Zimbabweans look to Zuma for help

Economic and political crises await South Africa’s president on first vist to Harare.

Jacob Zuma, the South African president, is likely to face one of the toughest political challenges of his career when he arrives in Zimbabwe on his first state visit.

Zimbabwe’s inclusive government, now just over six-months old, is on shaky ground. Tensions between long-time rivals Robert Mugabe, the president, and Morgan Tsvangirai, the prime minister, could cripple the new coalition government.

Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa reports from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, on the role South Africa continues to play in resolving its northern neighbour’s political crises.

Morgan Tsvangirai’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has recently appealed to the South African government to resolve a brewing political crisis in Harare.

They say Mugabe has refused their calls to fire political appointee Gideon Gono, the country’s central bank governor, for allegedly vandalising the economy.

The MDC is also seeking to oust Johannes Tomana, the attorney general, who they claim is biased in favour of Mugabe’s party. 

The opposition also wants human rights violations to stop.

MDC officials have alleged that more than 500 opposition supporters were murdered during last year’s presidential elections – and more people are still being victimised.

However, ZANU PF, the party chaired by Mugabe, has fired back that the MDC is dragging its feet on efforts to convince the West to remove sanctions that prevent the president’s allies from travelling to Europe and the US. 

Several ZANU PF officials have had their overseas assets frozen.

Earlier this month, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said the Obama administration will continue to target Zimbabwe’s leadership with economic sanctions “in an effort to influence their behaviour”.

The Obama administration continues to have concerns about human rights violations and Mugabe’s approach toward democracy and the rule of law – and there are no indications sanctions will be removed any time soon.

Inherited problem

The Zimbabwe crisis is a political problem that Zuma inherited from Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s former president, who helped facilitate Zimbabwe’s power-sharing agreement.

Although Mbeki managed to push ZANU PF and the opposition to form a coalition government, his critics disapproved of his quiet diplomatic approach and went so far as to accuse him of siding with Mugabe.

Tendai Biti, the Zimbabwean finance minister, hopes Zuma will be more impartial and succeed in easing growing problems within the unity government.

“A friend is not someone who comes to your wedding. He is also someone who comes when you are fighting to give counsel and wisdom,” says Biti.

“I have absolute faith in President Zuma – and I speak for my party, the MDC, we have absolute faith in President Zuma.”

Talking tough

Zuma has promised to get tough on Zimbabwe’s human rights issue [AFP]

Zuma appears to have already diverged from his predecessor’s approach by talking tough on dealing with Zimbabwe.

He spoke out about human rights violations during last year’s presidential elections which were marred by violence.

The secretary-general of Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC) told reporters in Johannesburg that Zuma plans to be vocal about Zimbabwe’s problems, in contrast to the “quiet diplomacy” of his predecessor Mbeki.

But many question if 85-year-old Mugabe is willing to listen to the new South African president and eventually relinquish more control of the government.

Economy in the balance

Resolving Zimbabwe’s political crisis is crucial if the the country is to embark on a path to economic recovery. Current inflation and soaring unemployment have pushed some three million Zimbabweans to seek work and refuge in South Africa.

This has not only burdened South Africa’s economy, which is going through its first recession in 17 years, but also fuelled tensions in poor townships, where thousands are already reeling from unemployment.

There are considerable concerns of xenophobic attacks against migrants in the future.

Although South Africa is Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner in the region and its exports have flooded Harare’s markets, the spending power of ordinary Zimbabweans needs to increase significantly for South African big business to rake in more profits.

“There are those South African suppliers who used to supply a great deal to us here in Zimbabwe – industrial raw materials, vehicles, components etc,” says John Robertson, a Zimbabwean economist.

“They are doing less business with us than they used to. The business is still there but we don’t have the money to spend like we used to when we had money coming in from tobacco and beef exports,” he adds.

Challenges persist

Economic woes have pushed many in Zimbabwe to seek refuge in South Africa [EPA]

The past 10 years have been trying times for Zimbabweans. The economy had virtually collapsed leaving millions with no alternative but to seek refuge abroad.

It appears at first glance that some improvements have been made since the unity government was formed in February.

Supermarket shelves are now stocked with food thanks to shoppers being allowed to trade in foreign currencies like the US dollar, the British Sterling Pound and the South African Rand.

And some civil servants like teachers, nurses and doctors have returned to work – helping improve service delivery across the country.

But as economic challenges persist and millions find it difficult to make ends meet, most economic sectors have called for an increase in wages – money the government says it does not have.

Once Zuma leaves Zimbabwe, he is likely to brief leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) at their summit next month in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

If he does not manage to get Zimbabwe’s political leaders to put aside their differences, it will be up to the regional body SADC to resolve the crisis.

Source: Al Jazeera

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