By Simon Allison (Daily Maverick)
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, 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 regime any further credit. IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice was unequivocal on Thursday: “There’s no financing program 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 $1.8 billion it already owes the fund, and implemented immediate economic reforms. Under Mugabe, neither of those conditions are likely to be met.
But diplomats from several western embassies told the Daily Maverick that the economic picture could look remarkably different if Mugabe was no longer in the picture. The U.S., U.K. and European Union countries are on standby to deploy emergency funding in the event of 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 Mugabe’s hand. At no point in the Zimbabwean president’s 36-year reign has he been weaker. As well as facing an energized opposition, he can no longer rely on key lieutenants within the ruling Zanu PF. 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 Jacob Zuma’s more hands-off approach. Whether intentionally or not, South Africa’s Zimbabwe policy has only served to strengthen and legitimise Mugabe’s grip on power.
For Zimbabwe’s sake, this must now change. Instead of trying to shore up Mugabe’s weaknesses, South Africa must use its substantial influence to push for lasting reforms – including the removal of 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 program. 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 Mugabe simply cannot be this country’s future. By throwing South Africa’s weight behind credible plans for a peaceful transition, they now have an opportunity to redeem themselves. With the futures of millions of people in the balance, this opportunity must be taken.
This article is taken from the Daily Maverick