Lindiwe Sisulu: “The people of Zimbabwe are probably justly unhappy with us”

African National Congress leaders have in the past not taken strong stances on Zimbabwe, and President Robert Mugabe’s authoritarian rule, preferring instead “soft diplomacy”. Now, ANC presidential hopeful Lindiwe Sisulu says the ANC should have taken a stronger stance on Zimbabwe.

In an interview with The Daily Vox, Sisulu said that South Africa has now learnt that “there are no special cases” and that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) needed to heed this as well.

“There must be a one size fits all, don’t have special cases for special people because of the special reverence we have for them. There are no special cases. Good governance is good governance and should apply equally across all countries and every nation … for a long time the issue of Zimbabwe has been treated as a holy cow and the people of Zimbabwe are probably justly unhappy with us,” she said.

Last week, President Jacob Zuma sent defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and state security minister Bongani Bongo to Zimbabwe to meet with Mugabe and the Zimbabwean Defence Force (ZDF). The ZDF took control of the country last week after the deputy president Emmerson Mnangagwa was fired.

Mapisa-Nqakula said on Tuesday that she and Bongo were sent to Zimbabwe as envoys of the SADC. Army general, and now coup-leader Constantino Chiwenga said they sought to remove the inner circle that had a negative influence on Mugabe, she said.

Last week, Zuma called for calm and restraint in Zimbabwe and for the ZDF to ensure that peace and stability are not undermined in Zimbabwe. In his capacity as the SADC chair, Zuma travelled to Angola and met with regional leaders to discuss Zimbabwe .

South Africa played a close role in the controversial 2002 and 2008 elections in Zimbabwe. The president at the time Thabo Mbeki – appointed chief mediator between the the ruling party, Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change – would go on to be accused by the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, after the latter election concluded, of lacking neutrality and allowing a rigged vote to pass.

Sisulu said the South African policy with Zimbabwe has varied from “take it easy, take it hard, it’s been a thorn at our sides for a very long time.”

She believes Mugabe should have had a “graceful exit” and this would be a demeaning end to a man who contributed so much to Zimbabwe. “We as South Africans could have helped him get to that exit… It is a humiliating end, we could have been very forthright with him to say listen, this is how your people feel about you,” she said.

Amidst the military take-over, some Zimbabwean people said they rejected the possibility of a SADC intervention, including one who started a petition last week, a day after the army takeover, which calls for the halt in SADC’s interference in the transition of Zimbabwe.

Dumiso Dabengwa, the former head of intelligence in Zimbabwe, told journalists last Friday that “SADC has not been able to successfully resolve [issues] without being prejudiced in one way or the other.”

Sisulu said South Africa had intelligence on what people of Zimbabwe wanted because we are the recipients of people who come from Zimbabwe. “They respect comrade Mugabe for what he has done but at the same time they feel he has overstayed and should have handed power over a long time ago.” “We [the South African government] were the only people who could have convinced him and it is a pity we didn’t take that opportunity a long time ago. We kind of pussy footed around the real issue,” she said.

Sisulu added no one is closer to Mugabe than the South African government and it should have been able to tell him that now is a good time hand over. “If your friends can’t tell you the truth, then it says something about your friends,” she said.

On Tuesday, the Zimbabwean parliament sat to begin an impeachment process.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons