In 2006 I was studying Public Policy at the London School of Economics (LSE) and was made aware that our Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was going to give a talk on the United Nations. This was of course during the period of ‘quiet diplomacy’ with regards to Zimbabwe and the ‘Free Zimbabwe’ movement in London arrived at the lecture in ten or twentyfold. I, it turned out, was sitting next to a man called Peter Tatchell, an activist who was later strong-armed out of the lecture theatre by the police for mounting the stage with a banner stating: ‘Mbeki’s shame. ANC betrays black Zimbabwe’.
For most of a rather garbled speech on ‘the UN is good, peace is good etc.’ several Zimbabweans stood up to shout at her, saying that she was betraying the people of Zimbabwe. She looked pretty disgruntled but luckily the good old British Bobby was there, hat and all, to throw these protestors out. It was, on the whole, pretty alarming stuff. The irony that the police were abusing protestors and its striking similarity to apartheid era police behaviour seemed entirely lost on her. The LSE Director Sir Howard Davies sat by her side at these moments slightly red-faced but nevertheless unmoved despite the fact that there were screams on one occasion as the police bent back the arm of a protestor and shoved him, quite violently, out the door. (Davies was forced to resign two years later because he accepted money for LSE from the Gadaffi regime).
Suffice to say Dlamini-Zuma finally managed to finish her speech. Then came the questions. Now here I work from memory so the order and the wording might be incorrect but the record I am sure would bear me out. So the first person to ask a question said: ‘You talk of peace but South Africa, with Armscor and Denel, is one of the biggest purveyors of military hardware in the world. How do you weigh that up?’
No, said Dlamini-Zuma, we only sell weapons for peaceful reasons.
This comment almost brought the house down. Even the two studious northern European students sitting next to me who had been angered by the Zimbabwean protestors and Tatchell, saying they were there to listen to what Dlamini-Zuma had to say, could not control their laughter.
Then finally a man stood up and introduced himself as a Zimbabwean Human Rights lawyer. He said he had been arrested on several occasions in Zimbabwe to the point that he feared for his and his family’s lives. He now lived in London, in exile, but wanted to return. He stated that he had sat there throughout her speech without interrupting because he wanted her to answer his question directly. He wanted at least some assurance from her that ‘quiet diplomacy’ meant something. That the South African government was doing something in the backrooms and that ‘quite diplomacy’ did not mean that nothing was being done.
Well Dlamini-Zuma’s answer went something like this: How dare you speak to me. You are a coward living in London like this. If you love your country you would go back and help sort out the problems. Do not speak to me while you live here like a coward.
It was at that moment that several members of the audience, including myself, pointed out to her that she herself had lived in Britain, in exile, for many years during apartheid. It was then that Sir Howard Davies came to her rescue as she seemed entirely lost for words. And this I do remember verbatim, Davies finished off the evening with the words: ‘I am afraid we seem to have reached a point of diminishing returns.’ Dlamini-Zuma was summarily escorted out the side door away from the protest that had developed outside at the front of the building. So in answer to Rebecca Davis: ‘No, I do not think that she is the right was woman for the job.’ And if she does get it we will, no doubt, have to plunge headlong into the tide of another dozen ‘fire pools’.