My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
President Thabo Mbeki also agreed with us and said he was aware that some Western countries had a hidden agenda to get rid of African leaders who had come to power through liberation struggles. He (Mbeki) said he knows Western leaders want to remove all revolutionary leaders from their positions of power to replace them with their puppets. He even said the same agenda is being followed in his own country.
When reading these reported remarks, it suddenly occurred to me that there might be a far more sinister and shocking reason for President Mbeki’s inaction on Zimbabwe. What if Mbeki really thinks that there is a conspiracy out there against all liberation movements – including the ANC – and thus supports Mugabe because he sees Mugabe as the good guy and Tsvangirai as the bad guy puppet of the West, as “just another Tony Leon”?
Now, Mugabe might have twisted Mbeki’s words or Mbeki might have said what was reported without really believing it. If that is the case, we might be disappointed with Mbeki for his spineless and unprincipled stance of appeasement towards the dictator to the North, but we would not necessarily fear that our leader has lost his marbles. In a different context and if it was a different leader, the thought would not even have crossed my mind that Mbeki could be that paranoid and delusional. Such thoughts could easily be viewed as manifestations of the crudest kind of racism and stereotyping.
But then I recalled that Mbeki is the one who has questioned the link between HIV and AIDS and has suggested that the West had some sinister motive in pushing anti-retroviral drugs on Africans. I also recall that him and his lieutenants have often reverted to conspiracy theories to explain away problems. Most recently, Joel Netshitenze, head of the policy unit in the presidency, suggested last week in City Press that much of the high profile crimes might be committed with the explicit motive of embarrassing the government. He wrote that it might be coincidence, but still tells the NPA to “dig deeper than the empirical manifestations of the cases you handle”.
Why, for instance, was David Rattray murdered during the week of the anniversary of the Battle of Isandhlwana? Why is it that a few days after former rugby Springboks’ anti-crime march to the Union Buildings, one of them had his family attacked? Why is it that a few days after religious leaders issued a statement against crime, a church was robbed? And why is it that a senior official for Business Against Crime was attacked a few hours before he made a presentation to Parliament about the anti-crime partnership?
Why indeed? Maybe there is a third force out there who did all these things to show up Mbeki, Netshitenze suggests. Surely it’s the same people who stabbed an actress outside the SABC in Auckland Park two weeks after Mbeki said on television that no one would ever walk to the studio and get shot. Or maybe Mbeki and his advisers are shockingly paranoid and delusional and these things just happened because there are many nasty people out there who commit crimes.
I sure hope that either Mugabe or Mbeki was lying. If our President really believes that people want to get rid of Mugabe merely because he is a liberation struggle hero, then the sooner he retires the better.