Jean-Jacques Cornish

Mugabe gave us our money’s worth

When he arrived for his first state visit to South Africa in 21 years, I asked whether Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was here as bruiser or supplicant.

He had expressed his anger at South Africa’s not knuckling down to regional regulations on conducting trade.

Some accuse South Africa of dominating trade. Other go as far as calling it a hegemon

But Mugabe was also desperate to get what he could for his cash-strapped country.

Having watched him talking to Cabinet ministers, officials and journalists at the Union Buildings and to business leader at their forum on the second and final day of his visit, I am convinced that Mugabe was wearing neither his street fighter cap not his pan-handler beanie.

He was here as trouper, a performer. Star of the show, even had his host not made a stab at upstaging him.

After the pro-forma welcome remarks following their talks on Wednesday, Zuma was obliged to watch his guest hold forth for an hour in the sweaty briefing room.

Not one of his now clichéd liberationist, anti colonialist, land-grabbing, state-control activist positions went unexplained.

Every one of his enemies from Ian Smith to Tony Blair was castigated.

He added Cecil John Rhodes as an afterthought – realising that we in South Africa are currently preoccupied with the mega rich arch-imperialist.

Half way through it, I found myself unable to avoid laughing.

It was like finding oneself foot-tapping at a Barry Manilow concert – or someone else one shouldn’t be seen dead enjoying.

At the business forum on Thursday, Zuma departed from his notes and rode his black empowerment hobby horse for half an hour.

The anecdotes and rhetoric were laid on by both parties – again to the delight of the audience.

Instinctive. Reductive. But gripping beyond the telling of it.

Did Robert Mugabe go home with anything substantive.

Hard to say.

But we certainly go our money’s worth.

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.