Zimbabwe’s frustrated opposition urges SA to take the lead in helping end the crisis in that country

Zimbabwe’s frustrated opposition urges SA to take the lead in helping end the crisis in that country
Members of Not In My Name SA Movement protest in solidarity with Zimbabweans at the Zimbabwean Embassy on August 07, 2020 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Lefty Shivambu)

Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party and the government will have to agree there is a crisis in the country before South Africa or the ANC can help them resolve it, says Lindiwe Zulu, cabinet minister and head of the ANC’s international relations sub-committee.

As a diplomat, Lindiwe Zulu, now South Africa’s social development minister, led SA’s mediation efforts in Zimbabwe to try to ensure free and fair elections in 2013. On Friday, she said: “It looks like we are back to square one.” Whatever gains SA’s mediation had made in Zimbabwe, have now been reversed. 

Zulu was speaking in a webinar by the Brenthurst Foundation, with Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC Alliance) vice president Tendai Bit. Brenthurst director Greg Mills said “Zimbabwe seems to be going down the pan again” in yet another socio-economic crisis which included 1,000% inflation. 

“Zimbabwe is demonstrating that the saying, ‘things can’t get any worse’, is fundamentally untrue,” he said. 

Mills asked Zulu and Biti if, and how, South Africa could help Zimbabwe resolve its current crisis.

Zulu said the ANC – as a fellow liberation movement to Zanu-PF – and the  South African government wanted to be of the greatest possible assistance to Zimbabwe. However, it first needed “buy-in” from Zimbabwe in acknowledging the crisis. 

The ruling Zanu-PF has so far steadfastly refused to acknowledge there’s a crisis, and has blamed all the country’s socio-economic and political woes on “malevolent” outside forces such as Western sanctions.

SA President Cyril Ramaphosa recently sent two special envoys – former Cabinet minister Sydney Mufamadi and former Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete – to Zimbabwe to start addressing the crisis. They met President Emmerson Mnangagwa but he stopped them from meeting the opposition MDC or civil society.

Mnangagwa blocks Ramaphosa envoys from meeting opposition leaders

Zulu underscored on Friday that Ramaphosa’s envoys had a mandate to meet Zanu-PF “and other political parties”, but she did not say if or when Mufamadi and Mbete would be returning to Zimbabwe to meet the opposition. 

Recalling her own experience as one of former president Jacob Zuma’s envoys who tried to get Zimbabwe’s political parties to implement the agreements they had signed in 2013 to ensure a level playing field in the elections, Zulu said this time South Africa, and particularly the ANC, had to do things “a bit differently”.

She said while the ANC must continue to engage its fellow liberation movement, the ANC should also be “honest and frank and straightforward about what is happening. And let our brothers in Zanu-PF also do the same and be honest and frank and straightforward about what is happening”.

Only then would South Africa and the ANC be able to help Zimbabwe deal with the crisis. 

South Africa and ANC had to ask “hard” and “painful” questions about what was happening in Zimbabwe. “We cannot ignore the fact that Zimbabweans are crossing the border [into SA] on an almost daily basis. Now our borders are closed but people are still finding a way of crossing. 

“There is no way we cannot ask ourselves a very simple question: where is the dignity in all this?”

“Where is the dignity in all the young women I see in the car parks running around chasing people to ask if they can wash their cars? Where is the dignity of people working in restaurants who are teachers or nurses…” 

And where, asked Zulu, was the dignity for Zimbabweans having to cross the borders to buy essentials, or concealing their nationality in South Africa or risk being sent back home. 

“There is a crisis in Zimbabwe… if there wasn’t a crisis, I wouldn’t be talking about what I have just narrated.”   

Zulu said the ANC remained closer to Zanu-PF than any other party in Zimbabwe and would like to see it continue to govern. But the ANC would also recognise any other government which was elected by the people. 

She said the governing liberation movements in southern Africa had to monitor each other to ensure they were upholding the ethos, culture and values they had fought for. She said this was not just about getting rid of colonialism and racism, but also uplifting their people socio-economically and protecting their human rights. 

Zimbabweans ultimately had to resolve their own crisis and deserved a lot of blame for failing to do so, they could not now resolve it without South African help.

Zulu called on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to do things differently in Zimbabwe. The body has consistently ignored the current crisis, which evidently was not discussed at its annual summit this week.

Zulu contrasted this silence from SADC with the public which African Union Commission chairperson Mohamed Faki Moussa made last week, in which he welcomed Ramaphosa – who was chairperson of the AU at the time – sending envoys to Zimbabwe and implicitly criticising the Zimbabwean government for human rights abuses.

This statement was quite different from the AU’s usual approach to Zimbabwe, Zulu said. “It was direct and it spoke to  human rights. That gave us a boost… to say we can’t be attacked and told we’re interfering.” 

Tendai Biti, who was finance minister in Zimbabwe’s government of national unity between Zanu-PF and the MDC – mediated in 2008 by then SA president Thabo Mbeki – agreed with Zulu that “we’re back to square zero. We’ve been down the same road time and time again over the last 20 years. The characters change but the script is the same”.

The “script” was still that of a politically illegitimate state which had been taken over by its security forces; of the disputed 2018 elections; of total state capture by the Zanu-PF elite; the total emasculation of state institutions; massive corruption and the looting of state resources; and 95% unemployment and 79% poverty. And, of course, widespread repression. 

Zimbabweans had become the true “scatterlings of Africa”, dispersed around the region. “It’s a broken record. Everyone else is sick of it,” Biti said, adding that whenever he spoke to others in the region about his country, he felt their “massive fatigue”.

Biti said that although Zimbabweans ultimately had to resolve their own crisis and deserved a lot of blame for failing to do so, they could not now resolve it without South African help.

He said Zimbabwe was not a foreign policy issue for South Africa – it was a domestic issue, because of the burden it was imposing on this country. He said experts had told him, for example, that 20% of the beds in Soweto’s Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital were being occupied by Zimbabweans, some of whom were also committing crimes in SA. 

He agreed with Zulu that SADC should become more involved, but added that it would only do so if driven by South Africa, which had to take the lead as it was the country most affected by the crisis. 

But this time around, negotiations would have to focus on deeper structural reforms and proper implementation of mechanisms to ensure any new deal was sustainable, he said. 

The opposition was now calling for a national transitional mechanism, comprising all parties, to govern Zimbabwe and to prepare for new democratic  elections. DM


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