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Quiet diplomacy is destroying Zimbabwe and South Africa

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Graphic: Timothy Alexander/African News Agency (ANA)

By Dr Mabila Mathebula

Socrates once said: “There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.” The statement should guide us in all our actions, especially where the former liberation movements are concerned.

There is an unwritten rule between the ANC and the Zanu-PF that dictates that the former liberation movements must not wash their dirty linen in public. The two have been soulmates as well as comrades in arms.

To enhance their relationship, the ANC coined the term “quiet diplomacy” to sweep mis-governance in Zimbabwe under the carpet. The Limpopo health MEC, Dr Phophi Ramathuba, broke this unwritten rule when she thundered at the Zimbabwean patient.

There is a story about a drunken Scotsman who unknowingly said to Lady Diana: “Hey, you’re gorgeous.” People in his company thought he would be consumed by shame and discomfort after he was told the identity of the princess. He, however, was unconcerned and said: “I don’t care who she is, and she’s gorgeous.”

In order to tackle the thorny challenges of our country, we must be as frank as the drunken Scotsman. Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai died comfortably in a Johannesburg hospital and former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe died in Singapore.

The people of Zimbabwe, who do not have financial resources to pay for their medical bills, are expected to die on the road while their leaders receive medical care outside their country. It was Ken Themba who once said that death is desolate if it meets you on the roadside away from home.

Hippocrates was referring to the middle, the low and the high when he said: “A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings.”

The Zimbabwean government is turning this human blessing into a human curse by mismanaging the elections and the economy. If leaders farm out health care, what should ordinary people do when they are sick?

The international community, as well as concerned Zimbabweans, have appealed to South Africa to bring sanity to Zimbabwe but everything fell on death ears because of quiet diplomacy. A warning was sounded in good faith that quiet diplomacy would have unintended consequences such as the influx of Zimbabweans into South Africa. But the ANC and some South African business people did nothing to turn the tide around.

The time bomb has been ticking away for many years and it had no other option but to explode because it could not contain itself. The dyke was bound to fill and burst, or the wound dealt to Zimbabwe would not heal.

Paul Hanna, the Australian motivational speaker, once said a person who said blood was thicker than water had no soulmate. The ANC and Zanu-PF are soulmates. Zanu-PF has not said anything about state capture in South Africa because of their shared unwritten rule of quiet diplomacy. When you mute diplomacy, you also mute common sense.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow warned that he who is good at using the hammer thought that everything was nail. But we should not assume that all our problems are nail; some are screws like the health problems in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Professor of politics and African studies, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, suggests some of our challenges are screws. If you bang away on a screw, you get a big mess.

The ANC and Zanu-PF should put down the hammer and try a screwdriver to deal with health challenges in our two countries. The poor patient who took the criticism from the MEC with aplomb was the victim of quiet diplomacy. Quiet diplomacy is as evil as cadre deployment because it destroys society.

Mathebula is a South African author and also holds a PhD in Construction Management.