South African upstart outshines president on Zimbabwe

RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images As if South Africa President Thabo Mbeki weren’t losing enough credibility thanks to the less-than-lackluster way he’s handled the Zimbabwe affair, he’s now being outshined by Jacob Zuma (left), his chief political rival. Zuma, who replaced Mbeki as the chair of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress after an election in December, ...

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RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images

As if South Africa President Thabo Mbeki weren't losing enough credibility thanks to the less-than-lackluster way he's handled the Zimbabwe affair, he's now being outshined by Jacob Zuma (left), his chief political rival. Zuma, who replaced Mbeki as the chair of South Africa's ruling African National Congress after an election in December, spoke out against Mugabe and Co. at a conference today:

We cannot agree with Zanu-PF. We cannot agree with them on values... We fought for the right of people to vote, we fought for democracy."

RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images

As if South Africa President Thabo Mbeki weren’t losing enough credibility thanks to the less-than-lackluster way he’s handled the Zimbabwe affair, he’s now being outshined by Jacob Zuma (left), his chief political rival. Zuma, who replaced Mbeki as the chair of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress after an election in December, spoke out against Mugabe and Co. at a conference today:

We cannot agree with Zanu-PF. We cannot agree with them on values… We fought for the right of people to vote, we fought for democracy.”

Zuma is an interesting character. He has been tried in court twice in the past two years — once for allegedly raping an acquaintence he knew was HIV-positive (when he infamously recounted that he “took a shower” afterward to rid himself of potential HIV contraction), and again for an arms-deal scandal. Though he was acquitted on both occassions, Zuma’s link to bribe-soliticing financial advisor Schabir Shaik forced Mbeki to sack him as deputy president in 2005. And new corruption charges linked to the arms-deal were brought against Zuma late last year (which he and the ANC resoundly deny).

For all his shortcomings, Zuma isn’t afraid to say that Mugabe has gone off the deep end. That’s more than we can say for Mbeki, who has yet to openly criticize Zimbabwe’s aging tyrant.

South Africa’s current seat on the U.N. Security Council makes Mbeki’s silence even more tragic, as he could use the position as a springboard for urging international action. Even Nelson Mandela, who has agreed not tread on Mbeki’s presidency, has urged his successor to speak out.

The world ought to know by now that Mbeki isn’t quick to react in a crisis. Witness his slow reaction in confronting AIDS, or his apparent reluctance to condemn ongoing xenophobic attacks against immigrants to South Africa. It’s just a tragedy that so many South Africans — and now Zimbabweans — have to suffer as a result.

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