Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Posts Tagged ‘Mbeki’

How Zimbabwe will influence events in a post-Mbeki South Africa

Posted by CM on September 20, 2008

One doesn’t hear South Africa referred to as ‘the rainbow nation’ very much anymore. That post-apartheid fantasy could not and did not hold for long. The realities of the leftovers of one of the world’s most brutally efficient systems of state-sponsored oppression meant that it was not realistic to hope that South Africa  could turn into a ‘non-racial’ state overnight. Still, the country’s transition from apartheid to majority rule has been remarkably smooth and peaceful considering its history.

A growing but still small clique of blacks now drive the fanciest BMWs, live in formerly white-designated areas and generally enjoy the consumerist ‘good life.’ An even smaller clique have been able to position themselves to become instant millionaires from the country’s ‘black economic empowerment (BEE) program,’ a kind of lottery where you can peddle your influence to get shares in white enterprises.

No white person will now publicly  own up to having supported apartheid, and whites are generally happy and relieved that there were no reprisals. There is of course the grumbling about the fall of ‘standards’ as the national cake that previously mainly was shared amongst a small white population now must serve the whole country, but overall, South Africa continues to be ‘successful’ in the IMF/World Bank terms by which countries are typically judged.

Both Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki have received high praise for not rocking the economic boat. Investors heap praise on Mbeki for being so business-friendly, unlike  that nasty fellow to the north, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.

But there are apparently a lot of people in South Africa, including in Mbeki’s own ANC, who are not particularly impressed with the economic course the country has chartered since 1994. They would like to see a more radical, more interventionist role for the government in bringing about post-apartheid socio-economic transformation, including on issues such as land.

It is these influential power centers within the ANC who have forced Thabo Mbeki to agree to resign from the presidency a year before his second term was due to expire. They are the same power centers who are likely to make Jacob Zuma a shoo-in for president next year.

These latest political moves signal the end of the softly-softly period of post-apartheid transition. We are now going to see a dispensation in which business and investor-friendliness are not going to be necessarily regarded as positives. Of course Zuma has made the expected noises of assurance to the nervous. But as has been shown by the unprecedented, un-Africa like humiliation Mbeki has suffered in the last year at the hands of his party, Zuma is not likely to be all-powerful in the mould of Mugabe, or of African leaders in general. The ‘radicalization’ of policy under Zuma as president will be largely independent of what he says. Even if he were inclined to (and it is not clear that this would be his inclination) resist it, there is clearly strong pressure within the ANC for what are considered more ‘people-friendly’ policies.

Perhaps South Africa will find its own unique blend of satisfying the heightened pressure for faster post-apartheid change while remaining ‘business and investor’ friendly, but the two are generally considered to be opposite each other. This is likely to have profound effects on the economy as foreign investors and the still overwhelmingly white business sector hedge their bets until it is clear that South Africa is not ‘going the way of Zimbabwe.’

This phase of transition had to come, it was almost inevitable. For now, it looks like a good thing that it is coming after 16 years of the kind of classical economic ‘stability’ and ‘growth’ that outfits like the World Bank and the IMF find praiseworthy. Perhaps this drift to a more radical agenda now will be much less frightening to those who control the economy than would have been the case if it had instead been a  sudden, radical shift right from Mandela’s time at the helm in 1994.

But then again, there are those who look at Zimbabwe and say meaningful land reform and general ‘economic empowerment’ would have been more successful and less disruptive if they had been embarked on right from independence in 1980, rather than being postponed for almost 20 years. The argument is that the racists who couldn’t handle this would have left early on, and those who chose to stay would have had the long-term security of knowing that a thorny political issue had been dealt with once and for all. Whatever shock to the economy that would have been felt would have been expected at a time of overall change in both political and economic spheres, and after a spell the country would begin to work itself up and forward.

Of course we will never know if this is indeed how things would have played out. In any case, in both Zimbabwe and South Africa, it was clearly felt by the incoming majority-rule leaders that assuring local business, foreign investors and money lenders like the World Bank and the IMF that change would be slow and gradual was the best course of action to take. And indeed, the leaders were praised profusely for being ‘responsible,’ model Africans. Praise was heaped on them in Western capitals for not paying heed to any  amongst their ranks who wanted a radical new order in regards to land and the economy in general from the start.

