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Mark Gevisser

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Zimbabwe’ Category

Mbeki and Mugabe

This opinion piece was published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal – Europe edition.

Thabo Mbeki, the South African president, likes to make the point that the world is obsessed with Zimbabwe because white farmers have been victims there. Mr. Mbeki’s argument is that there are many other African countries where democracy is subverted, but these are barely a blip on the screens of CNN or BBC.

Mr. Mbeki is wrong. The worst victims of Mr. Mugabe’s kleptocracy have been black folk, the poor people without British or South African passports whose only choice is to live with untenable inflation or to become illegal migrants in South Africa — and who have now been defrauded of the one thing that gave them dignity: their democratic rights.

Mr. Mbeki is wrong, too, about why Zimbabwe attracts the world’s attention. Certainly, dispossessed white farmers play well, particularly in the right-wing British media. But the world is currently obsessed with Zimbabwe for reasons not dissimilar to those that drew thousands to the antiapartheid movement in the 1980s: It has become the symbol of a larger struggle, this time between an old African way of doing things and a new one.

Mr. Mbeki himself called for an “African Renaissance” early in his tenure. Well, one was happening just across the border, where a vibrant new coalition of civil society, working across old ethnic boundaries, coalesced into an opposition that formed the first real challenge to Mr. Mugabe’s effectively one-party state. This had happened already in other countries, but there was a spirit to the Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that seemed particularly rejuvenating.

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