By Tafi Mhaka
This week President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed former Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete and former Safety and Security Minister Sydney Mufamadi as special envoys to Zimbabwe.
Their reported brief is to help Zimbabwe resolve an allegedly unfolding human rights crisis. The move, while commendable, is just a public relations exercise and impulsive response to a deepening economic and political crisis that South Africa has long ignored.
It has failed to condemn human rights violations in Zimbabwe since violence erupted in the lead up to the June 2000 elections. Instead, it has chosen to hide behind diplomatic protocols, while offering Zanu-PF vital protection from intense scrutiny.
And it has repeatedly called on the EU and US to remove economic sanctions against government entities and officials, gladly oblivious to Zanu-PF’s overwhelming tendency to disregard basic constitutional rights and flout the rule of law.
That aside, worse still, in times of crisis, South Africa has long treated Zimbabwe as a democratic ally and abdicated its erstwhile responsibility towards helping establish political and economic stability across the Limpopo River.
To be sure, the dubious Global Political Agreement brokered by former President Thabo Mbeki in September 2008 smothered an electoral win by Morgan Tsvangirai and forced Zimbabwe to endure nine long and wasteful years of former President Robert Mugabe’s jaded, despotic and corrupt administration.
Far from helping an immensely popular MDC to power, Mbeki, with support from the ANC, helped a highly unpopular Zanu-PF enjoy a new lease of life.
This unwelcome and extremely uncritical support for Zanu-PF has not been restricted to South Africa.
It has filtered through to the AU and SADC, whose equally depressing and unflinching positions on Zimbabwe’s right to independence from external reproach have been exceedingly regressive.
But while responding to widespread disapproval on social media, South Africa is now openly feigning concern for Zimbabwe’s deplorable human rights situation.
But the violations didn’t begin with the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter hashtag that went viral last week.
They didn’t begin with Hopewell Chin’ono’s arrest last month.
The political problems in Zimbabwe have been long been an indelible stain on Southern Africa’s social and economic wellbeing.
So South Africa’s decision to willingly intervene in Zimbabwe helps redirect attention from the endless and severe human rights transgressions committed by the Zanu-PF government.
It fends off possibly productive intervention from the SADC and AU, and deflates substantial opposition to Zanu-PF anarchy, through the grandiose projection of shuttle diplomacy.
And it really helps to safeguard and consolidate Zanu-PF’s authoritarian rule.
South Africa is unquestionably satisfied with backing a positively false impression of an emerging democracy in Zimbabwe.
There is no way South Africa would even challenge Zanu-PF to allow people to hold large, peaceful demonstrations.
And it will not plead with Zanu-PF to adhere to the African Union Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
From Egypt to the DRC, South Africa has always avoided censuring repressive regimes and overlooked shocking human rights abuses in its backyard.
Zimbabweans, desperate as we are for help, have to acknowledge South Africa’s feeble and unwavering approach to resolving human rights violations abroad, and work past it.
This familiar standpoint is irreversibly bound to and obfuscated by the results of the 2018 general and presidential elections, and remains separated from the political abnormalities sustaining oppression.
South Africa is not interested in the discriminating policies behind Zanu-PF’s resounding election win in 2018, such as ZEC’s problematic, disputed and bungling performance, the ZBC’s partisan broadcasts, the police’s biased position on MDC Alliance protests and the vote buying agricultural schemes implemented by the government.
The ANC government truly prefers to pay lip service to helping solve Zimbabwe’s problems.
As such, this is our struggle to win, or lose.
South Africa’s long held position, as expressed publicly by Mbeki over the years, is only Zimbabweans can resolve their problems.
It’s time to follow that simple advice and stop believing that outsiders will march on the streets for us, or fight our battles, because they won’t.
As it experiences mounting human rights violations amid police brutality, state capture, high unemployment and widespread dissatisfaction over PPE tenders awarded to businesspersons related to top ANC politicians; as it faces an uncertain economic future, South Africa is in no position to help Zimbabwe.
Barring an astonishing political change, South Africa will, once again, play it safe, back Zanu-PF and sit out the extensive crisis in Zimbabwe.
Hence, only the people’s resolve to build a new Zimbabwe, could help bring greater political freedoms.
It’s time for Zimbabweans to stop believing in and depending on regional and global actors. A strategy based on forcing Zanu-PF’s hand locally, rather than inspiring global players, is crucial to achieving significant change.
For twenty years, Zimbabweans have repeatedly called on South Africa, SADC, the AU, EU and US to help establish a semblance of genuine political change.
For twenty years, Zimbabweans have appealed to the world for help.
But for twenty years, that strategy alone, has certainly failed to produce change.
Contrary to establishing any meaningful political gains, an outward looking emphasis has simply laid the groundwork for Zanu-PF to brand itself as the champion of Zimbabwean and African land rights.
It’s helped the army and police to justify committing dreadful human rights abuses and murdering civilians.
It’s helped instil a strong sense of disbelief and fear among us.
It’s helped perpetrate the lie that massive demonstrations would not help achieve change in Zimbabwe.
And it’s helped us become weak and hopeless dreamers.
As destiny beckons, let’s forget about placing faith in South Africa’s questionable help.
Let’s gather the courage to march for change instead.
Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, is scheduled for release in 2020. Follow him on @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka