Whither South Africa, and what does it mean for us?

One of the many things we did not do right in 2000 when we formed the MDC and took on the Zanu (PF) monolith, was to stop and think through the regional context in which we were operating. I cannot recall this subject coming up in any of our early meetings or training sessions. It was a serious error and we paid for it many times in the following 14 years.

They concluded that if the MDC was allowed to take power this would encourage a restive labour movement in South Africa to leave the ANC Alliance and fight the next elections on their own.
They concluded that if the MDC was allowed to take power this would encourage a restive labour movement in South Africa to leave the ANC Alliance and fight the next elections on their own.

South Africa did not make that mistake. When we won the February 2000 referendum and went on to nearly defeat the ruling party in the June elections, they set up a special group to analyse the situation in Zimbabwe and to decide on a policy approach to our affairs.

This group was headed by the then Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and had on it several people with specialist knowledge and interest. They concluded that the MDC, a labour-based movement, was a threat to the ANC Alliance made up of the ANC, Cosatu (the South African Federation of Trade Unions) and the SACP.

Spot-on analysis

They concluded that if the MDC was allowed to take power in Zimbabwe and made a success of their new responsibilities, this would encourage a restive labour movement in South Africa to leave the ANC Alliance and fight the next elections on their own. The Workers Party of Brazil reinforced this fear by encouraging Cosatu to strike out and form a party on the left in South Africa. Cosatu, increasingly aware of the slow drift of the ANC towards the centre field, was tempted. The Zimbabwe group was spot on in their analysis.

The result was that over the next six years we faced not only a total onslaught from Zanu (PF), the JOC and the machinery of the state in Zimbabwe, but behind the scenes, the South African government used its considerable regional and international influence to curb and control the situation against the MDC. So when we won the 2002 Presidential elections, it was South Africa who weighed in and allowed the cover up. When they received their own report on the elections, they suppressed it and to this day it has not been released.

When South Africa finally recognised that the threat from Cosatu was diminishing and that the crisis they had allowed in Zimbabwe was spinning out of hand, they engineered the conditions that eventually brought about Government of National Unity in February 2009.

Having created the conditions for a solution they then failed to follow through and allowed Zanu (PF) to again wrest back power in a totally manipulated and controlled election in mid-2013. Zimbabwe was back to square one – an illegitimate government in place, a collapse of confidence in the state and control by a corrupt and inept administration.

20 years on

Now South Africa itself is going through a transition of sorts. It is 20 years since South Africa became a democracy (the same period before a serious threat emerged in Zimbabwe to the rule of the liberation Party) and this time it is the ANC that is under threat, both from within and without and the situation in Zimbabwe is doing nothing to help. My friends and contacts in South Africa say that the elections are likely to go as follows: ANC 58 to 62 per cent, DA 25 per cent, EFF 8 per cent and the rest of the field (27 Parties) the balance, 7 per cent.

The prediction is that if the ANC vote falls below the 60 per cent threshold, a leadership reshuffle will ensue, first in the incoming Cabinet and then in the Presidency. The latter will take place sooner than planned and will entail the ANC changing jockeys in preparation for the 2018 elections. More significantly, although it cannot be seen on the surface, the ANC is maintaining its drift to the centre started in the 1990’s. The left is being abandoned and is expected to regroup before the 2018 elections and take on the ANC in its traditional strongholds.

Once again these developments in South Africa do not help in dealing with the situation that is developing in Zimbabwe. The MDC is to the left of Zanu (PF) and is still very much the child of the labour movement and its civil society parents. The emerging ANC is going to be quite hostile to both, the former because they will constitute the most serious threat to the ANC and the latter because of their strength within the South African state and their commitment to the rule of law and the Constitution – both uncomfortable companions to the ANC.

Fighting for life

For the immediate future the main problem is a matter of time and attention. The ANC is fighting for its life and its leadership, and therefore the leadership of the State, is totally engaged in the election. Zimbabwe does not make it to centre stage and is very much put on the list of those things to be attended to once the elections are won or lost.

Our problem is that we have never been able to resolve our problems without the help of big brother to the South. We were colonized from the South; in 1976 the South enforced a transfer of power and regime. In 2008 the South forced us into a GNU that proved to be a mule – stubborn, stupid and sterile.

I would hope that we might now resolve our problems without the South, but I think it is unlikely. Mixing oil and water takes heat and pressure; we generate the former but need help with the latter. Zimbabwe is not an issue for the global community; they will help, but will not take centre stage, neither should they, this is an African problem.

It is an interesting feature of the situation in both states that economic policy is paramount. In South Africa it is the issue of how to get the economy onto a faster growth track and out of the rut of 2 per cent growth/6 per cent inflation where they are now. They need to grow like the Asian Tigers – above 8 per cent per annum for a long time, to address their human problems.

Under threat

Clearly a resolution lies in their success or otherwise in dealing with the militant trade unions that are demanding ever higher wages without supporting increases in productivity. It also depends on their commitment to constitutionalism and the rule of law, both of which are under serious threat.

In this respect two issues present South Africans with clear choices – how they deal with the Nkandla issue and how they manage the platinum strikes. In the case of the former, all the President has to do is accept the Protectors report and pay back the money with taxes on the development of his rural home.

In the case of the latter, it is clear the government is backing the companies and that they will break the strike sooner or later and Cosatu will no longer be a serious contender for power or able to dictate to the ANC in areas of policy and appointments. In our case it is how to get Zimbabwe back to some form of legitimacy and growth, rapid growth. This is only possible with a change of government.

The present one simply cannot bring Zimbabwe back into the real world or deliver confidence and growth. Once this is in place then we, like South Africa, have to clear the road ahead of the obstacles to growth – rule of law, respect for property rights and the Constitution and the removal of indigenisation. The economy and the people will do the rest.

Post published in: Analysis
  1. Dhuze Nyamhute
  2. Jonso

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