The past three weeks has been fascinating watching the antics of South Africa as it tries to fulfill the promises that it undertook at the G8 summit in July. It is quite obvious that as soon as South Africa’s Mbeki got home he communicated a proposed deal to deal with Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe.
What that deal was is anyone’s guess, but I would hazard to say that it would have included the following elements:
- A soft landing for Mugabe if he gave up power and agreed to retire (with grace) to somewhere where his safety and security could be guaranteed.
- A comprehensive package of assistance to a transitional authority charged with trying to address the humanitarian and economic crises in Zimbabwe.
- A “road map” back to a legitimate government in Zimbabwe via talks, a new constitution and fresh elections.
It is also clear that Mugabe rejected the deal outright – he knows full well that such a deal would mean exile for himself and the end of his ruling party, Zanu PF.
Africa Determined to Help
But this time he faced a more determined effort by African leaders to ensure that the roadblocks were removed as soon as possible. The first indication of this resistance was the flying visit to Harare by the South African Vice-President and the deputy Minister of Finance. They were instructed to inform his majesty that “no” was not the answer they were expecting.
Their determination to resolve the Zimbabwean crisis was again made clear when the South Africans briefed officials in the Ministry of Finance and the Reserve Bank. Precise details of Zimbabwe’s needs were communicated, with demands for immediate political and economical reforms.
On our side of the Limpopo another game was being played out – “We will never talk to the MDC [Movement for Democratic Change],” thundered Mugabe at a State function in Harare, referring to the major opposition party in Zimbabwe.
“We will never accept a deal with South Africa that carries any conditions,” stated several Zimbabwe ministers and Zanu PF spokespersons.
A politician should never use the word “never” and “no” because politics is the art of the possible and deals are a built-in part of the whole process. The actual deal under consideration was finally discussed at a Cabinet meeting in Harare and a few days later a more muted response was sent to Mbeki.
Not to be left out of the action, the African Union then threw its hat into the ring. It was not just the demand that caught my attention but also the manner in which it was carried out. The chairman of the African Union, President Obasanjo of Nigeria, appointed former Mozambique President Chissano as his emissary with the instruction that he was to get talks going as soon as possible and report progress. This is unprecedented pressure from the most powerful organ on the African continent.
Is This the End Game?
Someone called me yesterday and said that he had information that Mugabe would not last another month. Well, that may or may not be true – but I know one thing for sure, when this thing starts unravelling, it will unravel fast and will take most of us by surprise.
In the meantime the crisis here intensifies – inflation is spiralling upwards and is now almost out of control. There is very little fuel in the market and it is now four months since I last bought fuel in a filling station. Shortages are the norm – from matches to margarine. In the humanitarian sphere the first two-roomed house units are rolling off the construction assembly line – at a cost of at least $Z90 million per unit.
Very few can afford them and their main purpose is political at this stage. They will make very little impact on the needs of the 300,000 families made homeless and destitute by operation “Murambatsvina”, or “operation drive out rubbish”.
In an effort to clean up after this shambles the State is moving thousands of people from the urban areas after a rudimentary screening and dumping them in rural areas. There are reports of many deaths and deep hardship. Churches following up their members and trying to meet basic needs are discovering horrific conditions.
The Zimbabwean dollar continues to slide in a rather undignified manner at the Reserve Bank and in the open market it has simply jumped off the cliff – the local currency now trades at 6000 to 1 against the Rand and 35,000 to 1 against the US dollar. The Pound is trading at 65,000 to 1.
While Nero fiddles, Rome burns and there is little or no sign of preparation for the next summers cropping season – now just 90 days away. After a brief period when maize from South Africa was available in reasonable quantities, there is again a very severe shortage in markets.
Wheat supplies have been cut dramatically and long queues form wherever bread is in production. We need that deal, and very soon, if we are to avoid the catastrophe that others are predicting if nothing is done about the Zimbabwe crisis.