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Mbeki was key in protecting Mugabe: Biti

By Tendai Biti

Wananchi, until the dramatic and brutal manner that he was removed from office, President Mbeki’s presidency would have been most remembered by three things, HIV Aids, Zimbabwe and slow pace of social delivery during his reign.

Mbeki was key in protecting Mugabe: Biti
Mbeki was key in protecting Mugabe: Biti

This is rather an unfair media stereotype and sterile definition of the real Mbeki and his achievements. Like all stereotype templates it contains some truth, but then again, it also masks the truth.

For all his faults, I think that this is man that deserves gigantic respect for all he did for the struggle against apartheid. His dexterity in stitching a post apartheid solution particularly when he worked under the unassuming genius of the struggle, Oliver Reginald Tambo.

It such a pity that like Tony Blair, it is the end game that defines, his legacy but not his entire unimitable contribution. I have had the privilege of spending some time with him at very close and personal level. I tell you that I found in him a thoughtful reflective pan Africanist icon.

On 8 May 2008 during a period of exile in South Africa, I had the honor spending a couple of hours with him at Nyamandhlovu, in Tshwane. I politely declined his offer of an 18 year old single malt, but it was one of the most useful Sunday afternoons I have had in my life.

But my most lasting image of him is when we as negotiators went to see him on 15 December 2007 to report a deadlock in our talks pre the 2008 election.

He cut a most unforgettable sombre solemn and loney figure, as he personally wrote his last speech as ANC president a few hours before he flew to Polokwane for that defining moment in South Africa s history.

I think for a long time Africa had not found some one who led from the front as he did, on the prop of thought leadership. Mbeki broke away from the typical root and branch of African leaders defined by power, patronage and corruption and obsession. 

Thought leadership is something that is not prevalent. The ability of the African Head of State to reflect, and redefine an agenda based on Pan Africanist ideology of a new Africa determined to cast away old stereotypes, and the permanent agenda of cynical Afro pessimism.

Can you imagine Mbeki addressing the world through the UN Genearal Assembly and putting his own country and people into disrepute by shouting ” shame shame shame”.

Not by a long mile. He knew that these are special platforms where the new African would preach his renaissance and unquestionable vision for his country and for the future of Africa.

So in many ways more than one Africa really misses him. And without him you see a return to that moribund, predictable old boys network that is African diplomacy. Nothing illustrates this point more than the way Africa is handling the Zimbabwe situation.

But deep down in his own hearts of hearts, Mbeki would admit that he should and could have handled,t he key questions of the economy and social delivery, Zimbabwe and HIV Aids differently.

The Mbeki years, whilst correctly acknowledging the importance of macroeconomic stability, budget hygiene and growth, failed totally to attend to the imperative of social delivery and social justice. 

The abandonment of RDP to GEAR certainly represented a coup by Mbeki from a focus on real transformation to one based on maintaining the status quo and proving that the African could manage the economy, even better.

Not surprisingly GEAR was so similar to the apartheid regime 1993 Normative Economic Programme. To use Mbeki’s favorite term, indeed, while GDP, inequality and, poverty grew while social service delivery was stagnant.

The key questions of transformation, poverty, unemployment, inequality and I daresay integration or racism remained unchallenged.

These issues are clear as a pike staff and have received so much attention by scholars and critiques.Patrick Bond’s Elite Transition, and Talk Left Walk Right, Unsustainable South Africa, Fanon’s Warning make incisive analysis.

But See also Moeletsi Mbeki’s Advocates for Change. Also, works by Richard Calland, in particular his 2002 Thabo Mbeki’s World. Of course the magnus opus still remains Bill Gumede’s book “Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC.”

Zimbabwe and the GNU remain one of Mbeki s greatest legacies. The GNU was an impossible task to conclude. Mbeki and his able team of the tough Sydney Mufumadi, the very intelligent Advocate Gumbi and the sober man of God, Muruti Chikane, made the impossible happen on 11 September 2013.

