South Africa, a product of a conscience it does not display

Michael Gerson:

"Things on the ground," e-mailed a friend from a groaning Zimbabwe, "are absolutely shocking -- systematic violence, abductions, brutal murders. Hundreds of activists hospitalized, indeed starting to go possibly into the thousands." The military, he says, is "going village by village with lists of MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] activists, identifying them and then either abducting them or beating them to a pulp, leaving them for dead."

In late April, about the time this e-mail was written, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa -- Zimbabwe's influential neighbor -- addressed a four-page letter to President Bush. Rather than coordinating strategy to end Zimbabwe's nightmare, Mbeki criticized the United States, in a text packed with exclamation points, for taking sides against President Robert Mugabe's government and disrespecting the views of the Zimbabwean people. "He said it was not our business," recalls one American official, and "to butt out, that Africa belongs to him." Adds another official, "Mbeki lost it; it was outrageous."

It is also not an aberration. South Africa has actively blocked United Nations discussions about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe -- and in Belarus, Cuba, North Korea and Uzbekistan. South Africa was the only real democracy to vote against a resolution demanding that the Burmese junta stop ethnic cleansing and free jailed dissident Aung San Suu Kyi. When Iranian nuclear proliferation was debated in the Security Council, South Africa dragged out discussions and demanded watered-down language in the resolution. South Africa opposed a resolution condemning rape and attacks on civilians in Darfur -- and rolled out the red carpet for a visit from Sudan's genocidal leader. In the General Assembly, South Africa fought against a resolution condemning the use of rape as a weapon of war because the resolution was not sufficiently anti-American.

When confronted by international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch about their apparent indifference to all rights but their own, South African officials have responded by attacking the groups themselves -- which, they conspiratorially (and falsely) claim, are funded by "major Western powers."


... South Africa increasingly requires a new foreign policy category: the rogue democracy. Along with China and Russia, South Africa makes the United Nations impotent. Along with Saudi Arabia and Sudan, it undermines the global human rights movement. South Africa remains an example of freedom -- while devaluing and undermining the freedom of others. It is the product of a conscience it does not display.


Mbecki is a disgrace. He has become Mugabe's enabler and the people of Zimbabwe are the victims of both. His actions have led to the recent xenophobic attacks on Zimbabweans who fled Mugabe's rampages only to suffer again at the hands of black on black violence in south Africa. If he would quit enabling Mugabe these people could go home and lessen the stress on his own country. He is an example of too much incompetence in too many African governments.


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