Outposts of tyranny

Hmm. How odd. Today’s mass action on campus, for which there were posters almost everywhere, didn’t happen. Not only didn’t it happen, but the posters were removed, only two people remember seeing them, and the major grievance of students who weren’t excluded is that the espresso takes too long to queue for. There is no war. We have never been at war.

Meanwhile, some comment on Mbeki’s denialism about Zimbabwe. The man has a bit of a history of denialism – his position on HIV/AIDS has been wonderfully deconstructed by my colleague, Mandisa Mbali here. And one can see similar reasons for his denialism around HIV/AIDS in his one-armed embrace of Mugabe. African sexuality is pathological, the bodies of black men and women turned bestial under a western gaze. The Africa-as-permanent-basket-case thinking that suffuses the Northern media is the corollary of this, only at a different level of analysis – the nation as crazed fiend, and innocent child. It’s racist thinking, and Mbeki is right to have little patience for it.

But Mbeki is wrong to let his reactionary impulses smother his thinking. In fact, Mugabe is a fiend. He’s a fiend not because he’s black, but because what he instructs his government to do to Zimbabweans and other people living in Zimbabwe is bloodthirsty, totalitarian, brutal and vindictive. Mbeki’s thinking isn’t only smothered by reaction. He’s also a good democrat, and he represents the concerns of South Africans. Not all, or the majority, but some South Africans nonetheless. Not least those South Africans who were once propertied Zimbabweans, but who’ve left for safer outposts. The South African and Zimbabwean governments have long been negotiating a treaty that would protect South African property-owners from expropriation. Last month, the fourth attempt to get the thing signed, the Zimbabwean government cancelled again. I’m sure this is infuriating for the lad Thabo. But if he’s going to get the signatures on the parchment, he’s going to have to be well behaved. And that means a slap on the wrist for Mugabe so gentle, it feels like a caress.