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Just what we can learn from the horrible experience that was the Zimbabwe presidential, parliamentary and local government so-called election includes how South Africa can avoid what that country’s outgoing finance minister Tendai Biti called the “unbelievable” from happening.
Biti, who narrowly retained his seat for the Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai (MDC-T) in Harare East, steered the economy back on to a course of relative stability after the Zanu-PF inspired attack on the foundations of economic good sense.
In a radio interview this month, he said: “Since late yesterday we have been walking like zombies, drowning in dark shadows of pain and disbelief, hoping this is just a nightmare where someone will wake us up in sweat and we will sink into prayer. I am afraid it’s real. The unbelievable is happening, the surreal is playing. The insanity rolls on. The conductor does not pause, he waves his arms, in deep satisfaction to the exquisite delivery of the orchestra.”
Getting more effusive, he described the crowds as “applauding at the orchestra of insanity. They must think we are fools. To think that we [MDC-T] cannot have a seat in Masvingo, Manicaland and the three Mashonaland provinces. What a loquacious tragedy.” He was referring to what he views as a political demolition of the MDC-T, robbed of what he sees as the people’s victory – by Zanu-PF’s hooks and by crooks.
Biti is often credited with scrapping the Zimbabwe dollar. In fact he merely implemented the conversion mainly to the US dollar as the country’s currency. A Zanu-PF predecessor had made the change not long before the 2008 election, in which the MDC-T won the most seats in parliament. Biti took up the treasury post in a unity government because the MDC could not make Zanu-PF exit from office – as it should have been forced to do – after 28 years in power.
The political picture is different now after the July 31 election. Biti returned to parliament with 9 526 votes against Zanu-PF’s 8 278. If he takes up his seat, he will be part of a small opposition bench. He was one of the lucky ones in the opposition.
Just how the new Mugabe-promised madness will play out is uncertain. Will there be a reintroduction of “the plummet” Zimbabwean dollar. Will big companies – including South African multinationals – be forced to hand over what is left of their holdings to a bunch of crooks in the government, who will no doubt hand over some of the “rewards” to those who “voted” for them? Will a Zimbabwean blacks-only stock exchange be introduced?
A range of commentators supportive of the ANC here – and part of the ruling party’s ideological claque – believe the realities of ruling will stop the new Zanu-PF ministers from carrying out what is at present only the theatre of the insane. Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim is one of them. Even Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries who was the South African minister present this week at the cabinet briefing, could not say the election was free and fair.
There is little that can be done by ordinary South Africans about the Zimbabwean situation, other than to protest. However, we cannot allow these authoritarian tendencies to take root in our democracy.
A warning sign was the delivery of food parcels in the Tlokwe municipal by-election where the ANC grip on the Potchefstroom area is loosening. The ANC candidate won, but only just. The farm violence in the Western Cape last year was another warning that the ANC is ready to use the race card to discredit white farmers who are lame duck targets even if they have credible records of empowerment of farmworkers.
Even farms that were black owned came under the assault of farm “workers”. Joemat-Pettersson accused the DA last year of representing racist farmers. She went on to fund – to the tune of R4.1 million – the Black Association of the Agricultural Sector headed by Nosey Pieterse, who was also a key farm strike leader.
There is no doubt that there is inequality on farms – all around the country. But when the elements of violence, which in the Zimbabwe case has included bloody invasions, and food parcels are used for political leverage, people who believe in democracy and the accountability of public institutions, including electoral commissions, need to sit up and take notice.
They need to be outspoken in their opposition to these signs of creeping authoritarian manipulation à la Zimbabwe.