Regimes fall, in the end, corrupted from within, tossed from office onto the dustbin of history by a frustrated populace for whom loathing and disgust finally have overcome fear and apathy. So one watches with anxiety and anticipation as events unfold before our eyes in Egypt, as a gerontocratic dictator reviews his dwindling options and capitals in the Middle East and in Europe and the United States weigh up the political calculus and decide who are their allies and friends in a time of change and possible revolution.
It is national interest, of course, that one reads in the public warnings from Clinton and Obama; national interest in the injunctions to Mubarak to initiate a process of reform and to heed the will of the people. It is a calculation that, publicly at least, aims to place America on the right side of history, and the right side of the Egyptian people – without, if that is possible (and probably it isn’t) destabilising not only a key American ally in the region but the kingdoms and principalities and multiple despotisms who are part of the Pax Americana in that troubled and dangerous neck of the woods.
But there is, dare I say it, a moral message here too, however important the political calculation: the time of oppression, of one-man rule, of the Big Man in Egyptian politics, is on the way out, and the people must be heard.
Call me naive, but I can’t help but wonder, as I watch the street scenes on TV, and think about the words that have been spoken by an American Secretary of State and an American President – if only the people of Zimbabwe, here on our own border, could rise up and turf out onto the garbage heap that eighty-year old murderer and thug Mugabe. If only our own President could speak, with the clarity of Obama and the moral authority – ‘it is time for Mugabe to go, it is time for democracy and a new dawn in Zimbabwe.’
We lack a moral compass, in our latter-day politics, here in South Africa, domestically and abroad; we lack even a proper calculation of our national interest.
Zimbabweans will not thank us, when Mugabe goes. And a morally diminished ANC will not, in the long, long run, retain the loyalty – and the votes – of a disaffected and increasingly disappointed people.
Even apartheid ended, remember?