Regional trust in Robert Mugabe withers

JOHANNESBURG – Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe no longer enjoys the trust of the regional body, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to distribute humanitarian aid fairly, although China is giving cash directly to the ruling ZANU-PF government to combat a national cholera outbreak.

A cocktail of disease, hunger and political stasis in Zimbabwe has embroiled the country in its worst humanitarian crisis since independence from Britain in 1980.

According to the UN, 5.5 million people – or about half the country’s population – requires emergency food assistance, while a national cholera outbreak has claimed the lives of 1,174 people since August and the number of confirmed cases now stood at  23,712. About five percent of the cholera cases were fatal, steeply above the international norm of one percent.

''We initially intended to donate cholera vaccines worth US$500,000, but there were some technical problems in the distribution and storage of the vaccines. Therefore, we decided to donate in cash''

Chinese Deputy Ambassador to Zimbabwe He Meng told the state-run daily newspaper, The Herald, on 24 December: "We initially intended to donate cholera vaccines worth US$500,000, but there were some technical problems in the distribution and storage of the vaccines."

"Therefore, we decided to donate in cash so that [Mugabe’s] government can purchase vaccines on the local market or from neighbouring countries," he said.

The faith placed by China in Mugabe’s government to distribute aid on a non-partisan basis, is not shared by SADC.

A R300 million (US$30 million) humanitarian donation by the South African government – with the proviso that it be released on condition of the formation of a power sharing government in Zimbabwe – has now been repackaged as part of SADC’s emergency relief programme.

South Africa repackages it humanitarian aid

The R300 million is for agricultural inputs, such as maize seed and fertilizer, and was initially envisaged as being provided in cash to a government of national unity.

However, South Africa’s presidential spokesman, Thabo Masebe, told IRIN, SADC "cannot be sure if it would be distributed in a manner to reach the intended recipients [by Mugabe’s government]" and it would be handed out by SADC’s Zimbabwe Humanitarian and Development Assistance Framework (ZHDAF).

ZHDAF is comprised of, among others, international and multilateral organizations – such as the World Health Organisation- religious groups and agricultural unions.

There remains some doubt as to whether the provision of agricultural inputs, so late in the planting season, would have any benefit for Zimbabwe’s future food security.

South African President and SADC chairperson Kgalema Motlanthe told a news conference on 17 December in Pretoria that "The R300 million was specifically for agricultural produce and as you know the planting season is almost over.

"So, that is something that needs to be considered once the inclusive government is in place," Motlanthe said.

Masebe said "What he [Motlanthe] really meant is that it would be to late to wait for an inclusive government" to distribute the agricultural inputs.

"So by channeling it through SADC and not through the Zimbabwe government, it removes the need of an inclusive government" to be in place to release the humanitarian assistance, Masebe said.

South Africa has "betrayed its legacy"

The former Archbishop of Cape Town and anti-apartheid stalwart, Desmond Tutu, told a British radio station he was "ashamed" of South Africa’s handling of Mugabe.

''I am afraid we have betrayed our legacy … I mean, how much more suffering is going to make us say no, we have given Mr Mugabe enough time''

Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who recently called for Mugabe to be removed by force said: "And I have to say that I am deeply, deeply distressed that we should be found not on the side of the ones who are suffering.

"I certainly am ashamed of what they’ve done in the United Nations," he said.

South Africa’s tenure on the 15-nation UN Security Council ends in a couple of days, but during its two-year term South Africa blocked any actions against human rights abuses committed by Myanamar and Zimbabwe.

"I have been very deeply disappointed, saddened by the position that South Africa has taken at the United Nations Security Council in being an obstacle to the Security Council dealing with that matter [Zimbabwe].

"For the world to say no, we’re waiting for South Africa’s membership of the security council to lapse and then we can take action, that is an awful indictment of a country that has had this proud record of a struggle against a vicious system in the way that we did, that we should have been the one who for a very long time occupied the moral high ground.

"I’m afraid we have betrayed our legacy … I mean, how much more suffering is going to make us say no, we have given Mr Mugabe enough time?"