Archbishop Desmond Tutu did not help trounce apartheid in South Africa by keeping provocative thoughts to himself. Leading up to Zimbabwe’s parliamentary elections on March 31, the Nobel Laureate is once again taking a principled stand at a critical time. Mr. Tutu recently one-upped his country’s government by stating that Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe was “making a mockery of African democracy.” Through his plain speech, Mr. Tutu highlighted the absurdity of South Africa’s verbal contortions over and quiet (read compromising) diplomacy with the repressive and ruinous Mugabe government.
South Africa’s other liberation hero, former South African President Nelson Mandela, has also taken aim at Mr. Mugabe, though it has regrettably been a good while since Mr. Mandela has spoken out against him. Now would be a good time for Mr. Mandela to reiterate some of his concerns. In 2000, Mr. Mandela said in a speech: “There are leaders in Africa…who have made enormous wealth, leaders who once commanded liberation armies. But rubbing shoulders with the rich, the powerful, the wealthy, has made some leaders despise the very people who put them in power, and they think it is their privilege to be there for eternity.” When asked if he was referring to Mr. Mugabe, Mr. Mandela said, “Everybody here knows who I am talking about.”
Mr. Mugabe himself was once a liberation hero, but his repressive and disastrous government has made him an embarrassment to others who battled apartheid, not to mention the South African government. South Africa has gone to such lengths to avoid confronting Zimbabwe’s violations against human rights, the rule of law and racial reconciliation, it is surprising that the Mbeki government has not chastized its liberation heroes for criticizing Mr. Mugabe.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which was expelled from Zimbabwe earlier this month, has been less fortunate. The trade-union federation has been trying to meet with its Zimbabwean counterpart. Although COSATU has long been an ally of the ruling African National Congress in South Africa and has been trying to help bolster workers’ rights in Zimbabwe, the Mbeki government has worked to undermine the group’s efforts. South African Labor Minister Membathisi Mdladlana said leading up to the COSATU trip to — and subsequent expulsion from — Zimbabwe, that “it would be a big mistake if they come [to Zimbabwe] without the necessary authority,” adding the visit had the “potential to undermine our relations.” COSATU said it complied with Zimbabwe’s entry requirements and that Mr. Mdladlana’s comments facilitated its extralegal expulsion.
South Africa would prefer to have a more democratic neighbor, but its utter failure to take even modest steps toward bringing about a desirable outcome has become bewildering. The Mbeki government has tried quiet diplomacy for years, to no avail. The upcoming elections provide the people of Zimbabwe, and Mr. Mbeki, a chance to push for democracy.