A few weeks ago, I blogged here about having stumbled on a protest outside the South Afican Embassy in Trafalgar Square while showing a visiting friend around London. It seems many Zimbabwean exiles are angry that the South African government (at best) appears to be doing nothing to help the democratic opposition to Robert Mugabe’s regime or (at worst) seems to be propping it up and making excuses for it.
Zimbabwean activists in London, with the help of Peter Tatchell (who else, frankly?) upped the ante: South African Foreign Minister, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, was ambushed by 10 black Zimbabwean human rights activists in London last tonight. Her lecture at the London School of Economics was repeatedly interrupted with accusations of: “ANC betrays black Zimbabwe”.
Ironically, one of the themes of Dr Zuma’s speech was “international solidarity”. She praised the late ANC president, Oliver Tambo, saying he was an “ardent internationalist” and a person who believed in “true solidarity”.
Alois Mbawara, one of the protesters, said: “We were sickened to hear Dr Zuma talk about international solidarity when her government is refusing to show solidarity with the persecuted people of Zimbabwe!”
“Why are you doing nothing to help Zimbabwe? The ANC called for solidarity against apartheid. But the ANC government is showing no solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe,” he shouted from the balcony, interupting Dr Zuma’s speech.
Stewards dragged Mbawara out of the auditorium.
At which point, Tatchell walked onto the stage and unrolled a placard saying: “Mbeki’s shame. ANC betrays black Zimbabwe.”
As security guards tried to wrestle him from the stage he called out to Dr Zuma:
“The ANC sits on its hands and looks the other way while Zimbabwe burns,” he told Dr Zuma.
“The ANC sits on its hands and looks the other way while Zimbabwe burns! Mugabe has murdered more black Africans than the apartheid regime. In Matabeleland in the 1980s alone, he massacred 20,000 civilians. That is the equivalent of a Sharpeville massacre every day for nine months. Yet South Africa does noting effective to stop the killing. President Mbeki’s quite diplomacy is a failure. Mugabe’s abuses have increased, not diminished.”
As if working in relays, another activist, Wellington Chibanguza, replaced Tatchell once he’d been ejected.
“Why do you and your government persist with quite diplomacy when it has failed to deliver?” he shouted at Dr Zuma.
He too was dragged out of the venue.
Chibanguza said afterwards, “Throughout the protests she sat silent, motionless and grim-faced. Much of the audience was riled by her arrogant, heartless refusal to express even a few words of solidarity with the Zimbabwean people. They urged her to say something. I think she lost a lot of respect because of her intransigent attitude.”
However, what really buzzed the tragic irony button was when Dr Zuma made a brief reference to the protestors by saying that Zimabweans living in exile in the UK had “no right to speak out about the situation Zimbabwe”.
Half the ANC government, including President Mbeki himself spent years in exile during the dark days of Apartheid. Dr Zuma herself left South Africa in the mid 1970s to study at Bristol University. She then worked in Swaziland before returning to the UK in 1985 to study at Liverpool University before accepting a directorship at the UK-based NGO, the Health and Refugee Trust.
How dare she suggest that Zimbabweans who have fled Mugabe’s reign of terror forfeit their right to campaign against his regime?
Apparently the audience thought along the same lines, because Chibanguza reports, “that comment really incensed the audience” who turned against her.
The Q&A session was cancelled and Dr Zuma was, according to Tatchell, “scuttled away like a rat from a sinking ship.”
But the activists weren’t done with Dr Zuma yet. In an action remiscent of Tatchell’s most famous confrontation with Mugabe, they ambushed her car as it left the LSE.
What’s all the fuss about? Alois Mbawara explains: “If Mbkei and Zuma spoke out against Mugabe and organised international sanctions against his regime, Mugabe’s control would soon start to unravel. South African inaction is helping to keep him in power.”