South Africa has a role to play in Zimbabwe

Source: South Africa has a role to play in Zimbabwe | The Financial Gazette July 28, 2016

By Simon Allison

ECONOMIC crises are not unique to Zimbabwe, and the international community has plenty of practice in dealing with them.
Usually, some combination of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and western donor governments steps in to provide the necessary loans and financial assistance that can bridge the funding gap.
But this is not really an option in Zimbabwe.
Over the years, President Robert Mugabe has burned so many bridges that no one is willing to extend his government any further credit.
IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice was unequivocal on Thursday last week.
“There’s no financing programme under discussion with Zimbabwe at this point,” he said.
Rice added that no further finance would be extended to Zimbabwe until it had paid off the US$1,8 billion it already owes the fund, and implemented immediate economic reforms.
Under President Mugabe, neither of those conditions are likely to be met.
But diplomats from several western embassies said the economic picture could look remarkably different if President Mugabe was no longer in the picture.
The United States, the United Kingdom and European Union countries are on standby to deploy emergency funding in the event of President Mugabe’s removal from office and the installation of a transitional government.
And as much as Zimbabwe may be loath to accept western money, it is perhaps the only thing that stands between it and another economic catastrophe.
It’s here that South Africa has a key role to play.
The current political unrest presents a unique opportunity to force President Mugabe’s hand.
At no point in the Zimbabwean President’s 36-year reign has he been weaker.
As well as facing an energised opposition, he can no longer rely on key lieutenants within the ruling ZANU-PF party.
Nor can he keep paying his security services.
In Harare, opposition groups including Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, are already planning for a post-Mugabe future, drawing up blueprints for an inclusive transitional authority in advance of new elections.
They believe that this is the end game.
In the past, South Africa’s interventions in Zimbabwe have backfired.
Thabo Mbeki’s quiet diplomacy failed, as has President Jacob Zuma’s more hands-off approach.
Whether intentionally or not, South Africa’s Zimbabwe policy has only served to strengthen and legitimise President Mugabe’s grip on power.
For Zimbabwe’s sake, this must now change.
Instead of trying to shore up President Mugabe’s weaknesses, South Africa must use its substantial influence to push for lasting reforms — including the removal of President Mugabe from office.
“The Zimbabwe situation is not new for South Africa. We have been here before and therefore should seek to do things differently,” said Dimpho Motsamai, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies.
Piers Pigou, Southern Africa senior consultant for the International Crisis Group, commented: “South Africa, in concert with international creditors should support Zimbabwe, but on condition of a genuine and inclusive reform process. There is little evidence of this at present, raising serious concerns that support will be manipulated to enable ZANU-PF longevity as a priority over a genuine re-engagement and national recovery programme. This would also have acute long-term negative repercussions for South Africa’s economy which is already vulnerable to the vicissitudes of Zimbabwe’s financial delinquency.”
Pigou raises an important point.
An economic meltdown will mean more bad news for South Africa’s economy, and political trouble as more Zimbabweans inevitably cross the border.
In other words: supporting peaceful change is in South Africa’s best interests too.
After years of getting Zimbabwe wrong, South African diplomats must remember that 92-year-old President Mugabe simply cannot be this country’s future.
By throwing South Africa’s weight behind credible plans for a peaceful transition, they now have a opportunity to redeem themselves.
With the futures of millions of people in the balance, this opportunity must be taken.