What déjà vu is produced by hearing the pathetic excuses from South African president Mbeki about why he can’t criticize the thug regime in Zimbabwe. Foreign pressure, say the South Africans around Mbeki, is interfering with his ‘quiet diplomacy.’
That was exactly the attitude and even the precise phrase used by the Reaganites to justify their continued support of South Africa’s apartheid regime while the racist clan systematically brutalized all opposition. It didn’t take a PhD to realize that this alleged diplomacy was an excuse for business as usual and back-channel support to the anti-communist bulwark.
Mbeki seamlessly transfers this rhetoric to the new bugaboo: foreign colonialism. In the name of this enemy, Zimbabweans now enjoy not only an annual inflation rate of between 200,000 and 1,000,000% (depending on the source) but now are rounded up in their villages and beaten up for casting votes for the opposition. Dozens have been murdered outright, but that doesn’t faze the South African defender of African autonomy, which in his mind is consubstantial with the holy person of Robert Mugabe.
One alarmed voice suggested yesterday that Zimbabwe may be headed for a Rwanda-style meltdown in which whole sectors of the population could face a genocidal onslaught. This may be an exaggeration, but the logic of the moment doesn’t preclude it.