Robert Mugabe’s inglorious end this week after decades of tyranny defied the outcome to which Thomas More gave voice over 500 years ago.

Mugabe like More is Catholic but, unlike the latter, he was no saint. And the Zimbabwean military disproved the More prophesy sola more tyrannicida est –‘death is the only way to be rid of tyrants’.

But in Mugabe’s case it wasn’t so much his political end, but quite how he managed – for so long and at such cost – to defy the normal forces of political and economic gravity.

Lost in many of the post mortems of Mugabe’s top-down destruction of his once harmonious and thriving county, has been a close examination of some of his key willing accomplices still centre stage in South African politics.

In fact only one of them remains, and she has a huge bearing –December willing- on the fate and fortunes of this country and the region, including Zimbabwe.
Step forward, Dr Noksasana Dlamini Zuma who was consistent in one respect at least.

Last weekend she dismissed journalist Carien du Plessis’ question on the Zim crisis – “ I have a strong opinion but am not interested in telling you.” Nice and transparent for an aspiring president.

But the paper trail is damning. 
For example, when Mugabe’s bloody tale of death and intimidation was at its zenith in December 2002, it fell to then foreign minister Zuma to welcome one Emmerson Mnangagwa to the ANC 51st National Conference at Stellenbosch. They embraced and she warned the world, “You will never hear one word of condemnation of Zimbabwe as long as this government is in power.”

Of course back then he was known as the sinister mastermind of the Matabeleland massacre and as Mugabe’s diamond baron in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On Friday, he was installed as interim president. 
For long suffering Zimbabweans it is an open question now that the whip hand has changed, whether the lash will remain the same.

But for Dr Zuma her connivance with our northern autocrat has not simply been a question of having a ‘strong opinion’ but of having connived in and lengthened, by decades, Mugabe’s rule of error and terror.

At decisive moments since Mugabe first lost a popular referendum in 2000, Zuma as foreign minister- at best- simply turned a blind eye to his degradation of democracy and immiseration of its people.

Worse, she assisted then President Thabo Mbeki in resisting both local and international opinion in using SA’s huge clout to make a stand for democracy and sane economics.

The lack of empathy to ordinary Zimbabweans’ plight was on full display when she addressed a lecture at the London School of Economics in October 2006. She was loudly heckled by audience members, Zimbabweans in exile, who were, in the words of the media report, “infuriated that Dr Zuma refused to respond to any questions put to her, or even express even a word of sympathy for the plight of her fellow Africans.”

But sympathy aplenty the good Doctor had for Comrade Bob. This was most archly displayed in June 2008 when Zuma at the United Nations snubbed an American effort to present a unified front condemning the Zimbabwean government for formenting pre-election violence (in a poll which Mugabe actually lost). She refused an invitation from US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to walk down two floors from the Security Council chamber and attend the discussion on Zim.

As the New York Times reported “ Western diplomats here have been repeatedly frustrated by South Africa’s using its two year seat on the Security Council to deflect and dilute attempts to criticize Zimbabwe, even wrestling to keep the issue off the agenda.”

And when two of our Constitutional Court Justices, Moseneke and Kamphephe wrote a damning report on that election, Zuma and company spent six years burying it from public view.

Little wonder that by the time 2013 rolled along and Zuma had been enthroned as Chairperson of the African Union she declared, on a visit to Zimbabwe, “that all was well in the country ahead of its (June) poll.”An infuriated opposition leader Morgan Tsvangarai said she was hardly objective in her determination: “Her past record as SA foreign minister is evidence of her bias in favour of President Mugabe” .

Where does a future President Nkosasana Dlamini Zuma stands on issues of democracy, human rights and sound economics? Look no further than her ministerial past in next door Zimbabwe. Temporising with tyranny is her default mode.

  • Leon (@TonyLeonSA), a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications and is a senior adviser to K2 Intelligence of London
  • Featured in The Sunday Times