R.W. Johnson's piece in the Spring 2001 issue is timely indeed ("Mugabe, Mbeki, and Mandela's Shadow"). All those who hope to see a new South Africa survive should heed his message.

What is it that drives African presidents to support one another, no matter how far apart their public policies may be? The new South African Constitution upholds freedom of expression, free press, independent judiciary and freehold property rights. Mugabe locks up editors, destroys independent media, makes political appointments to the bench and allows farms to be illegally occupied. Yet South Africa's Thabo Mbeki does not condemn his Marxist counterpart in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, such a reaction represents the rule rather than the exception in this continent. What did African presidents do about Mugabe's tyrannical predecessors--Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko, Sani Abacha, Laurent Kabila? Very much the same.

Two vital things--democracy and intensive farming--have not transplanted very successfully into African soil. Traditionally, Africa honored the power of the Chief, the man who distributed the land, who held the Big Stick. Centralized power, particularly one-party power, appeals so much because it is the easiest way to wield that stick. Why give it up to someone who might use it against me? And if I am carrying the Big Stick, or the fly whisk or the AK-47, why do I need to respect my opposition? Consider Robert Mugabe and his current actions. On the one hand, he rejects the concept of legitimate opposition, is not concerned about accountability in government and resents any criticism of his abuse of power. On the other hand, and perhaps equally important, he does not understand the productive force of an open society or the modem farm.

The land, which all used to belong to the chief and which used to be distributed only to loyal citizens by chiefs or by kings, is still the object of local wars. To pass beyond this warlike stage, some type of agreement is necessary and an open acceptance of freehold property rights is a good start. Mandela certainly recognized this, and ensured that the principle became entrenched in South Africa's new constitution.

Next, we need the skills and the energy, the consistent husbandry that farming requires; and in a broader economic sense the management know-how to harvest, load, transport and distribute our product, package it and market it. Management in its turn needs some stability and security, the rule of law, in order to function effectively. Managers need to be encouraged and skills to be nurtured. But what does President Mugabe do? He sends "war veterans" to occupy working land at home, and he sends 12,000 troops into the Congo to protect his own interests there. The presidents of Angola and Namibia join him in this cynical enterprise in central Africa.

Mandela has denounced liberation leaders who "despise the people who put them in power and want to stay in power forever. They want to die in power because they have committed crimes." Archbishop Tutu says that Mugabe "seems to be wanting to make a cartoon of himself." Tragically, it is the cartoons that threaten to become the reality in today's Southern Africa.


Cape Town, South Africa

R.W. Johnson's article on South African policy toward Zimbabwe paints a distorted picture of President Mbeki's policies.

Mbeki's goal is to keep Zimbabwe moving toward the March 2002 elections so voters can choose a president in a free, fair, and constitutional process. His goal is also that if Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF lose the election, they will accept the election result.

This is the best possible outcome for the current crisis. It respects and reinforces the rule of law, assures a successor assumes office with full legitimacy, and consolidates democracy.

Johnson's proposal implies that South Africa should impose economic sanctions to cause enough turmoil and suffering to "topple" (his term) President Mugabe before the elections. This would require considerable violence and bloodshed, although Johnson sees this of little consequence. Any successor regime assuming office under such circumstances would necessarily be tainted with illegitimacy, coming to power outside a constitutional process and-worst of all-would set a precedent for future regime changes in Zimbabwe.

There is no guarantee Johnson's proposals will work. Faced with heavy-handed South African efforts to topple him, Mugabe might well declare a national state of emergency, assume the power to rule by decree, and postpone elections indefinitely. Instead of solving this problem in the next few months, Johnson's proposal may prolong the crisis.

Johnson misunderstands South African politics when he claims there is a major gap between Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki on Zimbabwe, or any other issue.

Mandela is now a private citizen and can voice opinions that Mbeki, constrained by office, cannot. Neither criticizes Mugabe directly, although both make comments about unnamed African leaders that can be viewed as criticizing Mugabe. The relationship between the two men is so close and ANC party discipline so strong that it makes better sense to interpret their comments as a whole with Mbeki's official comments augmented by Mandela's private comments to give a complete...

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