By Wellington Mbofana
A LOT has been said about South Africa’s interest in Zimbabwe or lack of it.
In the past, it used to be said that the
Thabo Mbeki-led government would not publicly chastise President Robert Mugabe because of strong liberation war ties, the ANC’s fear of a wave of labour governments in Zambia and Zimbabwe influencing Cosatu to challenge for power and Mbeki’s general reverence for Mugabe as an elder statesmen.
In recent times, it has been suggested that South Africa is now moving with speed on Zimbabwe for fear of losing the hosting of the 2010 World Cup to Australia or England.
I want to argue that South Africa’s position on Zimbabwe has not changed since attaining independence in 1910. South Africa’s involvement in Zimbabwe, just like its involvement all over the continent, is motivated by economic interests.
The African National Congress (ANC) government in South Africa is still very secure in power and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) is not a threat to it. Unlike the unsubstantiated claim of Mbeki’s reverence for Mugabe, the history of the ANC’s exile in Zimbabwe reveals that Mbeki had a hard time in Zimbabwe in the1980s as the Zanu PF government supported the now insignificant Pan Africanist Congress.
During Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, Zanu’s armed wing Zanla fought with Frelimo and not ANC’s Umkhonto weSizwe which fought in Zimbabwe with Zapu’s Zipra. The fact that Mbeki and the ANC are not shouting about it does not mean that they are not seeking their comeuppance!
Zimbabwe’s economic decline has been a blessing to all its neighbours. Zambia and Malawi, two countries that lost out on the 1950s-1960s Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, profited from Zimbabwe’s chaotic land reform as they rushed in to recruit dispossessed but experienced Zimbabwean white commercial farmers.
Zimbabwe, which once boasted a sophisticated economy and prided itself as the breadbasket of southern Africa, now survives on barter trade with hitherto poorer countries of Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi.
Further, most Sadc countries have become alternative investment destinations at the expense of Zimbabwe.
South Africa has benefited the most from the Zimbabwean crisis. Zimbabwe was the only country in the sub-region that could economically and politically offer competition to South Africa.
When apartheid regime fell in 1994 the new government refused to renew its trade agreement with Zimbabwe. It is significant to note that the new South Africa rushed to enter into trade pacts with most of the other Sadc countries!
The crisis in Zimbabwe has seen South African corporations and products flooding the country and the region without competition.
“Proudly South African” products and businesses are fast spreading their tentacles to dominate the landscape from Cape to Cairo.
Zimbabwean labour, both skilled and unskilled, is fuelling the South African economy.
South Africa now monopolises regional tourism with most tourists visiting southern Africa now going through South Africa, even to visit Victoria Falls!
When a resolution is finally concluded, South Africa will “lead reconstruction efforts” in Zimbabwe. Put simply, South Africa will come and take up everything as is happening in Mozambique, the DRC and other post-conflict areas on the continent.
It is ironic that the revolutionary Zanu PF government has managed to deliver the country to South Africa, a feat white Rhodesians rejected in 1922 when they voted for self-government as opposed to becoming South Africa’s fifth province.
South Africa and China are actually competing to be the continent’s new colonial powers. While in the past South Africa had only one colony in South West Africa -— now Namibia — in the future the whole of southern and central Africa will be part of South Africa.
Politically, South Africa in 2007 like the apartheid regime in the late 1970s wields significant power over Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe now depends on South Africa for protection on the world stage and propping up locally.
South Africa is directly participating in developments in the country as demonstrated by their intelligence’s unravelling of and involvement in coup plots, mercenaries and spy sagas.
Both the apartheid and ANC governments have been motivated by economic interests in their relations with Zimbabwe.
South Africa is guided by the dictum of no permanent friends but only permanent interests as she understands that power in the modern world is located in the economy and not waiving of fists, sloganeering, revolutionary speeches at world assemblies or involvement in intractable wars in foreign lands.
The 2010 argument is a ruse. Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, on his last visit to South Africa in July, which was timed to coincide with former president Nelson Mandela’s 89th birthday, said only God could take away the soccer World Cup from South Africa. Chances are God has no such plans and South Africa can rest assured of hosting the soccer extravaganza!
It is inconceivable to see how Zimbabwe — not violent crime or HIV and Aids — can be a factor in the hosting of the tournament as the crisis is in Zimbabwe and not South Africa.
Peter Mokaba, the stadium closest to Zimbabwe, is more than 220km away from the border! World events have been held in regions engulfed by crises before.
As presented above, in 1922 Rhodesians refused to be provinces of South Africa. By 2015 if not 2010, Zimbabwe like Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique will be a de facto province of South Africa. And in this case South Africa would have achieved what she has always coveted.
Wellington Mbofana is a Harare-based writer.