Dear Mmusi, getting kicked out of Zambia does not make you a hero

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane was refused entry into Zambia last week and came across as a hero for trying to support issues faced by opposition leaders. *Sanale Sankara writes a letter to Maimane reminding him of his party’s poor record of relationships with overseas visits, diplomacy, and human rights issues.

Dear Mr Maimane,

I’m sorry to hear that you and your shadow minister of trade and industry Geordin Hill-Lewis were denied entry into Zambia, manhandled, interrogated and sent back home. Your intention to offer support to an opposition leader being tried for treason by President Edgar Lungu’s government on what seem like spurious charges is commendable. Indeed as fellow Africans we should support the cause of democracy and human rights for all, across the continent and across the world.

However, I cannot help but take this opportunity to urge you to reflect independently – that means without the whispers and suggestive thoughts of the Madam, Athol, Tony, John, Gavin, James or Geordin – on your actions and uncomfortable experiences. The universe and fate are constantly providing us with lessons, if we are but prepared to listen and learn.

That the Zambian government and President Lungu are douchebags for oppressing its opposition and denying you and Geordin entry is without debate. Democracy in Zambia, like in so many other places, needs much attention. And South Africa, as the regional power, has clearly not done enough.

But being denied entry into Zambia does not make you a hero, a progressive leader, or validate your claims of human rights activism.

You and your party’s recent forays into international relations would raise questions from even the most trusting government about your intentions and would draw doubt about your appreciation of Africa’s history. Certainly, you commitment to democracy and human rights is not obvious.

In 2016, the DA visited Taiwan and gestured towards a two-China solution – a rookie mistake. Not only was it unthinkably pretentious to assume you spoke for South Africa and could run your own parallel diplomatic relations out of a prissy suburb in Cape Town, you also contradicted the country’s official position on an issue that has implications for the world political order.

No one wants a loose cannon, Mr Maimane.

I should also point out to you Sir, that China, the most populated country and second largest economy in the world is one of Zambia’s main trade and investment partners – go figure.

Your party’s relationship with history and race would worry any self-respecting African, Asian, or Latin-American leader.

The Democratic Alliance chooses to approach the horrors and effects of colonialism and apartheid by indifference, and attempting to rewrite history. Addressing historical legacies are completely absent from your party’s policies and thinking.

Your party has been critical of the #RhodesMustFall movement. That quintessential colonialist and imperialist, Cecil John Rhodes, whose statue the DA faithful would have kept standing if they could (like the road name in Cape Town), also colonised and looted Zambia, to the extent that the country was even named after him for some time (Northern Rhodesia).

Zambians and other countries that won their freedom from European colonial rule over the last century are still understandably sceptical about the intentions of old colonial masters, outside forces and multilateral institutions that may not have the best interests of their countries and regions at heart.

Mr Maimane, you claim that you were going to Zambia to protect democracy and human rights. And indeed supporting Hakainde Hichilema would be supporting just that.

But this is particularly impetuous and hypocritical of you and your party.

Just last year you visited Israel, providing political support and moral blessing to the state that’s based on racial discrimination, ethnic cleansing, denial of suffrage, expansion of illegal settlements and an ongoing brutal occupation of Palestinian land – i.e. an apartheid state. When the South African public saw you posing with the murderous President Netanyahu you fumbled and conjured a cock-and-bull story about your attempts to meet the Palestinian Authority, and claimed to be seeking “objectivity” and “balance” in a conflict that has none. Your claims to care about democracy and human rights are at best hypocritical.

South Africa and the world is crying out for authentic, principled and committed leadership. The ANC of Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Ahmed Kathrada is no more. Your tall stature, fiery speeches with exaggerated location “vernacular”, fist pumps, swanky gear and “jobs for all” simply does not cut it when your stand on colonialism, democracy, and human rights is driven by expediency rather than principle.

Sanale Sankara

PS: The next time you want to visit a country guilty of human rights violations with little appetite for criticism and questions, and which often denies entry to visitors, do it properly like you did in 2015 when your bearded MP Yusuf Cassim visited Israel. Back then, Israel’s deputy ambassador asked airport officials to be nice to Mr Cassim, and so Mr Cassim was given easy access to the apartheid state. But this requires you to be on the side of the oppressor.

*Sanale Sankara (not their real name) is an academic and writer based in Johannesburg

Features image by Gulshan Khan