Really interesting interview with Moeletsi Mbeki on allAfrica.com timed to appear just before his brother the President of South Africa's state of the nation address. Moeletsi Mbeki is a businessman, media operator and political commentator. He is also the deputy chairman of the South African Institute of International Affairs, an independent think tank, based at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He touches on several foreign policy areas where South Africa has made mistakes but his comments (extracted below) on Zimbabwe, a country he knows well, are striking:
(Ofeibea Quist-Arcton) People say President Mbeki has failed just across the border, in Zimbabwe, with his policy of quiet diplomacy or constructive engagement with President Robert Mugabe.
(Moeletsi Mbeki) Well, I think the South African government - including the president - admit that quiet diplomacy has not produced what they thought it would, i.e. a change of direction by Robert Mugabe. It hasn't done so. But again, coming to the point I made earlier, the ANC knows very little about Zimbabwe.
I was a journalist in Zimbabwe for nearly ten years. As a South African, I had to spend week after week in the library at the University of Zimbabwe to understand the society of Zimbabwe, to understand the relationship, for example, between the Ndebele and the Shona and to understand what the Ndebele - who were South Africans - did in the 19th century when they got to Zimbabwe.
So you have those dynamics, which our government in South Africa, frankly, has no idea about. They don't know who (Zimbabwe's main opposition MDC leader) Morgan Tsvangirai is. They don't know who (Zimbabwe justice minister) Patrick Chinamasa is. They don't know who Welshman Ncube (opposition MDC secretary general) is. But they think they know.
So, in a way, with Zimbabwe we have a bit of something similar to the posture we had with Mobutu. Somehow we think we know, when we really don't.
That's pretty serious isn't it? How can that be rectified, because Zimbabwe is right across the border and whatever happens there inevitably has an impact here in South Africa.
There is one thing that our African governments never seem to understand - and that includes the South African government. The role of research in policy is extremely important. It is not enough to have an ideology that makes you feel good or that is seen to be the right ideology. That doesn't solve the problems. You have to have real knowledge of the situation.
We don't know enough about Zanu-PF as a government in South Africa. But we are not prepared to invest the money in the research to get to understand Zanu-PF and understand what the land issues, for example, in Zimbabwe are.
Our government makes all sorts of pronouncements about land issues in Zimbabwe, which they know nothing about. But they make pronouncements. Just to give you an example, the South African government thinks that the British never honoured the Lancaster House agreement, which was entered into between the Zimbabwe liberation movements and the British. The reality is actually the other way round. It's the Zimbabwe government that didn't honour its agreements with the British over the Lancaster House agreement.
But we're not prepared to do the research to get to the truth.
I have no idea.
Don't you have the ear of the president? Isn't that something you're talking to him about - as someone who knows Zimbabwe so well?
Look, I write about it all the time. It's in the newspapers, I'm talking to you and it's all over the place. But, you know - what can I say? As I'm saying, our government keeps repeating that it was the British who reneged on the Lancaster House agreement, whereas it was the Zimbabwe government that reneged on the agreement. Now, if they want to believe what they want to believe then there's nothing you can do about that.
But the consequence of that is, when you act on the basis of information that's incorrect, you end up with the disasters that we are faced with in Zimbabwe.
What should be the way forward? What should South Africa be doing and saying about Zimbabwe - not for the benefit of the western world and the rest of the world, but for what could happen here in South Africa?
Look, Zimbabwe is our neighbour. So it's in our interests for Zimbabwe to be a stable society and to be a prosperous society because, right now according to estimates, we have anything up to three million illegal immigrants living in South Africa. So that is not in our interests. Our interest is to have stable democracy in Zimbabwe.
Zanu-PF has no interest in a democracy in Zimbabwe, because they fear they will lose power. Now the question is what should we do as neighbours who are suffering the consequences. To try to keep Mugabe in power merely makes the situation worse and drives Zimbabwe towards a civil war. It isn't a solution.
What should the South African government do? It must look at all the scenarios and not base its thinking on wishful thinking, but on the real practicalities, the reality of the situation in Zimbabwe.
Do you think that will be done? Do you think the South African government is looking that way? I ask because, of course, this is an election year in South Africa, ten years after liberation, and there are lots of other things on people's mind.
Right now the ANC is such a dominant party that being an election year really doesn't make much of a difference in the life of the ANC. So the question of our policy towards Zimbabwe, or our engagement with Zimbabwe, I don't think it's impacted upon by the fact that we have an election this year.
The reality is that Zimbabwe is drifting towards a civil war. Are we going to sit and do nothing? And when the civil war does eventually break out, what are we going to do? Are we also going to be sitting on our hands saying you guys should talk to each other and so on and so forth? So there are very many complex issues about Zimbabwe and South Africa's own position.