April 20, 2005

In Southern Africa, A Long Way From The End of History

Reuters, along with other news agencies, is reporting that Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), that country's main opposition party has cut its ties with the South African government. An MDC spokesman said there was "...no purpose whatsoever in participating in a charade," meaning South Africa's ostensible efforts to mediate between contending factions in Zimbabwe.

"As far we are concerned the South African government will have to prove to the people of Zimbabwe that it is an honest broker ... and that their solidarity is to the people of Zimbabwe and not to ZANU-PF as a political party."

The problem, it seems, is that South African President Thabo Mbeki and his government's "solidarity" is to ZANU-PF, the political party of Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe. There are several explanations for this. A pessimistic view is offered by Richard Tren, the head of a public health organization in South Africa, who worries that Mbeki's embrace of Mugabe could signal a future for South Africa much like Zimbabwe's present.

"One could argue that the ANC's support for Zimbabwe demonstrates that, just like the Nationalist Party that created Apartheid, the ANC does not really respect, nor believe in the institutions of a free society."

Tren's evidence is suggestive of this, but not conclusive. Another view was offered last month by Joseph Winter on the BBC's site. Winter relies heavily on a South African political analyst named Chris Maroleng, whose view is that South Africa's backing of Mugabe is based on its own notions of realpolitik -- ZANU-PF would not accept an opposition victory in elections, which would therefore lead to civil war and increase the flow of refugees from Zimbabwe to South Africa to a flood. Other countries in the region share this concern. The hope is that negotiations with moderate factions within Mugabe's party can lead to an easing of tensions and perhaps at some point to Mugabe's own retirement (he is 81). Writes Winter:

"Similar scenarios, relying on a moderate Zanu-PF faction, have been painted in the past and have not come to pass on the ground...

But if Mr Maroleng's predictions do come true, South Africa will be able to feel that its policy of "quiet diplomacy" has been vindicated, whatever the feelings of Zimbabwe's hard-pressed opposition activists.

If not, Zimbabweans will probably have to get used to the idea that their current hardships are likely to last until 2008, when presidential elections are due."

Lastly there is the Washington Post's Sebastian Mallaby, formerly a Southern Africa correspondent for the Economist. Mallaby puts most of the blame for Zimbabwe's decline on Thabo Mbeki personally. He writes of the parlimentary elections:

"If South Africa, which could strangle its smaller neighbor's economy by switching off its electricity, had been tougher beforehand, this fraud might have been forestalled. If Mbeki had protested after the election, events also might have been different. Some brave Zimbabweans called for an African version of Ukraine's Orange Revolution. But as one opposition politician said wistfully, regional conditions provided no encouragement. Ukraine benefited from proxi- mity to pro-democratic Europe. But Zimbabwe's democratic neighbor sent the opposite signal. After the election was stolen, the head of the South African observer mission heaped praise on the process, declaring that the outcome reflected "the free will of the people of Zimbabwe" and that "the political climate was conducive for elections to take place."

Cumulatively, Zimbabwe's story is sobering. Democratization, after a promising start in a country with many advantages, is going backward. It may also be going backward in the much more important country of South Africa -- but whether that is true or not South Africa's idea of realpolitik looks very much like following the path of least resistance, asserting no authority beyond its borders and allowing Mugabe and his gang to dictate its own policy. It is a policy of weakness by the only country in the region that has any real strength.

What we call "democratization" encompasses some worthy aims: things without which we would not recognize our own society. Zimbabwe provides a cautionary tale, not just about how formidable are the obstacles to democratization in many countries but about how power is required to sustain it against its enemies. In Zimbabwe that power is lacking, and it is far from the only country of which this is true.

Posted by at April 20, 2005 05:12 PM | TrackBack (3)

Whilst in the overall scheme of tyranny Zimbabwe is not on the scale of a Bosnia or Darfur, what is happening there is none the less a disgraceful example of dictatorships in action. That South Africa seems to implicitly support such behaviour is indeed a disturbing trend. Unfotunately the ones who are suffering the most are the very people who are supposed to have benefitted from the Regime changes.

