South africa- Net Beneficiary of Zimbabwe Crisis

South Africa -Net Beneficiary of the Zimbabwe Crisis 

It is difficult for any one to appreciate the position so firmly held by Mbeki and equally so firmly despised by his critics. We have been investigating his undeclared reasons for his controversial stance on Zimbabwe, while at the same time clinging to an untenable mediation role.

The first authoritative statement of the underlying motive for insisting on being the sole mediator of the Zimbabwe political impasse was his outburst that Zimbabwe was not a province of South Africa. What President Mbeki meant was that he was going to ensure that by the time he is through with his mediation, Zimbabwe would be a de facto economic province of South Africa. He has succeeded in doing so well ahead of his departure as the South African President. Here is the Thabo Mbeki Agenda for Zimbabwe. 

Firstly, after 7 or so years of on-and-off mediation, his ‘quiet diplomacy’ has yielded bankable benefits. Over 70% of Zimbabwean groceries are now imported from South Africa. A nation that used to boast of ability to feed her people and others in parts of Southern Africa, now depends on South Africa for almost three-quarters of its processed groceries- worth hundreds of millions of US dollars. 

Secondly, the main supermarket-chains in Zimbabwe have been reduced to mere retail shops- operating at one-tenth capacity. The only supermarkets that are fully stocked are South-African-controlled. They, alone, can afford to source the cheapest commodities from South Africa and offload to the Zimbabwean outlets at ridiculously inflated prices. Thousands of workers have been retrenched or sent on compulsory leave. The country had been ‘supermarketized’ to a very dangerous extent. Beggars and rich Zimbabweans were all buying from the supermarkets. Now the public has nowhere to turn to- except of course, the elusive black market. The losers are not just the public. The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority is suffering silently.  

It is only now that the Central Bank-led Peoples’ shops are being introduced- 40 years after Kamuzu Banda introduced them in Malawi and over 40 years since Julius Nyerere introduced the idea in Tanzania (without much success) and 30 years after Samora Machel had done the same thing in Mozambique. It is not a novel idea developed by Governor Gono! What is new is the fact that unlike socialist Tanzania and Mozambique and Banda’s kleptocracy, neither the Zimbabwe Government nor Governor Gono has any control over the means of production or the labour or the distribution. He hopes to create a communist model in capitalist Zimbabwe. If it had been done in 1980 it might very well have worked. Good luck Governor! 

Why was it not done in 1980? Quite simply because the new post-independence government found a working system that ensured maximum-almost punitive, taxation in place, courtesy of the Smith regime. For that very reason he postponed ‘total empowerment’ of the poor Zimbabweans through land re-distribution.  In due course, he forgot the poor landless Zimbabweans altogether! That is, until the masses themselves invaded the white-owned farms in 2000. Talk of a revolutionary bereft of any revolutionary soul! He alone postponed the realization of the cardinal aim of the bush war: the land issue! And for 20 years! Longer than the period of the liberation struggle itself. And some people mistakenly or blindly still call him a liberator of Zimbabwe! In a true socialist state he would have been shot as a counter-revolutionary-a traitor to the forward march of the revolution. Surely, a winning General who commands his soldiers to retreat and let the enemy pillage and plunder Zimbabwean resources for a further twenty years (1980-2000) deserves no less a punishment!

Anyway, I digress. I am bitter- very bitter! 

To return to the Mbeki Agenda: he has succeeded in the recruitment of cheap but skilled manpower. He now has properly qualified black doctors, teachers, nurses, engineers, insurers, bankers, managers, plumbers, joiners-all the artisans that South Africa so badly needs. All manner of blue-collar personnel lacunae have been filled thanks to the meltdown in neighbouring Zimbabwe. The migration has been so intense that ordinary South Africans have felt it and expressed their anger and grief through the recent disturbances in South Africa. I choose not to call it xenophobia. Over ten thousand white professionals have left South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994. Tens of thousands Zimbabwean professionals have entered as replacements. I am aware that other foreigners also work in South Africa, especially Nigerians, Kenyans, Ghanaians.  

