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Where solidarity is white only

Fikile Mbalula
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A FEW weeks ago political South Africa went into excitement following the arrival into that country of a high-level delegation from the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front, ZANU PF. The ZANU PF sojourn was a reply visit to an earlier one to Zimbabwe by the African National Congress (ANC) Secretary General, Fikile Mbalula.


Before then, a Summit of Liberation Movements had convened in Victoria Falls from March 18, at which the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, BDP, was upgraded to liberation movement status. These developments preceded elections in four countries in our Region, all of them under the sway of Liberation Movements; successively these are South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia. Before these impending polls, the Southern Africa Region had seen several elections, including those in Zimbabwe, Eswatini and the DRC.

Out of all these elections in our Region, two stood and stand out as of greatest interest to the Western World: those of Zimbabwe and South Africa. The reasons are hardly difficult to fathom; they do not need to detain us here.

Teaching ANC to rig

The reaction of opposition parties in South Africa to the Zanu PF deputation, expectedly and predictably led by the white-led Democratic Alliance, was feistily hostile. Zanu PF, it was claimed, had come to teach the ANC to rig elections, thus endangering democracy in Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation.

Nothing exemplified the sincerity and depth of that fear than that some elements associated with this thinking went as far as approaching the courts to have the Zanu PF delegation ejected from the country. The ever mounting hostility then forced the ANC leader and current President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, to address and dismiss these allegations.

Cyril Ramaphosa

I am also aware of a Zimbabwe political communication team which the ANC had contracted, independent of Zanu PF, and had to leave South Africa in a huff amidst threatening behaviour from supporters of South Africa’s broad opposition. Such hostility is to be distinguished from the general sentiment of xenophobia which has become intrinsic and endemic to South African politics.

Here we are dealing with a specific hostile attitude reserved for, and trained against, Zanu PF.

Bad for the gander?

It needs to be recalled that since 1980, Zimbabwe’s elections have never been a no-go area for South Africans, both before and especially after apartheid. I am talking about South Africa as an ensemble of organised political formations or variously as general political society.

There is a way in which each Zimbabwean election makes South Africans vicarious players in her electoral politics, whether for better or for worse. Many South Africans go as far as taking militant positions on either side in the binary contest, and even feeling righteous about their involvement and choices.

Worse so their media, both white and black, which get so entangled that they become veritable players in our elections. They even devote passionate running commentary throughout our electoral season as if they have more than a dog in the fight.

Even feeling sadder and more downcast when a particular side loses. Assuming the Zanu PF delegation went to South Africa to support any one side in the elections, why then would it seem that what’s good for the goose, becomes so poisonous for the gander?

White South Africa and Zim Elections

Let be more specific and concrete. In the days of late Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the Democratic Alliance, then led by Tony Leon, funded Tsvangirai’s MDC. This is no secret; it was confirmed subsequently by none other than Tony Leon himself in his book, On the Contrary.

I do not need to make mention of the politically impious role which the Hellen Suzman Foundation played in our politics, and on the side of the opposition. Or that of the so-called South African civil society, including activist judges and attorneys.

Or that of former white farmers who relocated to South Africa after our Land Reform Programme, or much earlier, on the eve of our Independence and thereafter. Not to leave out black political formations like EFF. Political South Africa has always behaved as if the 1923 whites-only Referendum on the future of Rhodesia voted in favour of appending Zimbabwe to South Africa as the last, additional province. But all that is not my motive in putting this troubled relationship under scrutiny this week.

My interest is in the way cross-border political solidarity is or has been viewed: when it is legitimate or illegitimate; who can or cannot enjoy it in any one political season; what aspersions are attached to it, and cast by who.

Historically-rooted solidarity

The ANC-ZANU PF alliance and solidarity is cast in stone of history, a hard, long history dating back to common struggles for the awakening and decolonisation of the Continent, including fighting for  an end to apartheid. In actual fact this historic and historical association of the oppressed of the two Southern African peoples pre-dated the armed phase of African struggles for Independence in Southern Africa.

Almost the entire founding leadership of ZANU PF had some association with South Africa, and with the ANC, itself Africa’s oldest Liberation Movement and political party. These associations ran the whole gamut: from totems, migration, education, marriage through to politics, both before and after Zimbabwe’s Independence.

The only other countries on the African continent rivalling South Africa in educating the first generation of Rhodesian nationalists then were Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria and possibly Sierra Leone.

When the wolf cries wolf wolf!

Why then, one might ask, should the solidary presence of Zanu PF in South Africa, in a season of elections, be such a source of disquiet and consternation? Electoral processes and electoral rights are, after all, the essence of those struggles which united the peoples of Southern Africa, indeed the guarantor to continuity of the democratic dispensation which those struggles sired and which Africa so yearned for.