This is a story that has not been told by us the direct participants, the negotiators but it is a story that is a few chapters to publication.

However if the design of the GNU was a Mbeki object of stability over democracy and a genuine transition to an order where a reformed Liberation Movement, Zanu PF would cohabit with a post liberation movement, the same was tattered with July 31.

The July 31 election in a brush decapitated Mbeki’s prized legacy of a stable legitimate Zimbabwe and in the end left him both bruised betrayed and impotent. I would argue however that Mbeki himself was the author of the undoing and dramatic collapse of his own project.

First was the blind loyalty to a bankrupt and exhausted nationalist cause. Something that his predecessor Mandela had not done.

Mandela’s stand offs and hard dislike of Mugabe and the Nigerian autocrats had been reflective of a man who would breach no nonsense or turn a blind eye to the excesses of a brother merely on the basis of that.

Mbeki on the other hand believed that however bad the omissions, quite diplomacy was the answer and a brother had to be nurtured along despite green bombers bombarding same.

Thus in respect of Zimbabwe, long before the negotiations had begun he was key in protecting the regime and making excuses for the same.

One of his most infamous excuses for the Harare regime was his public statements that the land reform in Zimbabwe had been delayed in order not to frighten the National Party in South Africa and thus delay South Africa s own transition to democracy.

This a line that was pushed by Mbeki in defense of the regime’s lack of action on land and yet the truth of the matter is that no evidence has ever been produced of this. The fact is there was never any thing like this and I would challenge any Wanachi to provide any contrary historical evidence.

In Muruti Chikane s book “The Things that Could Not be Said” the man of God speaks of this, but he provides hearsay evidence and no more. 

He says in his book;

“I remember being told about a discussion between President Mwalimu Nyerere of Tanzania, President Kenneth Kaunda of Tanzania and ANC president O.R.Tambo in the late 1980s……..Having analysed political developments within the region, they made a special plea to Mugabe to delay action on the land matter until South Africa had concluded its own negotiations ….Mugabe ,I am told graciously accepted the plea from the regional leadership and agreed to delay the the redistribution of land in Zimbabwe for a while to save the envisaged peace process in South Africa.”

As a lawyer I think that in such an important book, for Reverend Chikane to fail to produce any evidence other than hearsay is very telling. Let me now deal with failure to confront the regime, or rather the impotence of quite diplomacy which was so dramatically blown to splinters on 31 July.

During the first phase of the negotiations the party’s negotiators successfully negotiated a draft Zimbabwean Constitution that we signed off, in the majestic Lake Kariba on 30 September 2008. We signed off in a very dirty boat called the “Concordia.”

Things then were so bad in Zimbabwe such that we did not have milk on board. One morning we had to dilute our cereal with Zimbabwe’s most famous cordial Mazoe Orange Juice much to the chagrin and dismay of our South African guests one of whom was in fact diabetic.

Despite the fact that we signed on 30 September, the Kariba Draft was in fact completed on 4 September 2008 in South Africa. Now as some may recall, Zanu PF had in April 2007 gazetted Constitutional Amendment Number 18 which sought to make some amendments to the Constitution.

Upon completion of the Kariba Draft on 4 September it then sought to incorporate into this amendment some aspects of the Kariba Constitution.

The MDCs negotiating team, which at that time was a single team consisting of this Wanachi, Proff Welsh Ncube, Chairman Lovemore Ndodana Moyo and Priscilla Mushonga, flatly refused this.

Our fear was that, once we agreed to a peace meal amendments to the Constitution, then we would have sold out to the principle of full constitutional reform by the people.

Most importantly we feared that once Zanu PF got their way they would not find any incentive to in fact allow the passage of Kariba into law as an interim Constitution leading us to an election in 2008.

We the negotiators, certainly myself, were so afraid of selling out and therefore totally deferred the matter to the guidance and leadership of my principal President Morgan Tsvangirai.

