World watches blandly as Zimbabwe goes to pot

OPINION – The power-sharing negotiations between the political leaders in Zimbabwe have stalled once again just as outbreaks of cholera and claim hundreds of lives. At first glance the combined economic, humanitarian and political crises would severely shock any outside observer.\r\n

But for those who have been following the developments in Zimbabwe closely, the recent events come as no surprise. No significant measures have been taken by Zanu-PF or the two MDC factions to alleviate the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans.

President Robert Mugabe appears indifferent, while the Movement for Democratic Change seems to believe that a worsening situation on the home front will only strengthen its cause.

Instead of clear and decisive action that the leadership should be implementing, Zanu-PF, MDC-T, and MDC-M, continue to delay the formation of a workable government and must be held accountable for the rising number of preventable deaths within the failing country.

Over the past two weeks, the leading politicians have selfishly generated major setbacks to the power-sharing deal and ultimately to the lives of Zimbabweans. To begin, representatives of the group of Elders, – including former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, human rights activist Graça Machel and former US president Jimmy Carter – were denied visas for a planned mission to Zimbabwe to assess the deteriorating economic situation and its impact on the country’s population.

Annan announced that the group was given no official reason for the denied visas. However, according to the Sunday Mail, known as a mouthpiece for the Zimbabwean government, Foreign Minister Samuel Mumbengegwi criticised the Elders for launching such a mission and stated: "We take strong exception to any suggestions that there are those out there who care more about the welfare of our people than we do."

The minister saw no need in such a mission as he alleged that his government had already conducted their own humanitarian audit in conjunction with UN agencies within the country. Needless to say no UN agencies were named and no details from this audit have yet been released, marking the snubbing of the Elders as setback number one.

There continues to be serious contention over the Home Affairs ministerial post, which oversees the police and the way elections are run, having overall charge of the voters’ roll.

The recent SADC ruling presented a solution that would see the ministry run by two Home Affairs ministers serving in rotation. Although Zanu-PF and MDC-Mutambara agreed to move forward on this suggestion, MDC-T refused to accept such a solution and expressed, through a letter written by MDC-T Secretary-General Tendai Biti to facilitator Thabo Mbeki, that the SADC ruling was a nullity.

In Mbeki’s lengthy response, addressed to Morgan Tsvangirai, the former South African president harps on issues of African solidarity and warns Tsvangirai against taking the opinions of Western Europe and North America over the "serious decisions of our region." Since the release of this correspondence, the negotiators have tentatively agreed on constitutional amendment 19, which provides for the post of prime minister and deputy ministers.

Tsvangirai has stated in the past that once this amendment has been passed and effected into law, the MDC would participate in the new government; however, he is currently waiting for his list of grievances on this bill to be addressed.

This petty correspondence has made the MDC-T formation appear to be unprofessional and all too dependent on Mbeki for guidance, while it has also sparked further controversy over Mbeki’s patronising tone and apparent favouritism to Mugabe. In no way is this bickering helpful to solving the Zimbabwe crisis, making these latest communications setback number two.

While the world hangs on for yet another stall in the power-sharing talks, what remains even more worrying is Tsvangirai’s statement this week that he doubted the deal would ever leading to anything substantial. Although he promised not to turn away from the negotiations, he has stated that he now does not believe a unity government is the solution to the crisis in his country.

This third setback may lead to severe consequences, including a loss of confidence in Tsvangirai’s leadership abilities by his own supporters. After committing himself and his party to 18 months of negotiations and publicly assuring his dedication to the deal, not only is it extremely unprofitable to make such a statement at this point in time, but publicly announcing this sentiment without providing an alternative plan has left Tsvangirai in a clearly less advantageous negotiating position.

After the initial signing of the deal in September of this year, the Ministry of Finance was a highly contentious topic.

Since then, Zanu-PF has agreed to concede the Finance Ministry to the MDC – an arrangement that pacified the opposition formations, who could then foresee an eventual resolution to Zimbabwe’s economic collapse. On Monday, however, Mugabe defiantly reappointed Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono to another five-year term.

This development is a clear indication that Mugabe’s Zanu-PF has no intention of implementing any necessary economic reforms. It was under Gono’s leadership that Zimbabwe witnessed a complete collapse in Zimbabwean currency and a world-record high in inflation, measured last in July at 231 million percent. This reappointment of Gono marks the fourth major setback in the current crisis in Zimbabwe as the MDC is now concerned, and rightly so, that Mugabe will not deter from his existing economic policies and that any changes in policy that the Finance Minister attempts to introduce will immediately be dashed.

As we have seen, these past weeks have presented major setbacks in finding a solution to the Zimbabwe crisis.

Briefly some light was shed by the current South African government when an amount of R300 million in agricultural aid to Zimbabwe was withheld.

South African spokesperson, Themba Maseko, stated that the money will only be disbursed once a representative government was in place in Zimbabwe.

The decision initially sparked debate as to whether the South African government was shifting from its quiet diplomacy policy to a bolder and more constructive stance. But it is clear that there is no shift and that the withholding the R300-million is no threat to Mugabe.

Perhaps all this amounted to was a momentary appeasement of South African voters that the "new" ANC was prepared to make some changes in policy toward Zimbabwe. Unfortunately this is not the change that is needed.

We need a South African government that does not shy away from making strong and informed statements that condemn the petty personality war between leaders, and provides concrete solutions to the problem, which will directly assist ordinary Zimbabweans.

  • Allison Coady is a research associate at the Centre for International Political Studies (CiPS), University of Pretoria. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CiPS or the University of Pretoria.