JOHANNESBURG - Nineteen years ago I wrote a very sad story about the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) preparing to invade Lesotho.
I had been stuck in the country for months covering the bitter fallout between the elected government of then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili on the one hand, and the opposition parties, and the army on the other.
As I had been in Lesotho for some time, I made friends and became acutely aware of how complicated the Basotho politics were. Some of the friends would later become key sources of information on the situation beyond the laid-back capital of Maseru.
So when I wrote about the invasion, I did so on the strength of impeccable sources and observations of army movements between the border town of Ficksburg and the tiny mountain kingdom.
Expectedly, the SANDF headquarters came out guns blazing, denouncing the story as sensationalist and meant to spark panic and fear in peaceful Lesotho.
Within 72 hours of the story, SANDF tanks rolled into Maseru, albeit with some comic intelligence that sent our soldiers to Maseru Sun (now what right-minded person would chose a hotel to launch a some nefarious actions against a government?) instead of the palace where the rebels were holed up.
The word intervention quickly replaced invasion. Needless to say, what followed whatever the whole operation was called resulted in death and destruction that Lesotho is still yet to recover from.
I was reminded of Lesotho yesterday when I saw the Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF) tanks rolling on the streets of Harare in an apparent show of force meant to rid the government of “criminals” and “counter revolutionaries” who had made themselves comfortable on the senile 93-year old President Robert Mugabe.
This is the same army that assisted Mugabe to steal election after election since 2000. It chuckled and looked the other way as Zimbabwe’s feared police thugs bashed the skulls of opposition activists in full view of international cameras. Ask former Prime Minister and Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai if you do not believe me.
It also publicly declared that it would never salute anyone but a Zanu-PF president. Small wonder then that most people are sceptical about the sudden change of heart from them.
If the chilling warning from army chief General Constantino Chiwenga was anything to go by, then the language and the careful choice of words point to a frightening future that the country would never recover from.
Already, some businesses have started sending their employees home and those who have the financial muscle are flying out of the country.
It is a situation that will plunge an already battered economy into doldrums. And like Lesotho, whoever takes over after the madness will have more than a mammoth task to build what was once a thriving African country.
Lesotho and Zimbabwe hold a particular special place in my heart. My maternal parents trace their roots in the beautiful and scenic lands of southern Lesotho.
Zimbabwe on the other hand contributed immensely in my development, both a person and as a journalist. It was in the institutions of that country where the seeds of the written word were first planted.
Many an innocent kiss was stolen on the benches of the public parks alongside Baines Avenue in Harare in the late 1980s.
And yes, it was in the bars of the northern suburb of Avondale that ideological differences between South Africa’s then liberation movements took second place to important discussions about fears and hopes, as well as the parents we had left behind to fight for freedom. Most importantly, Zimbabwe was a country that all of us looked up to as how post-liberation Africa could look like.
Besides the massive construction site that Mugabe turned the country into, investors were falling over themselves to seek opportunities in mining and infrastructure development. And sleepy towns such as Rusape and Mutare were suddenly waking up to their economic potential while the mighty Victoria Falls looked as if recording the massive development taking place below its majestic waters. Today this beautiful country that boasted the best tourist attractions is on the verge of complete disaster.
The once good education system that was the wonder of the world and the progressive health services have all but collapsed. The country that easily exported its produce now relies on imports from its neighbours for basic essentials. The agriculture and mining industries have become fiefdoms of a few connected individuals.
The country’s erstwhile currency, the Zim dollar, is today worth less than the monopoly board game money. What was once a thriving democracy backed by a booming economy has literally been catapulted into bankruptcy by the very people who once offered hope to Africa. It is a story that is scaringly familiar in the continent.
So as we watch the developments in Zimbabwe from the comforts of our homes, we must ponder to ask why the continent continues to lose its massive potential in world trade.
We should ask ourselves how it happened that the continental economic powerhouses of Nigeria and South Africa are suddenly faced with stagnant growth and inevitable downgrades from international ratings agencies. If we do that, we will then be able to make our leaders account for their actions in the demise of what was once a promising dream.
That way, we will be able to send a clear message to the rest of the world that parasites like the Gupta family have no place in Africa’s renewal. And only then will Africa fulfil her potential.
Sechaba Nkosi is the deputy editor of Business Report.
- BUSINESS REPORT