Thursday, February 5, 2009



By Barry Ronge
Feb 01, 2009

DisGrace was out shopping. If hypocrisy was a disease, many African leaders would be dead

I’ve had a couple of images dancing in my head for the past few weeks. The first was of Grace Mugabe and her bodyguard getting rough with a photographer who dared to take a picture of her shopping in Hong Kong. Her reaction was revealing. She’s the wife of a president who has been making international headlines, so she should know a smart thing or two about the protocol of handling the paparazzi.

Her explosive response and her determination to confiscate his film can only suggest, to even the most neutral observer, that she had something to hide, or that she has an ego that makes Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan look like shy, blushing maidens.

People in Zimbabwe are dying of cholera and hunger. The country is printing trillion-dollar currency notes which will buy you food for a day. If she had a shred of decency, or even just a sense of what is seemly, she would not have been browsing the swanky boutiques in Hong Kong, unless she was on the unlikely errand of buying medicine and food for her people.

I mean, have you ever seen a picture of Grace Mugabe in a hospital, in a homeless shelter or even just visiting the poorest of the poor? I certainly haven’t.

For me, that high-heeled mugging was her Marie Antoinette “Let them eat cake!” moment, but sadly, her expensively coiffed (and monstrously swollen) head will probably stay on her puffed-up shoulders.

So many of Africa’s tyrants have achieved that. Idi Amin was so monstrous that various Islamic leaders considered him an embarrassment. So he hopped off to Libya, then to Saudi Arabia, where he lived in subsidised luxury and died in his bed.

Ditto Mobutu Sese Seko, who fomented the Hutu versus Tutsi violence that still plagues this continent with genocidal wars. He (and his cash) hopped to Togo, and he died — rich, protected and in his bed — in Morocco.

They are not Africa’s only such escape artists. There have been many others and I would not be surprised to find Bob and Grace Mugabe ending their days in a luxurious Shanghai penthouse.

Then look at Barack Obama’s inauguration… You all saw it and even if you did not, it was the inescapable topic for the next two weeks, so I won’t re-hash it. I just want to underscore that on the few occasions on which Obama mentioned his own political party, he also mentioned the opposition, the Republicans, as his party’s co-equal partner.

He did not say “I”, he said “we” and “us”. He constantly referred to the American Constitution as the bedrock of a just and prosperous nation. He swore his oath on the Lincoln bible and he repeatedly stressed that the politicians work for the people. He was the direct opposite of Grace Mugabe taking a swipe at a photographer who dared to cross her extravagant path.

We have never heard Obama even make specific mention of the hundreds of websites that spill vitriolic lies about him and his family, or the tabloid journalists who lurk like hijackers behind every soundbyte. He does not fight dirty.

Then I compared his speech with the nasty infighting between the ANC and COPE. It made me aware of just how often the ANC talks about the ANC; how relentlessly it dismisses and denigrates all other parties; and how it turns ruthlessly on any of its inner circle members who seem not to be toeing the line. They call it “deploying”. Anyone else would call it a gang-mugging in a back alley.

The saddest thing I have heard recently was Judge Albie Sachs at a press conference, along with Judge Pius Langa and Judge Kate O’Reagan, lamenting the fierce personal attacks on judges.

The judges commented on how this weakens our democracy, that same democracy that is based on our Constitution, which was the cornerstone of that glorious inauguration of Nelson Mandela, to which so many people have compared the Obama inauguration.

But a few decades later, here we are, witnessing a concerted attack on the Constitution through the judges and other insidious means. Our Constitution was created so that the horrors, cruelty and killings of the past could be fought with a mighty weapon, meticulously and nobly forged in words.

To hear Judge Sachs express concern that this Constitution, which has won the admiration of the world, could be, as he put it, “trashed for political advantage” and short-term personal gains, is both tragic and scary.

But the Constitution seems to have become a target for the new ANC, for reasons that do not strike me as being moral or just. It seems to have more to do with power, protection and money. So every time I hear them beat this propaganda drum, all I can see is Grace Mugabe trashing that photographer because it’s the same action, provoked by the same motives.