Despite the classical economic parameters for which today’s South Africa is praised (low inflation, good FDI levels and reputation amongst investors, rising GDP, low budget deficits, etc, etc) many of its black citizens feel cheated out of ‘the good times.’ As anywhere else, many of the poorest hoped for overnight change in their fortunes. Told to be patient, they became less so as they witnessed the emergence of a small, well-connected, not-necessarily-productive black BMW/BEE brigade, flaunting their new-found wealth provocatively while they continued to be jobless, living in shacks with no running water.

It is still too early to know what kind of model of economic recovery Zimbabwe will undergo in the coming months and years after its recent political settlement. It is not hard to guess that there will be pressure on the coalition government to reverse some of the ’empowerment laws’ of recent years in order for aid and investment to flow. But it will be difficult or impossible to reverse Mugabe’s land reform programme, for many reasons. Former white farmers and many in the British power structures would be unhappy with this, but they would learn to live with this reality of Southern Africa’s continuing winds of post-colonial change. They don’t have much choice.

It would be an interesting Zimbabwe that began a slow recovery with foreign assistance, but with much of the economy in black hands as a result of Mugabe’s aggressive changes over the years. Some of them might be softened, but it would be a fundamentally changed Zimbabwe in which foreign investors were returning if much of the empowerment changes of recent years were largely left in place, such as the requirement for foreigners to give a certain minimum stake to locals.

Almost inevitably, agricultural recovery will largely consist of capacitating the black farmers who are allowed to keep their land, rather than handing it back to the previous white owners. It may take many years, but this could be the start of a new black-dominated commercial farming model.

What all this could mean is that Zimbabwe would be rising from its ashes at a time when South Africa is under-going its first experiments with really widespread and deep economic transformation. Such fundamental changes are hard to manage smoothly, so it may very well be that the country would begin to experience Zimbabwe-like difficulties, even if they never get anywhere near as bad as at its northern neighbour’s lowest point.

Zimbabwe might well be beginning to rise up from its long, inefficient, costly and painful process of post-colonial economic transformation at a time when South Africa is just beginning its own in earnest. That would create many interesting contrasts and ironies. One hopes that South Africa’s will not be as costly and painful as Zimbabwe’s, but the nature of this kind of change almost rules out a flawlessly smooth process.

Many aspects of it will be experimental with a lot of ‘honest’ mistakes made. But it could also be driven by  hotheads to whom a smooth process is far less important than scoring ideological points, settling political scores and just appearing romantically ‘radical.’ All these  have been among the elements of Zimbabwe’s experience, and their historical/political/racial/ideological drivers exist as much in South Africa as they did in Zimbabwe; perhaps even more so.

The tired, weak and dilapidated Zimbabwe of today looks like a ‘failed state,’ especially compared to its robust neighbour South Africa. But could it perhaps now be in a position to rise up from a difficult, not entirely well-managed period of wrenching economic transformation at the same time that South Africa under Zuma will just be entering its own era of an attempt at more meaningful change than has been experienced up to now?

If so, the Zimbabwe that is such a mess today could in a few years of well-managed recovery (obviously a very big ‘if’) look like an attractive model of radical transformation to be adopted and modified by impatient South African radicals un-impressed by the dry indices by which their country is today praised as being ‘successful.’ Those indices ignore the anger and cynicism in the townships, rural areas and the sectors of the country that have not yet benefited from the ‘rainbow nation’ benefits of the privileged few.

There are uncertain but interesting, hot times ahead in southern Africa.

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Talks offer Zimbabwe the chance of a new beginning

Posted by CM on July 23, 2008

There was a lot of symbolism to digest at July 22nd’s historic meeting between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mugabe looked even more surly than usual. It seemed clear he had been brought there kicking and screaming by the circumstances of his own awkward and embarrassing recent self-coronation and the disgust of even many who have been his knee-jerk sympathisers. Mr. Mugabe did not at all look like a man who was in a triumphant or celebratory mood over the recent election which he “won” by being the only candidate. He was a sorry, sulky sight.