In New Zealand we have a high number of immigrants from both South Africa and Zimbabwe, and the consensus amongst those I have spoken with, is that things are going downhill in South Africa quite badly as well.

The problem seems to be that with the shift in power balance, between significantly different ethnic groups those in power tend to surround themselves with relatives, sycophants and people from their own ethnic backgound. This seems to be seen as "addressing" the ills of the previous regime or system.

The problem with this is of course that those taking new positions have little to no idea about how to actually run a nation. Zimbabwe with its forced repatriation of land to black Zimbabweans and failure to implement sound domestic policy is a great example of this. The once productive lands lie fallow and many face starvation - because although White Zimbabweans may have oppressed the black populace - they also knew how to run a country and how to farm effectively on a large scale. Add to this the corruption of Zanu-FP and the results have been disasterous.

It appears South Africa is on the road to making similar mistakes.

I see many similarities with the aspirations of Maori (the original settlers) in New Zealand. However they are a minority in the population - in contrast to the black populations in Zim and SA. Still a number of large financial setlements have been made to Maori in NZ to redress the wrongs of the past, and we've seen similar issues with Maori Organisations formed as a result of the settlements. Those organisations that have employed highly skilled (often White) Management have fared better as opposed to organisations who've given roles to often less skilled Maori have been plagued with various issues including corruption and bad investments. At least those organisations employing those with the right skills can utilise those skills to develop the talent in their own people over the long term.

Although on a much smaller scale than Southern Africa the same parallels seem to apply. Unfortunately for Southern Africa we're talking about governments rather than mid sized organisations.

Anyway I know this is not really a political commentary and probably falls well short of contributing much to Josephs post, but is my own viewpoint about is contributing to the woes of people in that region.

BTW great post Joseph. No Disrespect to Greg, buts its nice to have some posts about something at little different!

Posted by: Aran Brown at April 21, 2005 01:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks for the kind words, Aran. When I was in my backpacking period years ago I was fortunate enough to spend some time in New Zealand. I'd just left a job in which one of my responsibilities involved Indian Affairs, and some of the stories I heard about Maori/white relations in New Zealand reminded me of that.

Posted by: JEB at April 21, 2005 03:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have followed Zimbabwe politics for a few years now, and I have pretty much written it off after the last election swept a super-majority of ZANU-PF into power (as I suspected). Of course, the results of the election were declared free and fair by the election monitors from, guess where, South Africa. Mugabe can now push changes to Zimbabwe constitution through the parliament without opposition.

I don't know that much about Mbeki and South Africa except that Nelson Madela had this to say about the post-apartheid ANC government: "Little did we suspect that our own people, when they got a chance, would be as corrupt as the apartheid regime. That is one of the things that has really hurt us."

Posted by: The Indigent Blogger at April 21, 2005 03:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have a black South African friend who thinks that when Mandela dies, the shit will really hit the fan, and South Africa will end up like Zimbabwe.

Posted by: lindenen at April 21, 2005 07:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

HI Joseph,

Glad you got to spend some time in our little corner of the world - its a great place to live! (even if we don't make loads of money - the other benefits more than compensate!)

Without going into too much detail Maori-Pakeha (Maori term of Europeans) relations have plenty of issues - but we are probably further along the path of developing harmonious relations than probably any former colony on the planet (British, French or wherever). Australia for example are probably 30 years behind where we are - and their colonial heritage was far worse than ours (and in some respects was as bad as South Africa's and Zimbabwe's)

Each colonial nation has its own unique set of circumstances but there are also some common problems that arise as step are taken to address grievances of the past and move forward - although the scale often differs according to the situation.

Anyway keep up the good work - despite what some say I think you're doing a great job filling in for Greg - and it provides a great insight for those of us who don't get the depth of media coverage around such issues, as you do in the Northern Hemisphere. My knowledge of US foreign policy and general international relations has improved greatly (even if it serves to remind of how much I don't know!)

Posted by: Aran Brown at April 21, 2005 10:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's funny; we were probably only 20 years behind you 10 years ago...

Posted by: an Aussie at April 22, 2005 01:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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