On the Impossibility of Solidarity with Zimbabweans

I’ve been mulling this posting for a week, but prompted by Norm’s postings I thought I’d share some profound analysis on solidarity from Reuben Mohlaloga of the ANC. For those who haven’t been following closely, here’s the back-story.

Last week, a delegation from the Confederation of South African Trade Unions went on a fact-finding mission to Harare, to discover whether there is, in fact, a crisis in Zimbabwe. They planned to meet their comrades from the Zimbabwean Confederation of Trade Unions, and managed to get through the airport to their hotel before being woken up first thing in the morning, interrogated by the police, and then put on a bus to the border. The Zimbabwean government doesn’t take kindly to fact finding.

Chatting with a COSATU apparatchik last week, I asked why they’d gone to visit their friends up north. The reply was telling; the ZCTU have, occasionally, fibbed about the magnitude of government repression against their members, and COSATU went there to find out the facts. Granted, there are some from the ZCTU who display a certain degree of political immaturity. To be caught on camera plotting to kill Robert Mugabe isn’t the mark of a savvy leader, and Morgan Tsvangirai, ex-ZCTU now leader of the Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic Change seems to have learned his lesson. Nevertheless, the reason for COSATU’s visit with which I was palmed off is flimsy – the COSATU voyage up north has the smell not of an expression of international solidarity, but of a proxy skirmish. COSATU, along with the South African Communist Party, are in an alliance with the ruling ANC in South Africa. On the heels of a very successful (the largest ever) strike in South Africa, COSATU is jockeying for a little more power within the Alliance. The SACP had already come out against ZANU-PF and is busy making trouble with its Red October campaign around land. And Mbeki’s appeasement of Robert Mugabe is a clear weakness to exploit.

Which is why the ANC has come down very hard indeed on COSATU. And why we’ve seen an inspired bit of political analysis this week. Reuben Mohlaloga, a junior ANC member of parliament has, according to the Mail and Guardian, denounced the COSATU mission as a “fishing expedition [which] was never going to achieve anything but titles of heroism” for its members. He then goes on to add

“You don’t go and express solidarity with people who are not in a political crisis. You can express solidarity with Cubans, with Western Sahara, with Palestinians – bu there is no problem of human rights in Zimbabwe.”

I’m reminded here about Foucault’s thoughts on abnormality, on how the mentally ill are constructed as deviant before their condition is diagnosed. Normality is a very delicate flower, needing constant tending, with the active identification of pests over which our publicly authoritative gardeners argue the toss. In addition to casting Gardeners’ Question Time in a new light, this clumsy metaphor might prompt the reflection that, in the case of Zimbabwe, the ANC are trying not merely to control political sentiment, but its very possibility.

The payoff, for those unconcerned with Zimbabwe if any there be, is a reflection on friendship, political or otherwise. What are the ways in which we let other authorities decide the ruling of those communities in which we see our selves? We can all agree that the politics of mutual recognition, and thence the politics of community interaction, is too important to leave to the ANC, to the state, to the church, or even to Michael Moore. But the more important question is this: does solidarity need an authority in order to be possible?