Tsvangirai was pictured grinning from ear to ear, not seeming to believe he was there at all and finally having to be taken seriously by a Mugabe he knows has utter contempt for him.

Arthur Mutambara was pictured in one of his usual bombastic poses, trying a little too hard to look powerful and dynamic. Here is a man who has done little or nothing to justify being taken seriously as a political player, but he somehow worked himself there. The handful of MPs of his small faction of the opposition are how he found himself there of course, but they do not offer any vision or ideological differences from Tsvangirai’s MDC faction. Their participation in the talks will be mostly about making sure they are included in whatever spoils are parceled out: positions, cars and the other normal perks of the parasitic political class.

Poor Simba Makoni couldn’t talk his way there, not helped by the poor showing of his upstart, formed-just-before-the-election political movement. Yet Makoni has been  insisting to anybody who would listen that he was central to the resolution of The Crisis. An AFP report:”I cannot explain my absence from that signing ceremony,” the former finance minister told South African public radio, saying “many Zimbabweans” believed his movement should have a role in both the current talks and the future of the country.

“Many Zimbabweans” possibly being his family and hangers on who would have liked to have been there to simply be in the receiving line for any goodies that may be given out.

Thabo Mbeki played it surprisingly cool for a man seemingly on the brink of vindication after years of quietly suffering vilification for his insistence on “quiet diplomacy.”

It was conspicuously an all-African affair despite the valiant failed efforts of Britain and the US to work their way to the center of determining how The Zimbabwe Crisis is resolved. They have all been calling for some kind of negotiated settlement, but it will be interesting to see if they will be happy with a settlement in which they do not dictate the terms!

Gordon Brown, the EU & Co. have also insisted they would not be happy with any deal in which Mugabe remained in power. There is approximately zero prospect of Mugabe agreeing to step down unceremoniously, or even to accept a window-dressing role, so it will also be interesting to hear what sputtering comes from those foreign quarters to a Zimbabwean-negotiated, South African-aided deal that offers much less than they hope: the final exit of a Mugabe who has been a thorn in their flesh, with what kind of ruler he has been for Zimbabweans being a very distant second consideration in their raw, emotional distaste of him. It would be entirely excusable to them if he was merely a despot but who did as he was told, but the man insists on hurling the Anglo-American foreign policy and historical hypocrisies in their faces.

But the worst panic and disappointment at even the slightest hint of moves to resolve The Zimbabwe Crisis will surely be felt by the British media. What on earth would The Daily Telegraph, The Times of London and the Guardian have to write about if Mugabe was taken away from them as a target of their hysteria? Where on earth would they find another such perfect villain to serve as the object of their deeply racial, post-colonial angst? That hysteria is not for the stated reason that Mugabe has become a repressive despot, which he is. His greater sin is being an African native who dares to speak and act towards the Western world like an equal of theirs!

The Western world has insisted their targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his henchmen have been to moderate their behaviour, a claimed goal that over the years has failed miserably. But just when for the first time Mugabe has felt the heat of world pressure and economic trouble at home to come to the negotiating table, the EU under Gordon Brown’s pressure ups the sanctions ante! If sanctions are part of why Mugabe feels under pressure to now talk, how is increasing those sanctions at the point of

Talks don’t mean mean Zimbabwe is out of the words. Many have mentioned how Mugabe’s does not have a good record of negotiating in good faith, how he is accustomed to conceding little or nothing and why Tsvangirai should be on the alert for simply being co-opted as Mugabe has done with other opponents after first softening them up with ferocious violence.

There is also the considerable issue of the genuinely deep ideological divide between Mugabe and ZANU-PF on one hand and Tsvangirai and the MDC on the other. Kenya’s coalition government may be an uneasy one, but there are at least no ideological differences between the two main partners the way there are in Zimbabwe. Nothing is impossible, but even if the two parties agree to give it a try, it is hard to imagine they could really live together for long as co-governing coalition. The many differences between them are vast, deep and wide.

