Michael Trapido
Michael Trapido

Why has Nelson Mandela remained silent on Zimbabwe?

Yesterday I picked up on a question from Christopher Hitchens in Slate magazine: Why has Nelson Mandela remained silent on Zimbabwe? The answer, in my humble opinion, is twofold. Firstly he hasn’t, and secondly Madiba has now earned his rest from politics and should, as his doctors advise, remain free of stress, which I would imagine must include politics.

The president of South Africa’s first multiracial democracy will be 90 on the 18th of July 2008, having spent a lifetime struggling to free his people from racism and intolerance. As most South Africans are aware, 27 of those years were spent in prison before he emerged to bridge the gap between the races and bring them under one flag, rather than seeking retribution. An incredible feat all on its lonesome.

Just prior to kick off of the World Cup Final 2007 against England in Paris, when he referred to the Springboks as the All Blacks I realised that Madiba, of all people, has merited his greatness and earned his rest. While we would all love to see him as much as we can, exerting pressure will only shorten his time with us and be of benefit to nobody.

Hitchens submitted the following: “By his silence about what is happening in Zimbabwe, Mandela is making himself complicit in the pillage and murder of an entire nation, as well as the strangulation of an important African democracy. I recently had the chance to speak to George Bizos, the heroic South African attorney who was Mandela’s lawyer in the bad old days, and who more recently has also represented Morgan Tsvangirai, the much-persecuted leader of the Zimbabwean opposition. Why, I asked him, was his old comrade apparently toeing the scandalous line taken by President Thabo Mbeki and the African National Congress? Bizos gave me one answer that made me wince — that Mandela is now a very old man — and another that made me wince again: that his doctors have advised him to avoid anything stressful. One has a bit more respect for the old lion than to imagine that he doesn’t know what’s happening in next-door Zimbabwe or to believe that he doesn’t understand what a huge difference the smallest word from him would make. It will be something of a tragedy if he ends his career on a note of such squalid compromise.”

Why Hitchens should wince when the honorable George Bizos SC gave him a straightforward answer is beyond me. The fact is, that as any South African who has kept up to date on Madiba would know, our former president has been advised to slow it right down by his doctors.

As an ardent critic of Mugabe I’d be the first to say that any efforts to focus the mind of the Zanu-PF is worthwhile but in Madiba’s case it is no longer prudent to expose him to this kind of pressure.

Unless Hitchens is suggesting that Madiba be asked to condemn a country that gave safe passage to many of his comrades without being briefed in full about the situation there. It is that extremely onerous briefing which could prove far too taxing for him at this point in time.

In the Sunday Independent (UK) in 2000, Madiba’s attack on the tyrants of Africa was recorded and left little doubt about his feelings for those who won’t hand power over to those selected by their people. Here is part of that article:

South Africa’s revered former president, Nelson Mandela, yesterday attacked African “tyrants” who cling to power. Although he did not name Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, he said: “Everybody here knows who I am talking [about].”

Giving a speech in Johannesburg for Unicef, the children’s charity, Mr Mandela departed from his text to talk about “leaders in Africa who have made enormous wealth, leaders who once commanded liberation armies”. They had come to “despise the very people who put them in power” and “think it is their privilege to be there for eternity”.

Some of these leaders wanted to keep power for life to avoid retribution for their crimes in office: “We have to be ruthless in denouncing such leaders.”

This of course has not stopped commentators like Nat Hentoff and human rights activists Peter Tatchell from asking the same questions.

Of course there are even those who believe that Madiba should speak up but in this case for Robert Mugabe, who faces the forces of evil who are trying to undo the revolution. This I would respectfully suggest, in light of what he has said previously about tyrants that cling to power, is not going to be happening soon.

What is happening in Zimbabwe is a tragedy the scale of which we’ll only find out in years to come. That it is costing this country billions of rands which could best be spent elsewhere and occasioning human suffering to the people of Zimbabwe and in exile here, there can be no doubt.

While I appreciate the magnitude of the humanitarian disaster we are witnessing, until someone advises otherwise, I don’t believe that Madiba is able to digest the full picture, should not be pressurised into doing it because of his health, and in light of the fact that we were given the role of mediators, our efforts should be concentrated on those selected to deal with it.

Madiba, deservedly and with our highest regard, has left the building.

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  • 69 Responses to “Why has Nelson Mandela remained silent on Zimbabwe?”

