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SOUTH AFRICA-ZIMBABWE: Mbeki strikes back

JOHANNESBURG, 8 Mar 2002 (IRIN) - As the reported cases of political violence in Zimbabwe rose on Friday, South African President Thabo Mbeki hit out at "white supremacists" critical of the Commonwealth and African response to the deepening crisis.

This comes after British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned African leaders this week that their African recovery plan could be jeopardised by the growing political and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.

Blair, who had denounced the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) statement on Zimbabwe as "the lowest common denominator", warned this week that: "The reason I feel strongly about Zimbabwe is I know that if there is any sense in which African countries appear to be ambivalent towards good governance, that is the one thing that will undermine the confidence of the developed world in helping them."

Mbeki is one of the drafters of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) and was among African leaders who refused to bow to pressure from fellow Commonwealth nations, such as Britain, to take punitive action against Zimbabwe at last week's meeting in Australia.

President Robert Mugabe faces the greatest challenge yet to his two-decade rule in the form of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Violence and political intolerance have been prevalent in the run-up to the poll. And as the death toll mounts, Mugabe has come under increasing international criticism and pressure. The European Union instituted "smart sanctions" against Mugabe and 19 close associates last month.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has also expressed concern about violence during and after Zimbabwe's presidential election this weekend and has called for "utmost restraint".

Annan said in a statement: "I remain acutely concerned at reports that the elections may be accompanied or followed by violence." He urged Zimbabwe's electorate to "exercise their democratic right to vote for the candidate of their choice, without fear and in the knowledge that the ballot is secret".

Mbeki, meanwhile, has reacted angrily to the mounting criticism of the reaction to the political and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe by Southern Africa and CHOGM. CHOGM decided to take no action on Zimbabwe until after the election, and then, only if the report from it's observer team is adverse. The "troika" of Mbeki, Nigerian President Olusegan Obasanjo and Australian Prime Minister John Howard have been mandated to decide - in consultation with the Commonwealth secretary-general - what action, if any, should be taken.

In his weekly ANC Today on-line letter Mbeki wrote: "Unfortunately, some have chosen to describe this troika as 'two blacks and one white'. This is consistent with an equally unfortunate, false and dangerous presentation of the debate on Zimbabwe at CHOGM as having been characterised by a division between a black Commonwealth and a white Commonwealth. This characterisation is factually untrue."

This "provides a stark example of the extent to which international relations and values of good and bad, in the eyes of some, including sections of the media globally, are still defined according to the historic black-white divide. Those who have superimposed this divide on the proceedings of CHOGM have argued that:

"CHOGM split on the basis of race and colour, with the Africans, in particular, dominating the black faction; the white Commonwealth, represented by Australia, the UK, Canada and New Zealand, spoke as one; (interestingly nothing is said about Malta and Cyprus); this white Commonwealth stood up in defence of the values of democracy, and therefore urged the imposition of sanctions against Zimbabwe; the black Commonwealth acted in solidarity with the government of Zimbabwe, vetoed sanctions and demonstrated complete disregard and contempt for the democratic values formally proclaimed by the Commonwealth."

Mbeki argued that such commentators believed "the white Commonwealth is the repository of these democratic values and practices" while "the black Commonwealth merely pays lip service to these values and practices".

Such individuals held the view that: "The 'victory' of the black Commonwealth, as represented by the statement on Zimbabwe, constituted a 'cop-out' which undermined the credibility of the Commonwealth, (Blair's statement that it was) 'the lowest common denominator', with CHOGM proving to be 'a rank failure'; and, to sustain its credibility, and for CHOGM to be a success, all the Commonwealth had to do at Coolum was to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe."

Mbeki said: "According to this view, the white world represents the best in human civilisation. The black world does not."

"Whereas the white Rhodesian Smith regime killed thousands of black people, it was nevertheless less offensive and more acceptable than the elected Mugabe government, because all that it did, after all, was merely to kill black people."

Mbeki invited "those inspired by notions of white supremacy" to leave the Commonwealth if they felt "that membership of the association reduces them to a repugnant position imposed by inferior blacks".

But as Mbeki expressed his views on the debate around CHOGM and Zimbabwe on the eve of its controversial election, the South African rand plunged, indicating "Zimbabwe jitters" among traders.

Reuters reported that the rand plunged against the dollar, British pound and euro as financial markets began to panic.

Early in the day the rand slid by more than 5 percent to 12.21 against the dollar - a loss of nearly 10 percent from its early Thursday level of 10.98 - with traders warning a test of its late December low of 13.85 could be on the cards.

Later in the day it had clawed back a hefty chunk of lost ground to reach 11.66 against the dollar.

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SOUTH AFRICA-ZIMBABWE: Mbeki strikes back
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