Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Friday, April 15, 2005

Mbeki & Zim

Laurence at Commentary once again tries to shed some light on why Thabo Mbeki continues to support the Mugabe regime, "Zimbabwe, though it may retain the mechanisms of democracy, is a kleptocratic gangster-state. Nobody seriously disputes this. So why can't Thabo Mbeki muster the courage to say it?". This is indeed the million dollar question. It's always interesting to read the speculation and theories on this, but it appears, that just like Mbeki's stance towards AIDS, his attitude on Zimbabwe is something that no-one, not even political analysts or journalists seem to truly understand or explain.

Probably, its a combination of different factors, and I think Laurence is absolutely on the mark when he writes in his comments section that, "I'd say Mbeki supports Mugabe out of racial and ideological solidarity with another former liberation movement, "Southern" solidarity against the West, and gratitude for the assistance Mugabe provided to the ANC".

Tongue firmly in cheek, Laurence advances the conspiracy theory that, "Maybe COSATU has been stoking up tensions between SA and Zimbabwe in order to deliberately provoke a trade war between, thereby allowing us to bar the import of Chinese textiles!". While I realise that he's only joking about this, I do however think that there is a strong Cosatu angle that partly explains Mbeki's support for Robert Mugabe.

In Zimbabawe opposition to Zanu-PF came from the MDC in the late nineties. The party leader and founder Morgan Tsvangirai prior to that, moved through the ranks of the trade union movement until he became Secretary-General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and it follows that the MDC has a huge trade union support base. In South Africa, the only real threat to power that Mbeki and the ANC could realistically face in the foreseeable future would come from a Cosatu/SACP split from the alliance. Although Cosatu has been careful to deny any overt support of the MDC, we have seen them come out strongly in support of the Zim trade unions, to the extent of protesting against human rights abuses in Zimbabwe against the wishes of the ANC. It is possible that Mbeki does not want the precedent of a trade union supported political party overthrowing a liberation movement turned ruling party right on his front doorstep. This might encourage Cosatu (with the support of the MDC/ Zim trade unions) to go it alone.

I think even more so since this seems to be a trend in Southern African politics. In Zambia, opposition to Kaunda's strong man rule came from the unions. The first president after Kaunda, Frederick Chiluba, was also a trade union leader. In Swaziland the strongest protests against the King come from the unions, and the leader of Namibia's largest opposition party, while not exactly proving to be a dire threat in any way to Swapo, also comes from a trade union background. While it seems that there are opposition leaders from trade union backgrounds, I'm not sure if a trade union turned political party has ever taken over from a liberation movement government in Southern Africa, but I'm sure it's still something that Mbeki must be taking into consideration.


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