Zuma's Visit to Zimbabwe: Seeking 'Batho Pele'

By Nontando Hadebe 09-01-2009

There is a Sotho expression, batho pele -- meaning "putting people first" -- that one wishes could inform politics in Zimbabwe. Last week the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, visited Zimbabwe, where he met leaders of the different political parties that are part of the unity government.

The leader of the opposition party had visited Zuma prior to this visit and presented him with a list of violations of the unity agreement's conditions. Before leaving for Zimbabwe, Zuma made it clear that he would be meeting the parties to address concerns raised in order to resuscitate a dysfunctional unity government. Although there is widespread skepticism about whether real change will come about because of his visit and talks with all parties, there is one redeeming factor that made his visit significant: He did not try to downplay problems or pretend that everything was all right, but spoke openly about the presence of many problems that were hindering progress. He called on the political leaders to act in the best interests of the people -- to practice batho pele.

By acknowledging that there are problems, Zuma gave voice to a reality that is widely known but seldom addressed directly. Maybe there will be some change, and maybe not all depends on whether batho pele will happen in the politics of Zimbabwe.

Nontando HadebeNontando Hadebe, a former Sojourners intern, is originally from Zimbabwe and is now pursuing graduate studies in theology in South Africa.

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