Harare, Zimbabwe(News of the South)-The Mugabes are generally bad news. This time around the story centres on First Lady, Grace Mugabe, allegedly assaulting a young woman, Gabriella Engels, accusing her of partying with her sons in Johannesburg.

 

As the Mercury reported on Saturday, she reneged on an agreement to co-operate and may have skipped the country.

 

Grace Mugabe provides a sense of things to come in Zimbabwe as she has pledged her support for a group called “Generation 40”, generally younger politicians in Zimbabwe.

 

And it can’t be ruled out that she herself may have serious political ambitions. Playing a leading role in the women’s league in Zanu PF, she is known to mobilize support for her husband.

 

 

While he may be viewed as the “Mandela of Zimbabwe” in some circles, the Mugabes are associated with brutal oppression – Grace Mugabe gave us a sense of that this week.

 

 

We know that Robert Mugabe stole the elections in Zimbabwe several times. Each time he was assisted by the complicity of various forces. It seems clear that the tyrant is losing support. In South Africa, from the time of former president Thabo Mbeki, trade unions and other civil society formations have rejected Mugabe. This rejection goes far beyond just civil society. In South Africa, when we think of Zimbabwe in the context of international political restlessness, we are confronted by some urgent questions.

 

 

The first is how we offer solidarity to Zimbabwean refugees. The periodic attacks on Zimbabweans by ordinary people and the reaction by our police needs to be urgently opposed. We need to recall the solidarity shown to South African exiles in other countries and demonstrate basic human decency. Change can come to Zimbabwe soon, and in the potentially uneasy days, South Africa will need to offer immense support to Zimbabwean refugees.

 

 

The second question that we need to consider is the nature of the flaw in some of our leaders that allows them to become complicit with tyranny.

 

 

However, in recent times there were welcome changes. The struggle was supported by governments and civil society around the world. One expects our government to take a similarly activist position towards tyranny in other countries. This means we need to rethink how we frame “constructive engagement” or, in Mbeki’s outdated spin, “quiet diplomacy”.

 

 

The third question we must ponder is: what went wrong in Zimbabwe? The argument that Mugabe was a good leader who went rotten holds no water. Revisionist Zimbabwean historians pointed out ruthless abuses during the liberation struggle. And, of course, Operation Gukurahundi, the ethnic cleansing of the Ndebele in Matabeleland in the 1980s that cost over 20000 lives. This crime against humanity is enough to ensure Mugabe be called before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

 

 

It is clear that the political culture of Zanu-PF was authoritarian and rapacious long before the fiasco of recent years. Zimbabwe was governed by a ruthless and predatory elite from the beginning. The seeds of the later crimes, the plunder of the Congo and the ruthless suppression of internal opposition, were planted early on.

 

In the second Congo war, in support of the tyrant Laurent Kabila, the Harare junta entered the war with its eyes on the same wealth of natural resources that attracted the colonialists. Kabila duly rewarded Mugabe, his family and his allies with contracts in mining and logging worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But the financial cost of the war was borne by ordinary Zimbabweans-it destroyed the Zimbabwean economy.

 

 

It is essential to think holistically. Just because a man and a movement are opposed to a form of tyranny does not mean they are opposed to tyranny. There is a difference between using democracy to come to power and being democratic. A democrat is not defined as a person who came to power by democracy.

 

 

A democrat is defined as a person who, when in power, welcomes debate and dissent. By this definition, it is clear that Zimbabwe was never a democracy. We should be proud our government welcomes dissent and in a democracy we need to protect this.

 

 

As South Africans, when we think of Zimbabwe, we need to reflect on the important role that South Africa needs to play in promoting transformation in Zimbabwe. There are signs that Robert and Grace Mugabe, and indeed Zanu-PF are rattled.

 

 

* Imraan Buccus is senior research associate at ASRI, research fellow in the School of Social Sciences at UKZN and academic director of a university study abroad program on political transformation. He promotes #Reading Revolution via Books@Antique at Antique Café in Morningside, Durban.



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