The African National Congress, South Africa's ruling party, has issued a strongly worded statement condemning repression of democratic rights in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. Meanwhile, the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeke, who lost control of his own party last December, has remained silent. In neighboring Namibia, the Prime Minister Nahas Angula voiced concern last week about the upcoming runoff elections in Zimbabwe and called for increasing the number of observers.
Since then, of course, the opposition leader has pulled out of the elections and fled to the Embassy of the Netherlands in the wake of surging violence and police action against members of his party. Namibia has not condemned Mugabe's regime either, and its Defense Force Chief has just returned from a 4 day trip to Zimbabwe where he assured the Zimbabwean media:
"The relationship between Namibia and Zimbabwe is growing from strength to strength. We share so many things. We have so many things in common. We would want to build on that relationship,"
What southern Africa nations share with Zimbabwe, in addition to a common history of liberation struggle and instability during the Cold War / Apartheid years, are complex economic dependencies, most significantly with regard to access to electrical power. This month Namibia doubled its power imports from Zimbabwe.
"[In March],Nampower advanced US$40 million to Zimbabwe to assist with the refurbishment of four electricity generating units at its coal-fired Hwange Power Station in return for a guaranteed supply of 150 megawatts for the next five years.
NamPower's managing director Paulinus Shilamba said the rehabilitation of the first unit has been completed, allowing for the increased power production.
Shilamba said the utility was not concerned that the deteriorating situation would affect Zimbabwe's ability to honor the agreement despite the power station being plagued with breakdowns and a shortage of parts in the country.
"They (Zimbabwe) have been very good in fulfilling their commitment and we have a lot of confidence in these guys," Shilamba said."
Even as many world powers call for the isolation of Zimbabwe, including a unanimous vote of the UN Security Council which said that "a free and fair election was impossible if violence and intimidation continued", Russia, China and South Africa blocked stronger language in the UN measure that would have recognized opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as "the legitimate president, until another fair election can be held." China and South Africa are Zimbabwe's biggest trading partners, and both are heavily invested in the regional economy.
There is also a strong sensitivity in southern Africa to interference in the affairs of sovereign nations. Namibia, Angola and Zimbabwe overcame these qualms as participants in the The Second Congo War, which was as much a scramble for resources as an expression of solidarity and regional alliances. Some of this reticence is cultural; with the exception of leaders like Nelson Mandela and Julius Nyerere, there is not a strong tradition of former African leaders making a successful transition to senior statesmen. Some of it comes from looking over their shoulders. And some of it is ideological - resistance movements that become ruling parties after achieving Independence are used to identifying external threats and avoiding turning the lens on internal shortcomings.
Alan Little of the BBC cautions his readers today; "Do not underestimate the psychology of Africa's liberation tradition." This tradition is also what makes this e-mail letter from a South African to Zimbabwean refugees who have suffered a murderous backlash in his own country so telling:
"...I have been pondering whether to write this email or not, but mainly because I was ashamed of what this beautiful countries (sic) of ours has become.
In your country: My democracy was conceived when the MK soldiers fought alongside the ZIPRA forces in what was known as the Wankie Campaign in 1967. My brothers and sisters were looked after in Lusaka and they were given shelter. The blood of my brothers and sisters were spilled in Maputo in what was known as Matola raid on January 31, 1981 and your government gave them a state burial. The blood of my people was spilled in Maseru in what was known as the Maseru Massacre and your government gave them a state burial. The foundation of my democracy was laid in Mongoro Tanzania in 1969 in what was known as the Morogoro resolution. Your country gave my people land for them to be educated at Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO) in Mazimbu Tanzania. My soldiers were trained in Uganda, Lusaka, Angola, Mozambique, Algeria, Libya, Cuba, Russia. They fought in Cuinto Canhavallo alongside their Angolan, Namibian as well as the Cuban comrades in Angola. My democracy was delivered in Harare when the Harare Declaration was signed with the support of the Frontline States. my Movement's Congress was held in your country in 1985 in Kitwe, Zambia.
Your people protected, clothed and loved my movement. My people's struggle became your own struggle. Not once did you call them with derogatory names. Not once did you burn my brothers and sisters and not once did you say they are taking your jobs and women.
But most importnatly, I have a home in Harare at pastor Murefu's house, Zimbabwe. I have a home in Lilongwe at Cyprian's house, Malawi. I have a home in Kenya at Levi Nyambati's house. I have a home in Lusaka, Chipata, Mapanza as well as Livingstone with the BBalo and the Mutare family respectively, Zambia. My brother is lying in Mapanza, Zambia. I have a home in Mozambique at Pastor Nhantumbo's family (May his soul rest in peace). I have a home in Ivory Coast as well as DRC Kinshasa with Vincent Tohbi. I am married to the grand daughter of the Sena people in Malawi, Mozambique as well as Zimbabwe. My wife's maternal grandparents are in Swaziland.
My brothers, I apologize to you, your friends and your families for the barbaric action that you see in our country. I apologize to Kenyatta, Nkrumah, Machel, Tongoara, Mwalimu Nyerere, Aostinho Nehto, Mondlane, etc. I apologize on behalf of my leaders as well as my people that this is not who we are and this is not what makes us. I apologize and I would like to tell you that this is not the view of my country, but the thuggery elements in our society who will use and drag our name in mud to achieve their evil deeds. I would also like to assure you that our government as well as the members of our society at large, are working hard to root out these elements in our society.
We apologize because this is not who we are.
I hope you will find it in your hearts to open your doors and not to let these barbaric actions come between our friendship and all the wonderful things we have shared. My home is your home and I trust and believe that your home will remain my home. This I write from my heavy heart and i truly apologize on behalf of my firends, my family as well as all South Africans.
Freddy Tshikala, South African"
The return to the bad old days of regional instability and the specter of burning necklace victims once more in the townships have shaken people like Mr. Tshikala and those like him who were raised in a culture of pan-African resistance where "an injury to one is an injury to all." They grieve for what Zimbabwe has become under Mugabe, their former comrade and supporter. But they also grieve for what they have become, as nations and people who by their actions and inactions are now complicit in the repression of those who stood by them when the oppressor was always external and not one of their own. Finding their courage and helping their leaders find theirs is the best hope for Democracy in the region.
May it come in time for Zimbabwe.