Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t. One can imagine that this is what the ANC is experiencing with its policy towards Zimbabwe at the moment.
After years of so-called quiet diplomacy, as if diplomacy is not always quiet, the ANC, under President Cyril Ramaphosa both as government and as a party, attempted to be seen as doing something in respect of Zimbabwe. Even though this something has now been dismissed in some quarters as a ‘junket’.
Well-rounded condemnation, by both Zimbabweans and non-Zimbabweans, has become quite popular. Less than four years ago, we were told that Robert Mugabe is the problem in that country. President Mugabe was subsequently unceremoniously dethroned by the very people some of us have been arguing for years are actually running Zimbabwe. The reality was that Mugabe lost power in Zimbabwe long before 2017.
Four years on and our commentators now tell us that ZANU-PF is actually the problem. So now we are made to believe that the silver bullet in addressing the complex issues faced by our neighbour is the simple removal of ZANU-PF. Indeed, one does not dismiss the possibility that ZANU-PF poses but a single spoke in the wheel of current Zimbabwe. But to reduce all of the challenges faced by that country to a single issue is naive.
Criticise him on his posture toward Zimbabwe but President Thabo Mbeki remains right when he insisted that Zimbabwe’s problems can only be solved by Zimbabweans. No outside interference, from either South Africa or SADC, will assist in the resolution of the issues of Zimbabwe. South Africans more than anyone else must come to this realisation.
Yet we must ask ourselves, as South Africans, why we feel that there is a need for us to do or say something. Our border patrolling is the issue if we do not want Zimbabweans to come into our country. Yet even more so, the fact is that the majority of Zimbabweans here are in our country legally and like any other migrant these seek better socio-economic opportunities.
This then leads us to ask the question why the current economic situation in Zimbabwe persists and the answer to this is simple. Before 2008, the international community used President Mugabe’s unwillingness to yield to democratic outcomes as a reason to neglect its obligations to the country.
In 2008, the Global Political Agreement was met by the international community with skepticism. While the president of the United Nations Security Council at the time was quick to condemn the violence and actions of the government of Zimbabwe in the lead up to the presidential elections scheduled for the end of that June, the UNSC has hitherto yet to endorse and support the GPA signed a mere three months later. Again, President Mugabe was painted as the problem.
Today Zimbabwe continues to suffer under sanctions despite President Mugabe having been buried just over a year ago. Like the unilateral actions against Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and Korea, the sanctions imposed against Zimbabwe have had a devastating effect on the country’s ability to lead itself out of its economic quagmire. These sanctions should have been retracted 12 years ago already, with the signing of the GPA, and there is little doubt that the country’s economy would have been on a path to recovery by now.
Instead, countries, such as China, which have sought to help build Zimbabwe have been frowned upon and cast as wanting to colonise the country. At the same time, until there is better regional integration economically, SADC countries, in the main, will continue to be dependent on the South African economy. With a struggling South African economy, it is simply foolish to expect miracles from our neighbours.
Sending official or party delegations will not address the issues faced by Zimbabwe. Instead, these delegations will do much better at home if they focused on deconstructing the notion of South African exceptionalism and wanting the country to act as a big brother in the region. We should be humbled but shy that our economy is the largest in the region given the history of this exploitative economy.
In fact, even to this day, South Africa benefits unduly in our economic relations with our neighbours. We should therefore not complain when our neighbours come to stay with us when this imbalanced economic situation in the region is of our own making.
Wesley Seale has a PhD in international relations.