Mob psychology often shows itself in discouraging and alarming forms, but is never so concerning and appalling as when it is seen in great crowds, particularly on social media these days, shouting for an arrest. Without a cerebral and considered government, certain steps can be taken without a decent regard for just what those steps could mean for all involved, and the consequences may easily amount to a “catastrophe”.
 
When the incident of assault involving the First Lady of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe, broke out on social Media on Tuesday 16 August, as a writer, I knew immediately that South Africa has both a legal and a moral dilemma in its hands. Equally, I also knew that this is exactly why diplomatic channels between countries exist.
 
Wits University’s International Relations lecturer, Dr Mopeli Moshoeshoe Immediately told us that, despite the act being a simple criminal matter, the First Lady herself is not a simple criminal on the streets of Johannesburg [case], so to reduce it to that would be to bury our heads in the sand, the consequences are just too big for the country,”.
 
Our own apostles of righteousness immediately reduced our country to a soundbite of right and wrong – making governance no longer a matter of weighing trade-offs between competing goals. The truth however is that the uncompromising demands of the arm chair politicians and their morality must always be separated from matters of state.
 
South Africa has not always had the best relations with Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans have a reason to see any action we take, however legally and morally correct, as simply a blow at Pan-Africanism (South Africa dominated by Euro-centrism as it is), and an attack on its sovereignty. This, however, would surely not be permitted by the Zimbabwe government, whatever price they will pay for it, for we, Africans, are a proud people.
 
South Africa, already seen as unkind to Zimbabweans due to multiple xenophobic attacks and undertones putting high premium on a European settler than an Africa had to reject this orthodoxy that purported to leave any lover of democracy marooned because they thought it was wise to treat the First Lady of Zimbabwe with dignity and respect because she is a symbol of a country very dear to us. The First Lady needed to face the might of the law but the respect of her country needed to be maintained. In politics, compromise is strategy, not weakness. Compromise may be hell, but it is still the right thing to do.
 
The settler mentality immediately kicked in as the right-wing organisation Afri-forum sought to opportunistically enter the fray, seeing an opportunity to turn an African state against one another, extending the programme of the Apartheid government. Frankly, we are exactly where Afriforum wanted us to be and even as Gerrie Nel spoke – his voice growing more forceful, his forefinger stabbing the air, sitting in his favorite white seat (the judgment seat) – his heart glowing as he continue to be relevance.
 
Forcing South Africa to choose sides in the Grace – Gabriella problem prematurely may well be subjecting our peoples to a lifetime of antagonistic relations and the counter grounding of our respective national carriers was already a beginning of such antagonism. The next stage was likely to be a counter surrounding of our Embassy people in both countries, African neighbors at war with themselves, right as they sit next to one another at a regional meeting to pledge solidarity with one another.
 
It is true that politics is not just a bread-and-butter issue, but a moral issue as well, subject to moral imperatives. However, Afriforum and the anti-ANC brigade cannot make our politics decidedly personal, insinuating the agenda of government. All those who went over the edge on this matter are on a daily basis constantly challenging our government, their behavior spilling over into self-indulgence, where denunciation of government actions comes too easily. This purity of principle, and rigid orthodoxy, ties one hand behind our backs and makes our primary job of building one Africa decidedly more difficult.
 
The ANC government is correct to balance idealism and realism. After many years of Africa at war with itself, the ANC has a pretty clear picture of the cost of government mandate. In government there will always be harder decisions than moral imperatives. We cannot possess a rigid doctrine that is reminiscent of old-time religion, which slices everything between good and evil.
 
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were killed by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Serbia. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, effectively beginning the First World War. The details of the assassination did not interest Austria, whether it was a rouge individual acting on his own or a certain faction which did not have a government endorsement, Austria was not interested, the very act of harm coming to its ‘heir apparent’ was enough to declare war. Austria could have solved the problem it had with Serbia in various ways. They chose to start a war in 1914 and lost everything.
 
It was already clear that the Zimbabwean government was interpreting the events of the Grace-Gabriella incident differently. This meant the South African government response was seen from a different light and whatever self-righteousness we possessed, whatever legal and moral reasons we had for arresting and charging Grace Mugabe, the Zimbabwean government did not share our moral enthusiasm. They were naturally going to respond differently and in kind. As much as the South African government may be acting in part due to its own public pressure, the Zimbabwean government’s response will also be because of its own public’s pressure, whatever the costs of that retaliation to their country.
 
As Africans we must always remember that United we stand. Divided, we fall.
 

Yonela Diko is a Media Strategist & Consultant 

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