- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 27, 2008




It is questionable what Thabo Mbeki’s resignation as president will do for South Africa, but it surely is a blessing to Zimbabwe, its neighbor to the north.

Mr. Mbeki and his pro-business policies produced a decade of economic growth, although it came with a great widening of the divide between the very rich and very poor, and the prosperity never really reached the large populations of unskilled workers in the sprawling shantytowns surrounding South Africa’s cities.

The parliament must name an interim president until elections can be held next year. The betting favorite is Jacob Zuma, leader of the country’s largest political party, the African National Congress. It was a political dispute with Mr. Zuma that forced Mr. Mbeki to resign. Mr. Zuma might be president now except that he is not a member of parliament or the Cabinet, as the constitution requires.

Mr. Mbeki’s resignation deprives Zimbabwe’s odious Robert Mugabe of the last African leader he could call an ally. Even as his own country was being flooded with desperate Zimbabwean refugees, Mr. Mbeki never denounced — indeed, never appeared to notice — Mr. Mugabe’s increasingly brutal misrule of that once-prosperous country. Mr. Mbeki was the one African leader in a position to kick the props out from under Mr. Mugabe’s regime, but the South African leader stood passively by while his neighbors were driven into terrorized destitution.

Mr. Mbeki praised as fair and democratic the elections that Mr. Mugabe brazenly stole. He seemed unfazed when Zimbabwe’s principal opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, had to flee for fear of his life and backed out of an election this year rather than see more of his supporters murdered.

Mr. Mbeki’s admirers credit him with brokering a power-sharing arrangement between Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai, but it is unclear whether that agreement will hold up, let alone work. In any case, Mr. Mbeki’s interest in his neighbor’s welfare is too little and too late. The power-sharing arrangement will only prolong Mr. Mugabe’s hold on power.

Dale McFeatters is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.

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