But Zimbabwe is on its knees and desperately needs to stop the bleeding. Any chance to do that must be explored, no matter how great the obstacles to success seem.

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John Pilger speculates on reasons for Mbeki’s approach to Mugabe

Posted by CM on July 7, 2008

It is not easy these days to find calm voices on either or any side of “the Zimbabwe crisis.” Everyone seems to be competing to be louder and more emotional than the other.

Most people remain perplexed, and many outraged, by the perception of South African president Thabo Mbeki as soft on or sympathetic to Robert Mugabe. Whatever the reasons for it, it seems pretty clear to me that the reality of whatever Mbeki’s true feelings towards Mugabe is not going to change any time soon. So while I understand the fascination with the question, I’m not sure posing it repeatedly with anguish is very important to solving Zimbabwe‘s problems right now. But it is admittedly an interesting issue, if only as a debating point.

One of the most calm and lucid people to ponder the issue is writer John Pilger in his article ‘The silent war on Africa.’

Says Pilger, “That Mugabe is an appalling tyrant is beyond all doubt; yet there is a subtext to the overly enthusiastic condemnation of him by the “international community”, notably in Europe. “Unacceptable!” says British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, having personally distinguished the campaign to morally rehabilitate the concept of empire.”

He points out the hypocrisy of Brown’s “highly selective condemnation of uppity despots like Mugabe while fawning before equally awful despots such as the Saudi Royal family?”

“If nothing else, Mugabe has provided retrospective justification for the glory days. And perhaps his greatest crime is having slipped the leash. After all, both despots and democrats in Africa provide an essential service, or as Frantz Fanon put it in The Wretched of the Earth, “the transmission line between the nation and a capitalism, rampant though camouflaged. [They are] quite content with the role of the Western bourgeoisie’s business agent.” Those who refuse the role of business agent have often paid with their lives: from Patrice Lumumba to Amilcar Cabral, Ken Saro-Wiwa to Chris Hani.”

Pilger then goes on to chronicle a litany of ways in which the Western world is fully implicit in Africa‘s many messes. Most readers will be familiar with the arguments, from the aforementioned hypocrisy in deciding who is a “good guy” in the world and who is not, to cynical trade terms and cynical development policies.

“None of this excuses the outrages of Mugabe. But look beyond the West’s whipping boy and mark the enduring outrage of an imperial past that remains (enaaged in) a war against Africa that Africans must win,” he writes.

Then he gets to the crux of his article.

“Why is Thabo Mbeki so soft on Mugabe? Is it simply loyalty to a past of “joint struggle”, as has been suggested?.”

Pilger describes how the hopes of the South African poor for a meaningful improvement in their post-apartheid, post-1994 situation have been betrayed under first Mandela and now under Mbeki.

He concludes, “When Robert Mugabe attended the ceremony to mark Thabo Mbeki’s second term as President of South Africa, the black crowd gave Zimbabwe‘s dictator a standing ovation. The embarrassment and message for Mbeki was like a presence. “This was probably less an endorsement for Mugabe’s despotism,” noted the writer Bryan Rostron, “than a symbolic expression of appreciation for an African leader who, many poor blacks think, has given those greedy whites a long-delayed and just come-uppance.”

It was also a warning.”

Well, while I think Pilger’s conclusion is correct, there is also nothing earth-shakingly original about it. The vision of a happy-ever-after “rainbow nation” was too much of a hopeful fantasy given the water that has gone under the bridge in South Africa over the last few centuries. Perhaps even more so than Zimbabwe, the deep wounds of a very violent recent history could not just be swept under the carpet by having a smiling, well-liked president like Mandela for a few years.

There are already many signs of the bubbling to the surface of many long-simmering resentments, compounded by the disappointment of failed (and unrealistic) expectations of what could be quickly achieved in the post-apartheid era, that may eventually make South Africa not quite the miracle nation many hope it can continue to be.

Pilger builds and concludes his argument well, but for me has not delivered any dramatic new insights into exactly why Mbeki has seemed to remain so partial to Mugabe.

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