On Tuesday April 27 2004, Mr. Thabo Mbeki was sworn in as the President of South Africa for a second and final 5-year term. He takes up his post after winning a sentinel election - his first real win as the last time he was really just surfing in on the Mandela wave. This time the victory is his and make no mistake about it, he is in charge.

In charge of what? A country in the south of the African continent with 5 per cent of the continents population and 30 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is the conomic leader of Africa with a GDP driven by mining and an industry that is over three times the size of that of Nigeria. It is also a country with an advanced private sector, which competes with the rest of the world in technology and science and an administration that enables it to manage its sophisticated state machinery.

Leadership carries with it responsibility and for better or worse Mbeki is now both leader of his country - with its myriad of problems, and also one of the main leaders of the continent. They say you cannot choose your family. South Africa cannot choose its neighbors. Mbeki may have chosen to intervene in the Congo, Rwanda and elsewhere; he cannot make the same voluntary stand in respect to the Zimbabwe crisis.

For better or worse President Mbeki takes up the cudgels in South Africa with the crisis in Zimbabwe firmly in his back yard. It is his responsibility because of geography and history. It is also his because the rest of the world are tired of dealing with crisis after crisis in Africa and are now demanding that we take charge of our own affairs. Especially if we have the means to do so and they expect us to simply ask for their support in the effort. They will not take leadership in the resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis.

The full extent of the Zimbabwe crisis is appreciated in South Africa but it is worth summarising the issues so that people can appreciate the full extent of President Mbeki's problems in regard to the Zimbabwe situation.

In Zimbabwe we have a state that is now totally isolated in international and continental terms. Mugabe has succeeded in alienating just about everybody - even the United Nations, and Obasanjo. The Zimbabwe government is in violation of just about every norm laid down in both regional (SADC) continental (AU) and global agreements pecifying internationally accepted criteria for human and political rights and governance in general.

Inside Zimbabwe, the economy has collapsed - GDP will be down 40 per cent this year, inflation is running at 600 per cent, exports have declined two thirds, and employment is down by a third or more. 80 per cent of the population is in abject poverty; school enrollment has fallen from 95 per cent to 65 per cent with two thirds of all girls no longer in school. Deaths from poverty, HIV/Aids and other endemic diseases now claim up to 300 000 lives a year and life expectancies have been reduced to a miserable 36 years - down from 59 years in 1990. 70 per cent of the population will need food aid this year for the 4th year in a row.

But for President Mbeki the most serious aspect of the Zimbabwe crisis is not the impact on Zimbabwe and its people. It is the direct knock-on effects in South Africa itself. A third of the total population of Zimbabwe - probably close to half its adult population has decamped and now lives in other countries. 70 per cent of all these economic and political refugees are in South Africa. They constitute half the population in the squatter camps and account for a substantial proportion of South Africa's burgeoning crime.

The impact does not stop there - the constant negative press on Zimbabwe, the stories of violations of property rights and worse, touch every investor where it hurts most. Do they trust Africa with their investment dollars? Or do they look elsewhere. No matter how conservative the African National Congress (ANC) is in economic terms and how carefully they control their own economy, the contagion of Zimbabwe cannot be contained by the Limpopo. Estimates vary, but the consensus is the same - Zimbabwe is costing South Africa dearly in terms of growth and investment.

To make his mark on the history of his country and his continent in the next five years Mbeki must strive to achieve the following: -

1. Regional stability and political and economic cohesion within a system that makes best use of South African regional hegemony without exacerbating its regional dominance.

2. Domestic growth rates that range around the 7 per cent per annum level that is required at the very least, to reduce poverty and create jobs.

3. A programme of job and enterprise creation that will spur industrial output and make South Africa a leading producer and exporter of manufactured goods - for which the main markets will be in Africa itself.

4. Translation of the NEPAD program and the objectives of the African Union into tangible policy and programme initiatives designed to transform the African continent into a region that can gradually pull itself into the 21st Century.

All that one can say about his first five years is that a foundation was laid by the previous administration on which these broad goals can be achieved in the next administrative period. There is no time to waste and it is difficult to see how any of the above goals can be achieved if the Zimbabwe crisis is not dealt with, and decisively.

There are now only 10 months left before Zimbabweans go to the polls. If the next elections are allowed to take place under the administrative and political conditions now being laid down by the Mugabe regime then it will take the rest of Mbeki's term of office to fix the problems created. He must move now to ensure that the next elections comply in every way with the standards laid down in the SADC protocols on democratic governance. Mugabe is the main obstacle to progress, as it is his determined effort to retain power at any price that is causing the crisis. Only Mbeki can deal with him - in tandem with the region, or alone.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo May 2 2004