Monday, August 25

Foreign Dispatches draws a comparison between South Africa and Rwanda.

The history of South Africa offers a salutary lesson in this regard. As in Rwanda, a significantly outnumbered minority attempted to monopolize wealth and power by hiding behind all sorts of phony excuses - "We got here first", "The blacks have their own homelands" (bantustans), "Africans are genetically inferior", and, in the 1980s, "Black rule will lead to communism!" Where South Africa has been relatively fortunate has been that it had in F.W. De Klerk a ruler who realized that the status quo could not be perpetuated for much longer without giving rise to a massive bloodbath, while in Nelson Mandela it had a black leader who understood that the common good was best served by leaving behind past animosities, instead of trying to avenge old wrongs.

There is no guarantee that South Africa will not eventually go the way of Zimbabwe - Thabo Mbeki's record does not give rise to optimism - but even the Zimbabwe of Comrade Mugabe would be a better place in which to be than the killing zone that is the Rwandan region. The Tutsis need a De Klerk of their own, but Paul Kagame is not such a figure.

I’m not quit convinced by the comparison. Rwanda is very much politically backward, with two opposing ethnic groups with hundreds of years of conflict in their history. South Africa is ethnically and politically very diverse, with a highly developed political infrastructure. (The ANC is one of the oldest political parties in Africa after all, being founded at turn of the previous century, and most other parties can also trace back their history to that time)

It was not just two leaders that made peace but the country as a whole. The spirit of reconciliation is very much a national movement, which has crossed most party lines. My point is that the political conditions on the ground allowed De Klerk and Mandela to create the South Africa that they did. I doubt whether those conditions exist in Rwanda.

As for South Africa going the way of Zimbabwe, I doubt it. Zimbabwe is in the situation it is now because of Mugabe’s love of power. Nothing more. While a future government in SA might once again turn society in South Africa upon itself in a quest for power, the political differences between our two countries are huge. Almost as much as between Rwanda and us.

Update: The Head Heeb comments.


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