THE FINK - Blind eye, cold heart

The Financial Mail had become my go to mag when I am looking for incisive articles, and this editorial, in the August 31 - September 6, 2023 issue, hits the spot. Read on, and savour, or maybe gag.

The Zimbabwe elections have left President Cyril Ramaphosa uncharacteristically composed. For once he's not shocked. Not by the intimidation of voters, threats of violence, nixing of opposition rallies, voters roll irregularities, electoral commission bungles and rounding up of activists by the dictator next door. If anything, he's been left downright cold. At least, that's what you can infer from the anodyne statement released by his office on Monday afternoon. While ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula was banging the Zanu-PF drum in a bid to make fixing fokol a regional sport, Ramaphosa was no doubt consulting earnestly to find political passage that would require neither back-bone nor moral rectitude. And so it is that South Africa "congratulates the government and the people of Zimbabwe" for holding the elections. It "has taken note of the preliminary pronouncements by the invited international observers missions". And it "calls on all the parties in Zimbabwe to work in unison in sustaining peace". It's a bland statement that belies the democratic farce that played out last week, the observer findings that the elections didn't accord with international and regional standards for polls, and that "working in unison" is not possible if Zanu-PF doesn't recognise as legitimate any opposition to, or criticism of, its rule. At least Mbalula nailed his ill-considered colours to the mast with a solid "Viva" after Emmerson Mnangagwa's win. The only place Ramaphosa's slip shows is the mention of the "difficult" environment in which the election took place. Not a difficult political landscape, mind you — say, one in which draconian laws limit free speech, or where activists have been disappeared, tortured and imprisoned. Nor is it an economy tanked, hyperinflation spiralling, a forex crunch and a currency in the doldrums. No, Ramaphosa is referring to a difficult economic environment occasioned by "the burdening sanctions which the people of Zimbabwe continue to unjustly endure". Robert Mugabe couldn't have scripted it better himself. It's the old disingenuous dog whistle for the disaffected: blame the West. It's poor sleight of hand, too. There aren't sanctions against Zimbabwe, but against individuals and organisations. As foreign policy think-tank Carnegie Europe puts it, US, UK and EU sanctions "are limited and directly impact officials of the ruling party, their families, and anyone responsible for human rights violations ... specific individuals are banned from travelling to Europe and the US, and their foreign assets are frozen." These restrictions, in other words, apply to those who manipulate the levers of power to the detriment of the people of Zimbabwe. So when Mbalula tweets that the international community should "lift sanctions" so Zimbabwe "can flourish", he's showing a woeful grasp of the real issue. As is Ramaphosa. Still, South Africa's less than implicit anti-Western bias and mealy-mouthed response should come as no surprise. Set aside the long historical tail running from "silent diplomacy", through an abysmal voting record on human rights, to a stubbornly short-sighted stance on Russia's imperialist venture in Ukraine. Look no further than Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the alphabet soup of the expanded bloc. Just its friendship with China and Russia puts South Africa staunchly in a basket of anti-Western human rights abusers. And that's before you consider the alacrity with which the country welcomed members such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates. All are countries with scant regard for human life. No, Ramaphosa isn't shocked by the democratic horror show that was Zimbabwe's election — and we shouldn't be shocked by his studied indifference. It's clear where the ruling party's allegiances lie. Sadly, South Africa as a whole is pulled into that particular vortex.