    1. Jon #

      @NF – nobody’s asking a nonagenarian to step in to rescue a company. That’s hands-on hard work.

      All Mandela is required to do is to utter a few sentences. That’s not strenuous and so don’t pretend it’s a big ask. It isn’t.

      All he needs to say is to state the bleeding obvious : that Mad Bob Mugabe is a brutal tyrant and a massive embarrassment to all of Africa in the same manner as Amin or Bokassa or Mobutu or…

      June 12, 2008 at 10:59 am
    2. BLACKLISTED DICTATOR #

      Lyndall,
      I didn’t write “financially” supported.
      I just wrote “helped”.
      Please don’t accuse me of pushing lies.

      June 12, 2008 at 11:19 am
    3. enrico #

      Thanks consulting engineer for those figures and your admission of suppoorting the racist criminals killing blacks.Supporting and voting for them makes you complicit in the crimes they have committed(If one use your analysis. You killed more 100000 blacks and displaced more 20 000 000 people for f**k sake and you are still doing it on your farms and through your mining activities!If you are not happy in SA f**koff to Zimbawe!

      June 12, 2008 at 11:21 am
    4. Cool Down #

      Enrico
      Don’t get mad get even by giving us your
      source from which you got your information.

      June 12, 2008 at 9:25 pm
    5. Without considering the Group Areas Act in its countless forms down the ages and without accounting for ‘events’ such as the month started 16 June 1976 in which close to 1,000 South Africans were slaughtered (in fact, forget Vlakplaas, JMCs, death squads, the CCB, and the wars of destabilization across the subcontinent), think migrant labour and Bantustans, Cool Down.

      These latter two pieces of social engineering were not, to dash many still-existing misconceptions, paths or ways of life chosen by most South Africans. But they displaced at least 20 million over the years and killed many more than 100,000.

      As for the odious notion of black-on-black violence (how the hell it survives is beyond me), thank God Africa has never had to witness the horror of white-on-white violence which, during the Twentieth Century, killed tens of millions. More than once.

      June 12, 2008 at 11:37 pm
    6. Bilal #

      Mean while it is reported than Babies born in Fallujah are showing illnesses and deformities on a scale never seen before. this being as a result of the white phosphorous that was used by the USA in the massive bombings of Fallujah in 2004. also used were depleted uranium(DU) munitions which contain low level radioactive waste.
      AND WHERE IS THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY:SILENT!

      June 13, 2008 at 11:49 am
    7. Cool Down #

      Mike Golby
      Talk is cheap,what about those who perished in the
      ANC training camps.To talk about one thousand dead
      and not be able to say here is a website and
      there you’ll find all the names is a cheap
      propaganda shot in the same mould as Len van
      der Merwe who has yet to come forward and publish
      the number of casualties both sides suffered in
      the Angola war but yet declared that the
      South African forces were annihilated.
      Still waiting, so where are you Len.

      June 13, 2008 at 2:17 pm
    8. Talk is *exceedingly* cheap, Cool Down.

      Methinks a man of your undoubted sophistication, intelligence, political nous and skill as a rhetorician would be better off doing some reading. (When reality demands the virtual to prove it, you know logic and meaningful discourse have left the room.)

      Nor need anybody defend “Len van der Merwe”, whoever he might be (I assume him capable of doing the job himself). Those of us who served in the SADF back then harbour no illusions. The South African troops who so happily despatched hundreds of innocents at Cassinga in ’78 were the same who’d fled Luanda before Cuba’s T72s in 1976. Ten years later, having been flogged like dogs by the MPLA at Cuito Canavale, the disgraced, spent and humiliated remnants of the South African armed forces were mocked and jeered by a triumphant SWAPO as they retreated from Namibia.

      We worked for P.W. Botha, paid obeisance to B.J. Vorster, armed Savimbi and Dhlakama for three decades, and had our colonial arses kicked from here to Kingdom Come. There’s nothing more to tell.

      I’m sure that, as a good Christian boy (you are a good Christian are you not?) you will remember your Bible Study classes. Good always overcomes evil and light the dark.

      And so it came to pass. Soundly thrashed o a regular basis by an adversary that endured and overcame atrocities identical to those now being perpetrated worldwide by the heinous forces of the U.S. occupation armies, we — the much-vaunted SADF, were annihilated.

