PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe returned home from South Africa on Wednesday from a Bi-National Commission meeting held at Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guest House in Pretoria. South Africa is Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner accounting for 78% of exports.
The visit was not only symbolic, but also vital, especially given Harare’s state of affairs. The economy is imploding.
Although reports show that Zimbabwe and South Africa signed five bilateral agreements in cross-border trading co-operation, energy, environment, information communication technology and sports and recreation, details of these pacts remain thin.
The issue is Mugabe missed an opportunity to table important issues besetting the economy. The most critical being the currency crisis, energy, water and sanitation and ease of doing business.
Given the dire economic situation that we find ourselves in, Mugabe could have parked his ego and engaged his counterpart to put out the burning fires at home. Business leaders and experts have over the past year made a clarion call for Zimbabwe to adopt the South African rand as an anchor currency. They have argued that Zimbabwe does not necessarily have to be part of the Rand Monetary Union to pursue this arrangement.
But the absence of a business delegation accompanying the president during his recent trip only shows how inept Mugabe is when it comes to the real issues concerning the economy.
Since the beginning of the year, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has been coming up with ad hoc plans to stop South Africa’s power utility from switching off Zimbabweans due to a growing debt. For Mugabe, this trip should have been a perfect platform to engage Zuma on currency and how to come up with a lasting solution on Zimbabwe’s perennial power crisis.
This trip should have also given him a chance to look at areas of technical co-operation in addressing other key issues such as water and sanitation. Some residential areas in Zimbabwe have not seen a drop of water coming out of their taps for more than a decade.
Finally, while Mugabe was meeting Zuma, back home his government was busy bungling a multi-million rail project which could have served as an economic catalyst for Zimbabwe’s troubled economy.
Just last month, the Zimbabwe Independent reported that cabinet had shipwrecked the National Railways of Zimbabwe’s US$400 million recapitalisation deal over funding and internal squabbles. Instead of bringing closure to this issue, Mugabe dodged the matter and focussed on peripheral issues.
Yet infrastructure is critical to economic recovery and South Africa could help as shown by the Group 5 road renovation project.
All this points to a leader who is not only clueless, but also too incompetent to run an economy with enormous potential, which at Independence in 1980 was referred to as the Jewel of Africa. His trip was a squandered opportunity.