Zimbabwe's dud deal

2008-10-10 00:00

Optimism has faded. It is nearly a month since the much-trumpeted Zimbabwe political settlement was signed, but still the country lacks a government. Hard-liners in Zanu-PF and the military reportedly fear President Robert Mugabe is conceding too much. While they cling to power, the country is imploding.

Since the signing, 60 farm invasions have taken place, workers have been beaten and there is continuing evidence of punishment camps. The agriculture sector is in disarray ahead of the spring rains: seed, fertiliser and credit are all in short supply. A new government needs to take charge of rural reconstruction and liberalisation of food aid before famine arrives: child deaths seemingly related to hunger have already been reported. By New Year, half of the population could depend on hand-outs.

Price inflation is now so steep it defies measurement and bank notes cannot be printed fast enough. But as this economic and humanitarian crisis deepens, international attention is focused firmly on world banking difficulties. Zimbabwe will require a multi-billion dollar package spanning several years to rescue an economy plundered and destroyed by Zanu-PF; yet the source of these funds is now in question.

South Africa must shrug off its current self- absorption and look north once more. However flawed his mediation style, former president Thabo Mbeki should get back to Harare and complete his mandate. This has to involve decisive action that puts real power in the hands of the Movement for Democratic Change, which is committed to the basic tenets of the African Renaissance — democracy, human rights, the rule of law and good governance. All were trampled on by Mugabe’s venal regime and need to be restored to the benefit of Zimbabwe’s people.

Warnings have been sounded for years about the consequences of Mugabe’s politics. This country, already flooded with refugees, can expect more if famine takes hold in Zimbabwe. But Mbeki’s myopic foreign policy may yet yield an even stiffer price. Among financial turmoil, South Africa is now regarded as a major contributor to Zimbabwe’s rescue package. There are strong moral and practical reasons why this should be so: quiet diplomacy has its price.

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