As Titanic-Mugabe steams urgently towards the rocks one asks oneself: what is really going on here?
The European Communist tradition stressing class struggle as hijacked by Moscow created the South African Communist Party, which in turn used the 'moderate' ANC as the vehicle to achieve a winning position in the anti-apartheid struggle.
This was quite separate from the Pan-Africanist tradition which, responding to Africa's colonised condition, originally emphasised a sort of pan-African 'national' awareness and self-improvement for Africans. Mugabe came from this latter tendency, which over time became radicalised and openly socialist.
Anyway, as the European colonial powers withdrew from Africa following WW2 there was bound to be an especially difficult struggle in Rhodesia and South Africa, where 'whites' of European descent were especially strong and rich. Armed resistance to Ian Smith's unilateral declaration of independence in Rhodesia developed. And Cold War geo-politics played its part.
Thus it happened that the Soviet Union threw its weight behind Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU movement. Robert Mugabe's ZANU movement found support from communist China, with also - after Mugabe won power - some handy local ethnic cleansing help from North Korea.
The populist hard core of Africanism is a preoccupation with Land - with the idea that Africa has to rid itself of all 'settlers' once and for all.
In South Africa I knew many members of the Pan-Africanist Congress, one of the groups hoping to achieve power after apartheid rule collapsed. PAC leaders were genial enough, but their slogan was 'One Settler - One Bullet!' Asked why they had such a violent non-inclusive mission-statement they would say 'Ah, as a poor organisation we can only afford one bullet for each settler'. Otherwise they would whip up support in the townships by saying "India for the Indians, Russia for the Russians, England for the English - why should it be Africa for everyone?"
NB too that South Africa's Black Consciousness Movement led by Steve Biko in the 1970s was in effect an attempt to create a new synthesis between 'African-ness' and class struggle, namely 'Blackness'. The ANC/SACP of course hated this new rival and shed few tears as the apartheid regime crushed it. But BCM mobilised many brilliant people. Some prominent ANC personalities now such as Cyril Ramaphosa had their formative years in such groupings; the ANC's internal rivalries today in part are about these long-standing ideological differences going back thirty years or more.
The practical, political, moral and even metaphysical issues surrounding 'settler' land ownership in South Africa and Zimbabwe alike are, of course, obvious. After all those long years in power the Mugabe regime has failed to come up with fair but sensible solutions, which is why as it clings on to power it is still thrashing out at Zimbabwe's diminishing number of white farmers, even if this is risking collective national starvation.
In short, Mugabe looks to be having his own special Nongqawuse Moment.
Nongqawuse was the Xhosa girl who back in 1856 in Transkei (now South Africa's Eastern Cape) announced that she had seen visions. This led to the Xhosa people in a fit of collective hysteria slaughtering their own cattle on a huge scale, creating appalling starvation. A unique example in history of collective national quasi-suicide.
Mugabe's case of course is rather different: it is the Mugabe elite putting the gun to the head of the Zimbabwean people, and telling them they need to die for their own good.
Does Mbeki as a Xhosa himself look at Zimbabwe and think about this parallel? What goes through his mind?
In his communistic rationality he must look aghast at the catastrophe caused by Mugabe's atavistic vengefulness against 'whites' (plus he has to think about coping with the tens of thousands of Zimbabweans who have crossed into South Africa looking for food). Yet he also knows that Africanist instincts run deep inside South Africa too, even if they currently do not find explicitly powerful political expression.
So here we see a sort of Africanist Fundamentalism playing itself out.
Even leaving aside the fact that the Mugabe elite will have plundered plenty of loot for themselves, there is something in the Mugabe elite mind which wants to see all traces of 'settler-whiteness' in Zimbabwe eradicated once and for all, whatever the horrendous cost to Zimbabwe's indigenous Africans themselves.
This will represent a symbolic 'purification' of this part of Africa, following which somehow or other the territory can start to rebuild on exclusively African terms.
Fine. But what if no-one is left standing to do the rebuilding work?