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Mbeki's African dream
The outward image is not what is going on within or behind the obvious scenes.
There is little doubt President Mbeki - now six years into his 10-year presidency - wants Africa to succeed. Indeed, he has developed the unfortunate image of being more on his aircraft visiting other states than he is at home. A glance at his international flight schedule - recently provided to parliament - is testament to this.
But Mbeki - and his staff - are acutely aware that Africa has not and does not enjoy a positive image in the world. Mbeki's speeches to parliament have referred to the dictatorships of Africa.
He recently spoke grimly at a conference of African academics of meeting a minister of an unnamed African country who gave his address card to him. The address was one in France.
Mbeki may not have the spin-doctoring support team to make his image look good. He simply does not have the Peter Mandelsohns or the Alastair Campbells that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has had.
If anything his advisers are not publicly known - and certainly have not succeeded in overcoming the image of a remote - even enigmatic figure - that Mbeki has increasingly become.
But Mbeki is a key player - perhaps indeed, the player - in the vision that the 21st century is the African century. It is he who has driven this vision. Mbeki has focused the attention on the continent where the new renaissance will occur.
He desperately wants black Africa to succeed - and he knows that even if SA succeeds in achieving 6% economic growth and cuts unemployment significantly in the years ahead, he also knows that SA will not gain what it deserves unless the bulk of Africa succeeds.
The urban legend that Americans can't tell the difference between a Nigerian and a South African because they are all part of a dark continent holds more than a measure of truth, and President Mbeki knows this very well.
Therefore countries like Zimbabwe - now effectively the polecat of Africa - have to succeed as well.
Mbeki has clearly not got the perceptions right about South Africa's stance towards that renegade - and increasingly failed - state. But the perception that he is doing nothing about Zimbabwe is wrong.
It is clear from a little scratching below the surface of the Mbeki mirror image - that he, indeed, wants to do something about that country.
For example, he has met church leaders from SA who want to assist in resolving the President Robert Mugabe-created humanitarian crisis. It is no accident that the Bishop Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, points to divisions in his own church about the way it views the evil regime that is Mugabe's.
Not even the church can stand united in protest against Mugabe's actions which have uprooted hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and jobs.
Mugabe 'the problem'
Mbeki knows full well that Mugabe is a problem. The difficulty is that the Western world - and the largely white official opposition in SA - see him doing little about it. He talks of the need for land reform in Zimbabwe.
Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has also referred to SA's need to take a cue from the Zimbabwean land reform process. But she has, more or less, retracted what she said.
But their public stances have not gone down well with the minorities in South Africa and investors abroad.
It is patently clear that Mbeki does not find it easy publicly to deal with Mugabe. The South African government points out that SA did not assist in sending assistance to rebel movements in central African states.
It will not do such a thing to support any rebel movement in Zimbabwe. South Africa had played a mediating role both diplomatically and militarily in a variety of African states.
Mbeki does not feel comfortable with using military action or overt diplomatic action which would be seen to be taking sides in Zimbabwe. It is frequently pointed out that not even the Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic Change has called for sanctions - or indeed military action - against that country.
The rationalisation of SA's stance is that it is not easy to impose sanctions or take punitive action against Zimbabwe even though the ruling ANC played a key role in using such tactics against the former South African apartheid government.
The situations, it is argued, by government are different. South Africa was an illegitimate state ruled by a minority. The majority had risen up against the state and the international community had - with widespread support - imposed sanctions and even supported military action.
It is clear that SA wants a resolution of Zimbabwe and is sticking to conditions for financial aid to Zimbabwe. SA has agreed in principle to loan it money - but it is clear that Zimbabwe would not get a cent if the conditions are not accepted and adhered to.
These conditions include political stability and economic recovery. Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma underscored this point in the National Assembly last week.
In her rather inarticulate and patronising manner for which she has become known, she asked how money could be given to the country if they did not want it.
It was the closest she will probably ever get to saying that what Mugabe is doing in that country is unacceptable. She has read her own president's mind pretty well. She does, after all, owe her job to him.
SA does talk in riddles - at least in public - on this matter and will probably continue to do so.
But the reality is that there is discomfort with Mugabe's actions. And when the crunch comes for Mugabe's regime, Mbeki will find it very hard to
support it in perpetuating injustice. - I-Net Bridge
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