      I just thought I’d fill you in — in case Len doesn’t get back to you, you understand?

      PS: Places like Quattro? They were a doddle, oases of peace and tranquillity in a never-ending sea of horror. Ask Snuki.

      June 13, 2008 at 9:47 pm
    9. Cool Down #

      Mike Golby
      I have read all accounts and spoken to numerous
      old solders,consulted countless websites to
      get to the truth and provided van der Merwe
      with a link to an unbiased website.
      I could find no evidence of the South African
      forces being flogged by the MPLA, on the contrary
      old Fidel was so pissed off at his Commanders
      performance that he had one executed.
      Now this to me does not sound like being flogged
      like dogs.
      You can also go to http://www.geocities.com and
      read Angola and South west Africa:A Forgotten war
      (1975-89).
      Of course South Africa had due to international
      pressure to withdraw from South West but you
      can rest assured that Swapo were delighted and
      relieved to see the back of the SADF.
      You see If the army had suffered such heavy losses
      the news would have spread like wild fire through
      civil society and the army itself and would have
      had vast political implications as it would have
      been very difficult to hide such information.
      It is not recorded anywhere,so I should be
      pleased to learn in which regiment you served
      and which rank you held.

      I am not interested in opinions.I am interested
      in facts so you must be able to supply tangible
      proof,otherwise I have no option to put you
      in the same category as old Len.
      So Mike the proof of the pudding is as the saying
      goes in the eating and yours lies in the
      submission of substantial proof of what you
      have posted.

      June 15, 2008 at 10:49 pm
    10. Cool Down #

      Mike
      I hope you get my last post in good order.

      June 15, 2008 at 10:51 pm
    11. This is a blog, Cool Down. Surely you can do your own homework? Read mine.

      June 16, 2008 at 10:16 pm
    12. Cool Down #

      Mike
      I have read yours but as always once you
      start playing the man and not the ball in an
      effort to evade the issues and resort to
      unsubstantiated generalisations it is the first
      sign that you have lost the debate.

      I did expect a bit more like well researched
      facts and arguments,but I am sorry to say
      your mixture is just as unpalatable as some of
      the stuff the veld kitchens provided.

      Were you a cook Mike if you were I’ll understand.

      June 17, 2008 at 9:51 am
    13. Man? Balls? I see neither around here, Cool Down.

      When it comes to ad hominem attacks, you and your bigoted buddies are the dominant voices drowning out dissent on blogs from here to The Times. Get a life, man. Trashing opposing world views does little more than mar the blog entries and drive readers away.

      More, pointing fingers at those scorning your and several others’ attempts to silence critics compounds the problem. These blogs are becoming littered with the anonymous and bitter invective of small people not claiming or meriting names.

      Anonymity sucks and it’s killing South African blogging.

      I was, and remain, in communications, Cool Down. I’ve always owned what I’ve said and put my name to what I’ve written. Would that others would do the same.

      Note: this is Traps’s blog — I’ll not comment on this issue again and apologise for feeling the need to do so in the first place.

      June 18, 2008 at 12:06 am
    14. Mike Golby

      You are writing the biggest lot of rubbish. Cuito was about the SADF stopping the Cubans, backed by Russia, wiping out Unita – which they did; and then withdrew – or they would have been an invading force. Cuba AND SA then settled and both withdrew and the war between Swapo and Unita went on for another 10 years!

      And, by the way, the ANC was not even there!

      Bilal

      Please stop pushing your anti-Bush anti- Israel pro-Muslim fundamentalism into every topic. This is NOT what we are debating.

      June 18, 2008 at 6:07 am
    15. Cool Down #

      Mike Golby
      You are the weakest link in this debate so
      time has arrived to vote you out. Good bye

      June 18, 2008 at 7:08 am
    16. iain smith #

      If Mandela is well en ough to attend a lavish birthday concert in London he’s well enough to utter a few words that might save the lives of innocent people in Zimbabwe.I am afraid he has gone down in my estimation.He can be applauded for his role in history when he’s dead.While hes still alive he shoud do all he can to make todays world a better place.If that shortens his life then it is a sacrifice a man as great as Nelson Mandela would surely be prepared to make.

      June 22, 2008 at 11:40 am
    17. Iain Smith

      Mandela WAS president during the Arms Deal?

      June 24, 2008 at 10:41 am
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