Mbeki has calculated well. He knows that South Africa can absorb thousands of useful foreigners without feeling the pinch, because their toil and labour far outweigh the cost to the nation. When the time comes, the South African government will simply terminate the contracts of those that are superfluous and ship them back home. But- and this is the point I want you to get- they will have helped in capacity building for South Africa in the interim! They will have provided training and education for South Africans. They will have helped with the construction of the stadiums for the 2010 World Cup. This stop-gap measure has been a Mbeki priority all along. He saw the opportunity and grabbed it. That is why he growls at the mention of an additional mediator!  

Then there is the hot issue of tourism. For some reason, Zimbabwe believes that it is the paradise of Africa in tourism terms, dwarfing all other countries in Southern Africa. That myth is one that Mbeki set out to destroy. He has largely succeeded in selling the idea that Victoria Falls is part of South Africa’s tourist menu. Thanks to aggressive South African marketing, Victoria Falls is just one of the Southern Africa’s prime destinations- best organized from Johannesburg, South Africa. That is the best way to do Victoria Falls. In the confusion Hwange has lost its appeal. In any case, the Limpopo Trans-frontier National Park has plenty of animals. As for Kariba, well, Mozambique (and its pristine beaches) is open for business! Check it out. If you want to know how serious the South Africans are, just check the Botswana side of the Zambezi River! 

We keep hearing that Zimbabwe was a breadbasket of Southern Africa- some say (erroneously) even of Africa. However, that was the time when South Africa was at war; Namibia was at war; Angola was at war and Mozambique was at war. Zambia was then a casualty of all those wars. Simba Makoni believes that it still can be the breadbasket of Africa. By what miracle he does not say.  Be reminded that it is not a question of land per se. Zambia and DR Congo have by far richer soils! Zimbabwe soil is of little value without extensive use of fertilizers. By sub-dividing all the land, Zimbabwe has lost an opportunity to develop large-scale farms that could rival USA corn, cotton, peanut and other farms. There is enough land for all Zimbabweans’ needs but not enough for their greed! Mbeki and the ANC know that. They would rather you destroy yours now, so that they can convince their people otherwise in the future. South Africa has no wish to go the Zimbabwe route. It is not only thorny and pot-holed; it is a cul de sac.


People tend to forget that Mbeki lived in Zimbabwe for sometime- long enough to know how Zimbabweans feel about his countrymen. The general feeling is that South Africa cannot survive without Zimbabwe; that it is the Zimbabweans who provide the top brass of South Africa’s business and other sectors, both public and private because they are better educated. Well, Mbeki believes otherwise and he wants to put to shame all those inclined to contradict him.  Mugabe thinks he is using Mbeki. Mbeki knows that he is using Mugabe! 

How do I know that I am right? Ask Jacob Zuma. The moment it was explained to him, Zuma understood and stopped pushing Mbeki over the top! Remember, Zuma is a patriot and a freedom fighter. If the policy is good for the country, why not give it tacit support-at least? 

 Lastly, South Africa wants to exert its influence over Southern, Central and Eastern Africa. It wants to flex its economic muscle all over. Until recently, only Mauritius, Zimbabwe and Kenya stood in her way. With Zimbabwe out of the way, South Africa can concentrate on any challenge from Kenya and Mauritius. 

It is not that Thabo Mbeki has little love for Zimbabwe. Rather, it is precisely because he loves and envies Zimbabwe that he would like it wrestled out of the jaws of unpatriotic ZANU-PF politicians who cannot appreciate how horrific it is to bring a beautiful country like Zimbabwe to ruin. He seriously wants to make it a province of South Africa and Robert Mugabe is either unwittingly, or out of sheer ignorance, obliging. That is why I believe Mbeki cannot mediate in good faith!

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