Why would such historically-rooted association which delivered South Africa’s non-racial dispensation now look like some unheard-of abomination now stinking to high heavens? Nobody treats the suggestion that Zanu PF came South to teach and impart to ANC “rigging skills” any seriously; it should not detain us here.

Suffice to say one does not need the physical presence of Zanu PF or any other force on South African soil to “teach” ANC to rig. To teach South Africa’s ANC which fought and won universal suffrage for all South Africans, how to reverse that very wartime goal for which it sacrificed so tremendously.

The impudence of having those who stood in the way of that hallowed goal in favour of racial apartheid, now crying wolf-wolf over the right to,  and integrity of the vote, is just insufferable.

 Remember Gdansky

Much worse, it is as if political electoral solidarity was invented by Zanu PF in aid of the ANC. Let us interrogate that dissembling and self-serving claim. This column once wrote about the Gdansky Declaration which convened under the sub-theme called “Solidarity for Democracy”.

Yes, Solidarity for Democracy. Gdansky is a shipyard city in Poland which conceived an uprising of dock workers under Lech Walesa, thus ending Communism in that country. It was a CIA-funded and directed operation which paved the way to the current era of EU-affiliated neo-liberalism.

At face value, that Summit was authored by European and American Liberals, aided by the Oppenheimers under their Brenthurst Foundation; deep down it was Reaganite politics at play, underpinned by the CIA. The DA of South Africa was represented by the current President, alongside a bevy of several opposition parties and movements across the African Continent.

Rolling back authoritarianism?

The key objective of that Conference was to devise strategies and alliances for “rolling back authoritarianism” worldwide, with particular emphasis on Africa. It declared: “These struggles are not nationally determined and bound. Defending democracy requires common purpose — of solidarity — among democrats inside and outside all countries. Just as authoritarians have created their own financial, military and media networks that support each other, democrats have to do the same.”

Holy Alliance of Democrats

Lest the intention and message was not clear enough, Resolution 5 sought to: “Establish a region-wide Alliance of Democrats, formed around shared values, which meets frequently to build trust, develop joint strategies, monitor electoral standards and practices, and share experiences.”

Resolution 19 enjoined all democrats to “Speak on each other’s party platforms, and attend each other’s congresses as special guests. Gdansky occurred from June 21 to 23, in the Year of our Lord 2023! It emerged with 21 resolutions by which to remake the world. One is reminded of the Holy Alliance through which European Monarchical governments united against the menace of post-French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic politics.

Enter Democrat Union of Africa

Those with long memories will also recall that a similar gathering took place here in our region – in Johannesburg, South Africa, to be specific. Dubbed Democrat Union of Africa, DUA, the Summit which ran from April 26 to 30, was sponsored by the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and sought to strengthen centre-right political parties in Africa.

Its theme was, “Discovering New Dimensions of Cooperation: A Collective Responsibility Towards Africa’s Development”. Even renegade organisations like Renamo of Mozambique, and our own MDC, participated.

Kempton Park political concourse

But that is not all. In South Africa itself – from August 17, 2023, the DA organized a meeting of renegade political parties in South Africa whose goal was drafting a multiparty charter against the ANC. This was at Kempton Park, having been preceded by several such meetings at which the idea of ganging up against the Liberation movement was conceived, cultivated and nurtured to maturity.

It held well towards 2024, although its utility was shaken by exigencies of political realities on the ground.

Cabral’s Unity and Struggle

Gentle reader, I do not want to sound sanctimonious by dispensing political homilies to you. I respect your intellect. Should you doubt the veracity of all or some of the above, I invite you to carry out your own research and challenge me as appropriate.

All I can say is that political solidarity is never a dirty concept; until it is attempted or contrived by a certain race, pursuing a certain politics which are liberatory. As long as it is Gdansky, Johannesburg or Kempton Park, and for as long as a white organisation and persons hover around such solidarity, all is well.

But let the complexion of both politics and political actors change, then all hell breaks loose, and aspersions are cast copiously. They seek to divide us; they give our own attempts at uniting in defense of ideals of Africans and Africa bad names, badder labels to place such initiatives in disfavour.

That need not be a tragedy; we were told and trained to know that political struggles have their own ideological correlatives. What makes this whole matter tragic is when fellow blacks, themselves part of jetsam and flotsam of the oppressed majority in Southern Africa, are sucked in and begin to be swept towards such wiles and subterfuges.

We need to keep sharpening our collective consciousness, so we know and remember what Amilcar Cabral reminded us: Unity&Struggle! Especially on a day like today when we celebrate the Unity of Africa!

This was first published here in the Herald.