The Failure of Regional Leadership

I have often said that the only country in the world that has the power, and therefore the responsibility, to get Zimbabwe out of the crisis it is in, is South Africa. The reasons are geopolitical and easily demonstrated. It is the failure of South Africa to exercise that responsibility with the effective use of power that has resulted in this country becoming what it is - a failed State.

If we go back to the start of the real collapse in 2000, South African leadership knew full well what the government was doing in Zimbabwe and its implications. This was clearly revealed in the Mbeki memorandum of 2002 which argued that Zanu should stop the farm invasions and human rights abuse, not because it was the right thing to do, but because these actions might lead to the collapse of the economy, international isolation and the loss of power by the 'Party of the Revolution', Zanu PF. For eight years, South Africa used its regional and international influence, not to protect the rights of the Zimbabwe people or to foster the interests of the country and the region as a whole, but to prevent the MDC coming to power. What Mbeki called 'negating the Chiluba factor'.

This policy was perpetuated right through to the end of 2008 and was instrumental in not only denying the MDC its legitimate claim to power after the March elections, but to 15 months of tortuous negotiations, facilitated by South Africa on a totally partisan basis and resulting finally in forcing MDC into a shotgun marriage with Zanu PF and the Mutambara group. These negotiations were characterised throughout by a stance that pitted MDC against all three groups at the talks - South Africa, Zanu and the Mutambara Group. Having forced the consummation of the marriage, the South Africans proposed that both the AU and the SADC, even though neither organ has any leverage inside Zimbabwe, would 'guarantee' the deal.

South Africa is also unique in its knowledge of the Zimbabweans situation. After early failures in intelligence, the South Africans have built an intelligence network in Zimbabwe that is second to none. They have infiltrated the CIO and now monitor every move and every initiative by the various parties involved. They know what the real results of successive elections have been, they know the relative strengths of the MDC and Zanu PF, and they know what Zanu is doing to thwart the efforts of the transitional government. Ignorance is no excuse.

So here we are, almost exactly one month into the SADC/SA brokered deal. Still no movement on any of the issues accepted at the last SADC summit as being matters to be sorted out in order for the new government to make progress. Still no movement on the Governors, no movement on the question of Permanent Secretaries, no movement on the recall of Ambassadors and new appointments. Still no movement on the positions of Attorney General or the Reserve Bank Governor.

The farm invasions have actually intensified and spread to urban areas where smallholdings are being taken over by force. The use of the legal system to intimidate and cripple the MDC and Civil Society has continued - we still have eleven abductees missing and several still in Prison on trumped up charges. No progress on the absurd allegations by the former regime that Botswana was engaged in training military insurgents even though these allegations are directly linked to the treason charges against MDC leadership in the new government.

Now to crown it all, the region is withholding critically needed economic assistance to the new government. In recognition of the reality that only the region can assist us with our essential financial needs at short notice, the new government lost no time in defining and presenting its needs to the South African government. All they got in return was sympathy and the organisation of a larger group under the SADC to consider the requested package. Still no visible progress.

Just how critical the situation is, was clearly revealed last week when Tendai Biti, the new Finance Minister introduced a revised budget. He stated that in the first two months of the year, total revenue to the State had amounted to US$36 million. Simply to meet essential basic needs and pay much reduced salaries to State employees will cost about US$100 million a month, so we were able to meet a mere 20 per cent of this from our own resources. Revenues are unlikely to recover for at least six months and we desperately needed the US$500 million we requested for budget support until our own revenues were able to take up the slack. South Africa not only denied us any sort of support, but also was instrumental in blocking any aid from any other SADC States. A feeble plea to the so-called 'rich' nations for assistance to the new government was the best they could muster.

Even in respect to the appeal for a US$1,5 billion line of credit on commercial terms for private sector funding has not materialized though this would be petty cash to South Africa let alone the SADC States as a whole. What value is the so called 'guarantee' given by the SADC States if they cannot enforce compliance with the deal negotiated and signed and cannot provide even the minimum financial support requested?

For our part, I think the Zimbabwean people have been superb and disciplined in the way they have handled themselves over the past decade. In spite of all the provocation they have never turned to violence, even when it would have been totally justified. In February the Civil Service (236 000 people) went back to work after the payment of a paltry US$100 a month allowance to each employee. In March the State was unable to improve on this because the resources were simply not available. I think the reaction of teachers, doctors and nurses and all the others, has been just incredible. Their reward from their brother States in the region has been to send them away empty handed, to return to their shattered homes where there is no food or other essentials.

Not only to send them away empty handed, but also to turn a blind eye to the continuing human rights abuse, violations of the State controlled media and the flagrant violation of private assets. Even this past weekend South Africa was unable to get their Zimbabwean counterparts to sign up to an investment protection agreement that has been pending for years.

It is a mystery to me as to why regional leaders behave in this way. We can excuse ignorance but there is none, we can even excuse poverty, but the resources to help would only make a small impact on their collective resources. We might even excuse them if they themselves were living under tyrannies and were denied the basic freedoms that we have been denied, but they actually claim to be democratic States with a reputation for freedom and security. So what is their excuse? I am afraid they have none. For this I think they fully deserve the opprobrium that their inaction and failure is bringing upon them from a watching world.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 22 March 2009