via EDITORIAL: Zimbabwe misrule coming to a head | Editorials | BDlive NOVEMBER 22 2013
WHAT eventually brought down apartheid was not armed struggle, South Africa’s political and cultural isolation, or even popular resistance — although all three were factors in helping concentrate white minds. It was the dire state of the economy, in which the imposition of international trade sanctions and the drying up of inward investment played no small part, that ultimately convinced the National Party that Hendrik Verwoerd’s vision of a racially separate future for South Africa was doomed.
Starved of capital, drowning in debt and keenly aware of the effect that greater economic hardship would have on the minority electorate’s stomach to resist pressure for democratic change, the securocrats first tried to implement reforms on their own terms in the hope of retaining political control. Then — when tweaking the system proved equally unsustainable — they were confronted with the choice between a negotiated settlement or going down with the ship.
South Africans will remain eternally grateful that they opted for the former course, even if it took 45 years and a glance into the abyss to do the right thing. It now appears the Zanu (PF) securocrats who have helped keep Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in power for 33 years could soon find themselves at a similar inflection point, despite the party’s recent electoral success.
Do they continue to support the old tyrant’s repressive ways in the hope of clinging to power after he is gone, even if they preside over a failed state? Or will they see the writing on the wall, which is forecasting a future for Zimbabwe involving total economic collapse, endless suffering and the indefinite denial of basic freedoms to the majority of its people?
The power struggles that have broken out within Zanu (PF) since the election earlier in the year have been driven largely by competition at provincial level to gain access to the spoils of victory, although the race to succeed the geriatric Mr Mugabe is never far from the surface. The party is now divided into two factions, one backing Vice-President Joice Mujuru for the top job and the other rooting for Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
But political control will mean little if the economy implodes and ordinary Zimbabweans’ daily battle to get by becomes a matter of life or death. The cupboard is all but bare, and decades of underinvestment and generally poor governance have left the infrastructure in a state of collapse. For all its rhetoric about redistributing the means of production to indigenous Zimbabweans, Zanu (PF) has reached the point where it is trying to squeeze blood out of a stone. There is hardly anything of productive value left, and apart from Chinese investment in the mining sector — in return for which you can be sure they are extracting their pound of flesh — foreign capital steers well clear.
The liquidity shortage in the banking sector reflects this, as well as the crippling of the remaining export sector through the rash application of unworkable policies such as the indigenisation laws, which have left many companies starved of capital and expertise and unable to function. Even the recovery of the tobacco cultivation sector is a red herring — it has been supported artificially by the state, partly as a propaganda tool to counter criticism of Mr Mugabe’s violent land redistribution policy but also in a desperate attempt to bring in foreign exchange.
Meanwhile, food crop production is increasingly being conducted on a subsistence level — Zimbabwe is expected to produce less than half the maize it needs to feed its population this year — and aid organisations are warning of a looming health crisis due to a lack of potable water and adequate sanitation in urban areas.
Whoever eventually wins the battle to succeed Mr Mugabe is going to find they have been handed a poisoned chalice.