Zimbabwe's Crisis is Africa's Challenge

Zimbabwe's Crisis is Africa's Challenge

24 Jun 2008

Dr David Dorward
Email: d.dorward@latrobe.edu.au

You can also listen to an interview [MP3 17.1MB] with Dr Dorward about the crisis in Zimbabwe or read the interview transcript.

(A version of this opinion piece first appeared in the Herald Sun on 24 June 2008)

Morgan Tsvangirai has been forced to withdraw from the second-round Zimbabwe presidential election to prevent further suffering by his supporters at the hands of ZANU-PF thugs. At least 86 have been murdered, tens of thousands left homeless, opposition MDC politicians arrested and their political rallies attacked by so-called war veterans wielding clubs, as the ruling ZANU-PF struggles to cling to power.

Many in the opposition MDC are convinced Tsvangirai won the first-round outright. Tsvangirai and his supporters counted on the United Nations, the African Union, SADC and most of all, South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, to force Robert Mugabe to hold free and fair elections. They had all failed the test.

The country is in economic meltdown, with inflation at over 150,000%, unemployment around 90%, and shortages of just about everything. Ordinary people are feed up with the corrupt and oppressive ZANU-PF government.

Like many liberation movements that came to power through force, ZANU-PF has failed to make the transition into a democratic party. They cling to power through violence and coercion, convinced that only they are the rightful heirs of the independence struggle.

For decades, Mugabe has used the army, police and central intelligence office to intimidate his potential rivals- within the ruling ZANU-PF, rival ZAPU liberation movement and now the Movement for Democratic Change. The security services have become increasingly politicised. Mugabe bought their loyalty with former white-owed land, business concessions and bribes.

However Robert Mugabe, once the liberator of Zimbabwe from White-minority rule, is now a captive of his security chiefs. They fear international prosecution for their crimes against humanity. Tsvangirai initially promised them immunity, but the MDC is divided, and their fate lies with international prosecutors.

South African president Thabo Mbeki has once again shown reluctance to take decisive action. Muagbe's intransigence has long left his 'quiet diplomacy' in tatters.

While many in the ANC are thankful to Mugabe for support in the anti-apartheid struggle, Mbeki's motives go beyond sentimentality. Politics in South Africa is the politics of the ANC. Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist, has close allies with the South African trade union movement, COSATU, and the populist-left faction within the ANC, led by Mbeki's arch-rival Jacob Zuma. Mbeki's elitist approach to Black empowerment, his failures to effectively address issues of social justice and land redistribution in South Africa has weakened the position of his supporters within the ANC. A victory for Tsvangirai would be a boost to his rivals.

South Africa has used its position on the UN Security Council to lobby China and Russia to keep Zimbabwe off the agenda. Both China and Russia have their own internal political problems. Besides, China has significant investments in Zimbabwe and covets its platinum reserves, the second largest in the world. America has belatedly threatening to use the aborted elections to raise the issue of UN sanctions, but what effectively can it do?

The president of Angola has called for an end to intimidation and violence in Zimbabwe, without naming ZANU-PF as the instigators. The current chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Zambian president Mwanawasa, has been more outspoken. However, if South Africa won't act, SADC has few collective options.

The African Union is embarrassed by Mugabe's bellicose rhetoric and undisguised coercion. Many fear the collapse of the Zimbabwe state will affect their own capacities to attract foreign investment. But too many have a poor record on human rights, democracy and tolerance of opposition rivals.

Australia, like most Western governments, has little direct leverage on Zimbabwe. Most effective sanctions are already in place. Cancelling the student visas of the children of ZANU-PF leaders studying in Australia is little more than a token gesture. The only effectively pressures are indirect, on South Africa and SADC.

Talk of power sharing is a meaningless diplomatic scam- an illusion of some sort of solution. It won't work. Mugabe and those around him are not prepared to enter into a meaningful power-sharing arrangement, since political power is their only source of wealth and survival.

Whoever succeeds the aging Robert Mugabe assumes a poisoned chalice. The economy is in tatters. The infrastructure has collapsed. The business and professional classes, black and white, have fled and will be reluctant to return. Foreign investment will focus on the resource sector, not the broad economy Zimbabwe once enjoyed. Recovery will be long and partial.

While the ZANU-PF secureaucrats and politicians have been able to insulate themselves from the economic plight of their fellow citizens, the families of ordinary soldier and police have felt the brunt of inflation, famine and socio-economic chaos. Many voted for the MDC in the first-round presidential election, sending shock waves through ZANU-PF. At what stage might they turn their guns on their officers and Zimbabwe experiences a true revolution, with all the accompanying bloodshed and suffering. Then South Africa and the neighbouring states may feel the diplomatic and investment shockwaves and wish they had acted earlier.

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