THE ANC did not go to Zimbabwe for “a joyride”, Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu told an online seminar organised by the ANC’s OR Tambo School of Leadership on Wednesday night.
“There was no other way that we could have gone there,” she said, seeming irritated by criticism from opposition parties that ANC members had abused state resources.
The criticism of an ANC delegation hitching a ride on an Air Force jet earlier this month to meet their counterparts in Zanu PF did not specifically arise during the seminar, which was addressed by party stalwart and academic Pallo Jordan and veteran Zimbabwe analyst Ibbo Mandaza, but Zulu commented during the question and answer session.
Zulu said the ANC’s team had been “mandated by the National Executive Committee” to go, and hinted that, due to the Covid-19 lockdown, it had no other means to get to Harare.
The officials met with Zanu PF over challenges (most have called it a crisis) in Zimbabwe, but Zulu, with Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, apparently went there primarily in their official capacity to meet their counterparts over government matters.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has asked for a report on how it came to be that party officials benefited from a flight paid for by the taxpayer, while the ANC has vowed to pay back the money even as the party’s study group in Parliament found the trip was justified.
“It’s very unfortunate that there is all this drama of the media and statements being made,” Zulu said. “I can tell you right now that we had one of the most open, honest, frank – both ways – meetings, to the point that the secretary-general of Zanu PF himself [most likely a reference to Obert Mpofu] said this is almost the first meeting we have ever had of this nature where comrades said, ‘Yes we are liberation movements, yes we have been in the trenches, but how relevant are we today as liberation movements? Do we really see the opportunities for us to unite and respond to the needs of our people?”
Mandaza, however, didn’t think so. “Lindiwe is exaggerating the role of the former liberation movements,” he said, “unnecessarily so, especially with regards to Zimbabwe.”
He speculated that it could be a “public relations stunt on her part to make peace with Zanu PF”.
Following the ANC’s meeting, Zulu has been backtracking from her much more critical stance the month before, when she said there was a “crisis” in Zimbabwe.
Mandaza continued: “She must know, as we all know, Zanu PF is heavily dented as a party, it is dependent on the military, but most important of all, it is completely naive and self-indulgent on the part of anybody, including herself, to think that Zanu PF can turn around the fortunes of Zimbabwe.”
Mandaza also commented on the fact that the ANC had failed to meet anybody outside Zanu PF, as Ramaphosa, in an ANC briefing the week before, had promised the party would, and as his envoys tried to do during their visit the month before.
“I think it is very important in the interests of the national dialogue that South Africa’s mediation must encourage whatever is left of Zanu PF, whatever is left of the Zimbabwean state, which is in decline, to engage other political parties and civil society in national dialogue” towards resolving the crisis in Zimbabwe, he said.
“Zanu-PF does not resemble in any way a liberation movement, notwithstanding its claims to the contrary. It has lost its soul long ago.”
Mandaza also said that from South Africa’s side, “it is naive to expect that the ANC on its own can resolve the problems that are here and so real in our countries. As former liberation movements we should not indulge in the self-denialism of the kind that was seen in Harare. It is time for introspection like never before.”
He said talks between South Africa and Zimbabwe should also touch on issues such as the trade imbalance, the illicit export of minerals to South Africa – some through elite collusion – and the exodus of skilled workers from Zimbabwe to South Africa.
Jordan, who has kept a low profile after his resignation from leadership positions in 2014 after lying about having a doctorate, was also critical of the ANC’s softly-softly approach towards Zanu-PF, as well as remarks by Zanu-PF officials accusing the ANC of interference.
“You don’t have to be asked to help where your neighbour’s house is on fire. Your neighbour might well say, ‘No, no, no, I can handle this, no need for you to come and help me’, but the neighbour should never interpret the offer to help as an attempt to interfere, and I think, unfortunately, that is the spirit in which the comrades in Zimbabwe have received interventions on the part of the ANC.
“The ANC is not perfect and it doesn’t pretend to be perfect, and I’ll never suggest they are perfect. But I think the spirit in which the ANC delegation came to Zimbabwe was not to interfere in Zimbabwe’s affairs, but as a good neighbour that sees the house on fire and is coming to help.
“And in any case, even when your neighbour says, ‘I can handle this’, it is in your self-interest to help your neighbour to put out the fire, because that fire might spread to your house,” he said.
In the same vein, Jordan said, it was important that the region do something about the insurgency in Mozambique and treat it as an issue that affects the whole region, rather than a national issue.
“In terms of the region, we need to start that framework in which countries act collectively,” he said. “The difficulties we face are far tougher than each country can handle on its own.”