If You Run with Dogs, You Get Fleas
Connection to Mugabe Threatens South African President's Legacy
By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 15, 2008; A13
JOHANNESBURG -- At first glance they are nothing alike. Zimbabwe's aging president, Robert Mugabe, is, at 84, among the last of a generation of African Big Men, clinging to power through brutal repression. South Africa's suave President Thabo Mbeki, nearly two decades younger, rules by popular mandate as the elected leader of one of the continent's most robust democracies.
But Mbeki's long -- and so far, failed -- diplomatic bid to ease Mugabe into retirement after 28 years has tied the legacies of the two men together, and badly damaged Mbeki's reputation as the exemplar of a new kind of African president. The leader President Bush described as "the point man" on solving the Zimbabwe crisis in 2003 now is widely regarded as an obstacle to freeing that nation from its steep descent into political and economic ruin.
"I think he's part of the problem at the moment," said Willie Esterhuyse, a Mbeki friend and a professor of political philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch.
. . . Mbeki's legacy in Africa is "in tatters," said Karima Brown, political editor of the South African newspaper Business Day. "Thabo Mbeki is really yesterday's man. He's done."
Mugabe has virtually destroyed Zimbabwe, politically, culturally and economically. He's plundered an already staggering nation for his own personal gain and thoroughly wrecked its agricultural base. At a time when a nudge from Mbeki would have encouraged his 'retirement' from politics (in place of death-squads, terror and arrogance) Mbeki chose support.
It wasn't a choice between evils. Morgan Tsvangirai was Zimbabwe's best chance at recovering itself before it dissolves into the ashes of irrelevance, taking over 13 million inhabitants with it. Mbeki turned his back on 13 million desperate African brothers and sisters in order to show allegiance to a single isolated and self-serving dictator, somehow attached to the 'old days' of apartheid and white domination.
Now, who is supposed to lament a Mbeki legacy's exposure to truth? Mbeki has ruined himself, deciding to lie with the dogs and complaining of the fleas.