South Africa’s Role in Providing Development Assistance to Zimbabwe Policy Options and Strategies

Steven Gruzd, George Katito, and Elizabeth Sidiropoulos


South Africa has played many roles in the complex and multifaceted relationship with its neighbor across the Limpopo River—apartheid-era antagonist, liberation- struggle comrade, financial investor, electricity supplier, chief trading partner in Africa, endorser-in-chief of questionable elections, protector in international forums, and conflict mediator—and is now poised to take on a new role of development partner in reconstructing Zimbabwe.

The long history between South Africa and Zimbabwe arguably entered a new era when the political power-sharing deal known as the Global Political Agreement (GPA) was signed in September 2008. Under the agreement, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), Zimbabwe’s ruling party since 1980, committed to a division of key government functions between itself and the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), following controversial and inconclusive elections in March and June 2008. South Africa brokered the GPA, under the mediation of former South African president Thabo Mbeki, on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The GPA provides for a broad range of political, social, and economic changes—foremost among them commitments to constitutional reform, redress of Zimbabwe’s controversial land reform policy, and the removal of economic sanctions.

Indeed, within the first one hundred working days of the Government of National Unity (GNU),1 Pretoria mooted the possibility of enacting a broad range of interventions to lend budgetary support to buttress Zimbabwe’s economy as it recovered from a decade of economic decline. South Africa indicated an interest in making finances available to revitalize Zimbabwe’s crumbling physical infrastructure, on condition that Zimbabwe’s economy exhibit compelling evidence of improved governance and robust recovery.2

Unsurprisingly, however, the implementation of the GPA has been marked with contention and deep rifts. It took three months, from the controversial presidential runoff poll in June to September 2008, for the parties to sign the GPA, and then a further five months for MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai to be inaugurated as prime minister in February 2009. Disagreement erupted over the formation of a National Security Council, partly owing to the unwillingness of conservative sections of Zimbabwe’s security forces to acknowledge the joint leadership of Tsvangirai. Similar clashes developed over the appointment of provincial governors and other key posts. Article 6 of the GPA,3 calling for constitutional reform, has been equally divisive as the coalition partners clash over the politics and process of reforming Zimbabwe’s constitution.

Nonetheless, South Africa’s hopes are pinned on the successful implementation of the GPA, not only because it played a key role in negotiating this deal, but also because reconstructing Zimbabwe’s economy must be a priority for South Africa’s own stability and prosperity. Despite efforts such as the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, operated jointly between South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe to promote tourism and animal migration, meltdown in Zimbabwe has hampered most attempts at regional integration4 and has had profound consequences in South Africa in terms of migration, health (through repeated foot-and-mouth disease and cholera outbreaks), commerce, and diplomacy. Arguably the most poignant illustration of the impact that Zimbabwe’s economic decline has had on its southern neighbor was the eruption of xenophobic violence across South Africa in May 2008. The events left at least sixty-two people dead, hundreds injured, and thousands displaced.5 For several observers, the outburst of violence targeted at other African nationals was fueled by the increasing influx of economic immigrants—an estimated three million of whom are believed to be Zimbabwean.6 Large immigration flows, this line of thinking would argue, exacerbate conflict among various working class communities competing for access to severely strained economic resources and social services.

However, should the coalition in Zimbabwe hold, it may vindicate the years of criticism that former president Thabo Mbeki endured for his policy of “quiet diplomacy”7 toward President Robert Mugabe and create conducive conditions for Zimbabweans in South Africa to return home.

This chapter will trace the history of South Africa as an emerging donor in Africa, its plans to assist in the recovery of a post-settlement Zimbabwe, and some of the challenges it is likely to face.

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