Indeed Doctor Tsvangirayi acted with wisdom and demanded guarantees from President Mbeki that, if we supported the revised Constitutional Amendment Number 18, Kariba would still see the light of day.

Thus on Saturday 14 September 2007, the leaders of the MDC formations, Pakuru Dr Tsvangirai and Prof Arthur Mutambara, flew to South Africa where they met President Mbeki and were given oral guarantees that Kariba would see the light of day, despite the passage of Amendment Number 18.

On 20 September 2007 Constitutional Amendment Number 18 was passed in Parliament with the support of the two MDC formations.

On that date I was far away in London participating in an IQ debate on Zimbabwe, with my friends David Coltart, Chenjerai Hove, Peter Godwin and the late and great John Makumbe.

Come end 27 Nobember 2007, Zanu made a dramatic U Turn and and advised that there would be no interim Constitution before the election. Of course we made protests to Comrade Mbeki. On the 4 December, we met him but there was no joy.

We were told to go back and negotiate again. On 15 December 2007 we visited him again, with no outcome. The Kariba Interim Constitution never saw the light of day. Mbeki did not keep his guarantee of 14 September 2007 nor was he strong to stand up to Mugabe. This would later cost him dearly.

There are three or four other things I can write on to prove the point that when it came to the crunch Mbeki would not and could not handle Mugabe and Zanu PF. That inability being at the core of the unravelling occurred on 31 July 2013.

However for me of all Mbeki s omissions on Zimbabwe, his greatest one was to carry out a coup against the people’s will as reflected in the outcome of the March 28 election in Zimbabwe.

I will explain.

By 4 April 2008 ZEC had formally announced the result of all the elections in Zimbabwe bar the Presidential results which would only be announced months later on 5 May 2008.

Despite this, following data provided by our own system we had already declared on 2 April 2008, in a packed Stewart Room at the Meikles Hotel (Belinda I got the spelling right ) that Save had won the election by 58%. An announcement that was later considered treason.

Be that as it may Mbeki called for an Extra Ordinary Meeting of SADC to discuss Zimbabwe. This was later held at the famous Mulungishi Conference Center in Lusaka on 13 and 14 April 2008.

All the leaders of the region where there except President Mugabe who sent a very pleased Emmerson Mnangagwa to stand for him. President Mbeki to travelled to Zambia via Zimbabwe where he met President Mugabe at State House.

After the meeting photos were taken and many of you will remember the immortal photo of the viciously smiling pair firmly holding hands like a freshly wedded couple.

To cut long story short, notwithstanding the fact that the Presidential results were not out and would be out until a further three weeks, Mbeki influenced Sadc to resolve that that there would be a run off in Zimbabwe on 28 June 2008.

Apart from the betrayal this summit will also be remembered by an undignified fight that Patrick Chinamasa picked up with then Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa,which ended with the latter reminding the former that he too was a lawyer and unlike others he had been Senior Council in his country.

Thus in a stroke of cynical genius Moragn Tsavangirai and the people of Zimbabwe were denied the legitimate people’s victory of 28 March. The people s will had been subverted.

It would have a very different outcome and a very different history if Sadc in Mulungishi had respected the people’s will or at the very minimum insisted on a count of the Presidential Votes which Sadc itself would have supervised. In the immediate short time Mbeki got away with it at Mulungushi.

But it was Mulungushi itself that guaranteed predatoriness and the future collapse of the Mbeki dream for Zimbabwe. Now Zimbabwe politically is in a worse crises than it was before the GNU.

The man of God Muruti Chikane implicitly understood in his book the dishonesty of prejudging an election whose result had not been declared. But in an explanation more befitting Machiavelli, than a man of cloth he dismisses the point as follows in his book referred to above.

“….,notwithstanding the delay in releasing the results the outcome (the run off) was widely accepted as the presentation of the people s will”

The man of God s book is entitled “The things that could not be said “. Perhaps one day the good man of God would write a new one called “The things could not be said when I wrote the things that could not be said.”