'We can't choose our neighbours'

In August 1980, four months after Zimbabwean independence, Mozambican president Samora Machel made his first visit to the country.

At one of the rallies he addressed he showed the crowd the new Zimbabwean flag and said: “This flag covers everyone. There are no more blacks in Zimbabwe, there are no more whites, no people of mixed race or Indians. Today there are just Zimbabweans.”

And, perhaps unconsciously echoing Nelson Mandela’s famous speech in the Rivonia trial, Machel warned: “Your struggle was not waged in order to replace white racist injustice with black racist injustice.”

Sensing that this message might not go down well with his audience, Machel added “the truth hurts, the truth punishes, the truth is brutal, but it’s the truth, and so is pure”.

More than two decades later the Zimbabwean leaders who heard that speech have obviously forgotten it.
Mozambique has not forgotten and has remained true to Machel’s non-racial vision—but it finds itself powerless to impose a rational policy on its wayward neighbour.

Machel also used to say: “We cannot choose our neighbours.” He was thinking of the compromises Mozambique had to make with apartheid South Africa, but today the remark applies equally well to relations with Zimbabwe.

Mozambican officials are irritated at suggestions from Europe or the United States that other Southern African states should punish the Zimbabwean government by imposing sanctions of some sort. For, while the Europeans and Americans are thousands of kilometres away, Mozambique has to live with the consequences of such actions.

Memories of the 1970s are still fresh for the current leadership. Back then Mozambique loyally imposed the United Nations sanctions against Ian Smith’s illegal regime in Rhodesia. While the Western powers casually violated sanctions, Mozambican ports, railways and tourism all suffered from the sudden end to trade with Rhodesia.

Mozambique cared for hundreds of thousands of refugees and its territory was regularly attacked by the Rhodesian army. The country was never compensated. Total losses from sanctions and from Rhodesian aggression were estimated at $556-million.

With this history, it is scarcely surprising that Mozambique has no desire to be involved in sanctions against its neighbour again.

While parts of the Mozambican press call for a more muscular attitude towards Zimbabwe, the government still opts for “quiet diplomacy”. This is not simply a matter of historical and sentimental ties between the two ruling parties, Frelimo and Zanu-PF—though these are certainly significant. It is also that the government does not have much leverage over Zimbabwe, and any sanctions against Zimbabwe would damage Mozambique’s economy as much as Zimbabwe’s.

The two countries’ economies are closely linked. The Mozambican ports of Maputo and Beira are the quickest and cheapest routes to the sea for Zimbabwean trade.

Zimbabwe obtains most of its fuel supplies via a pipeline from Beira to Mutare. It also purchases 500 megawatts of power from Mozambique’s Cahora Bassa dam. So when the Zimbabwean economy declines, there is a serious impact on Mozambique. Zimbabwe’s shortage of foreign currency means its ability to trade has been drastically curtailed. When the trains to and from Zimbabwe run less regularly, business on the Beira rail and port complex suffers accordingly.

Zimbabwe has enormous difficulty in paying for anything—for rail and port services, for the use of the oil pipeline, for electricity.

Zimbabwean exchange rate policy fuels rackets. Officially, there are Z$55 to the US dollar. But the rate on the currency black market is more than 10 times the official rate. Smugglers play on the dual exchange, managing to purchase goods cheaply in Zimbabwe, and then putting them on sale in Mozambique at prices that undercut local producers.

Mozambican Finance Minister Luisa Diogo has pointed to the damaging effects of the artificial exchange. That her concerns had no impact on President Robert Mugabe was clear when he sacked her Zimbabwean counterpart, Simba Makoni, who was known to be in favour of devaluation.

President Joaquim Chissano caused some shock when he became one of the first leaders to recognise the Zimbabwean presidential election as “generally free and fair”, despite the opinion to the contrary of many observers, including the Southern African Development Community parliamentary forum.

Yet subsequently, Mozambique raised no objection to Zimbabwe’s suspension from the Commonwealth and clearly favours some form of reconciliation between Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

A thoroughly pragmatic diplomacy is at work here. What is important for Mozambique is a reasonably stable Zimbabwe: continuing collapse, particularly if it generates waves of refugees, would be disastrous.

Should the Mozambican government not at least loudly denounce the abuses of human rights in Zimbabwe, notably the harassment of the press? When I asked Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi this question some months ago, his reply was: “We lead by example.” But there is no sign that the Zimbabwean government has the slightest interest in learning from its neighbours.

Meanwhile, there is a trickle of Zimbabwean commercial farmers into central Mozambique. Agricultural Minister Helder Muteia insists that they are not refugees, but investors.

“Regardless of their nationality, if they meet the requirements of our legislation, we are authorising them,” Muteia said earlier this month.

So far the Zimbabwean farmers have invested in maize, sunflower, tobacco and cattle. Muteia also expected Mozambique’s first tobacco processing plant to result from further Zimbabwean investment in the near future.

Foreign Minister Leonardo Simao has made it robustly clear that the government doesn’t care what colour these farmers are, as long as they have the funds to make the investment and provide the jobs they promise.

The minimum investment required is US$50 000 and any project must provide at least 100 jobs.

The movement of a small number of farmers has annoyed Harare, which has tried to prevent them from taking equipment and livestock.

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