclusive government have been inadequate and elitist in nature is not the fault of SADC let alone President Mbeki.

In my assessment the inclusive government failed to be organic in its leadership of the country and missed many an historical moment to change the course of the country toward less disputed elections and a democratic culture. The outgoing government undertook its tasks without the requisite seriousness that was necessary in order for its tenure to be more meaningful and less politicized.

It is however the framework that was provided by Thabo Mbeki’s mediation role as facilitator that must be praised as the inclusive government’s tenure comes to a close. It was a framework in which all parties could demonstrate their commitment to democracy as well as their specific ability to lead both as members of cabinet and as national leaders. How they have fared is not an indictment on SADC or on President Mbeki. The latter did what was pragmatically possible, given the circumstances. And for that, I salute Thabo Mbeki.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)