Heat up Mugabe’s meltdown

In the course of Zimbabwe’s painful road to total disintegration, the South African authorities have consistently chanted the mantra that things are getting better.

Over the past four years numerous delegations — some led by President Thabo Mbeki and others by his ministers — have returned from Zimbabwe bearing great tidings of change about to come.

Like latter-day Lord Chamberlains, our quiet diplomats have returned from Harare with loads of promises that the land invasions would cease, repression would stop, sensible policy options would be adopted and Zanu-PF apparatchiks’ venomous rhetoric would be toned down.

Last Sunday, a week ahead of a visit to Harare by himself and Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, Mbeki once again put out the line that Mugabe was set to go and that theirs was a mission to help shape an exit plan. Barely 48 hours later his assertion was repudiated as “wishful” and an “undemocratic insult” by the Zimbabwean Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo. Mugabe will stay until the end of his term in 2008, he insisted.

Next week’s mission should not be another whitewash, another attempt to save face for a tyrant whose time has come. The stakes are now just too high. An indication of the desperate situation in which Zimbabwe now finds itself is the news this week of inflation running at 228%, as is an imminent run on the banks as citizens withdraw their funds in fear of a confrontation between the state and its opponents.

That fear is not misplaced. After years of humbly pleading for foreign salvation, Zimbabwe’s pro-democracy activists have now turned up the tempo. Spurred by rapidly deteriorating economic circumstances and the realisation that they need to be primary drivers of change in their country, they have recently organised two successful general strikes and announced a further plan of rolling mass action this week.

They have risen to the challenge posed by Mbeki and other African leaders earlier this year when they stated that the Zimbabwean people need to be at the forefront of resolving the crisis in their country — a retort to calls from outside Zimbabwe for more vocal diplomacy.  

The response of the Zimbabwean authorities has been to intensify its repression. The day after Mugabe made his watershed speech, his cops raided the Movement for Democratic Change’s office, again displaying the two-faced nature of the Zimbabwean authorities. Tell your brother leaders one thing; do another.

The intervention next week of continental leaders such as Mbeki and Obasanjo is crucial. If indeed they do believe that change in Zimbabwe can only be effected by Zimbabweans themselves, they have the responsibility to ensure that the citizens have the political space to effect that change.

When they leave their respective capitals on Monday, they need to do so with a singularity of mission: to convince Mugabe that it is not only in the interests of his country but in the interests of our continent that he vacate state house. The blueprint for his exit and the process that will unfold thereafter already exists. It is now up to the leaders to exercise the authority that Africa’s multilateral institutions have bestowed on them.

Business must find its voice

There have long been complaints that organised business in South Africa is too fragmented and poorly led to serve as a “social partner” in three-way dealings with the government and labour.

A regular beef of the labour movement, the point has also been forcibly made by National Economic Development and Labour Council chief Phillip Dexter. The impression of disunity has been reinforced by the disintegration of the South African Chamber of Business (Sacob) and, recently, by Business South Africa’s (BSA) tardiness in reaching consensus on a business platform for the upcoming Growth and Development Summit.

The importance of Sacob, essentially representing small business, should not be overstated. But it is worrying that BSA is so low-profile on policy matters as to be almost invisible. Why, for example, did it have nothing to say on the recent controversy over the role of business in apartheid reparations?

Of course, there are limits to business unity. Different sectors have different interests — exporters and the financial sector, for example, differ fundamentally on the strength of the rand. And as BSA is itself made up of large and disparate bodies like Sacob and the Chamber of Mines, the mandating process is necessarily slow and cumbersome.

What is missing is confident, articulate and politically sophisticated leadership of the kind that can be found in individual corporations, and the recognition that business is a legitimate political player. Too often, enterprise seems hamstrung by racial inhibitions and the fear of sticking its head above the parapet.

The growth summit requires negotiators with clear mandates and a sense of how, realistically, they can spur job creation. But it is unlikely to produce more than consensus on matters like training and public works, and should be seen as a beginning. In the longer term, a coherent business voice will be needed to seal the large-scale co-determinist pacts that have underpinned galloping growth in other countries.

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