Guest Column

Zimbabwe’s crisis may be a catalyst for change

2017-11-19 05:51


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Jason Musyoka

Zimbabwe’s “bloodless coup” this week seems to have made political experts out of ordinary citizens around the globe.

Yet, the impulse of South Africa’s political leadership is to jump in the opposite direction.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe quipped that since “Zimbabwe is not South Africa’s 10th province”, we should be less concerned with South Africa’s role in that country.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said as much back in September 2005, when she was foreign affairs minister, in explaining to parliamentarians why South Africa would not unilaterally pay Zimbabwe’s $180 million debt to the International Monetary Fund.

There is a superficial logic to these remarks.

But it is dangerous to use formal politics as a reason to ignore the economic consequences of Zimbabwe’s crisis.

It is estimated that there are more than 1 million Zimbabweans in South Africa, only a quarter of whom hold visas.

In addition, the South African government is responsible for the economic welfare of illegal Zimbabwean immigrants.

There are parallels between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s fate and that of South Africa’s former president, Thabo Mbeki.

Both found that sacking their deputies backfired when they lost their jobs.

It took three years for Mbeki to “step down” – after firing then deputy president Jacob Zuma following the Schabir Shaik judgment in 2005 – but who knows how long Mugabe will manage to cling on?

It pays to investigate the interests of big capital in a political crisis. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) shows it is wrong to assume that political upheaval is bad for capital.

Mining is booming in the DRC under the protection of Ugandan and Rwandan generals, with many freelance operators in tow.

In the book Apartheid Guns and Money, Hennie van Vuuren reminds us that in 1977, with economic sanctions looming, securocrats secretly moved huge amounts of money between local and international banks, including to Belgium and Luxembourg.

He also notes that, under Bill Venter, Altech (now Altron) supplied the apartheid military with missile systems and other key technology for use in the Angola war and cross-border operations. When Venter stepped down in February 2017, he was applauded for his contribution to the South African economy.

Nor did capital accumulation in Zimbabwe cease during the political crisis of the last decade.

Strive Masiyiwa, one of Zimbabwe’s richest men, founded a telecoms network under the Mugabe regime and now boasts of operations across the continent, the UK and New Zealand.

The late Sam Levy accumulated his wealth partly from building a shopping mall that flourished, despite political irregularities.

These examples did well under Mugabe, and others like them will no doubt thrive under whatever is coming next.

It would be nice if Zimbabwe’s changing of the guard leads to political reforms.

But as long as large capitalist firms drive the economy, these will still be a long way from bringing about genuine economic democracy.

We will have to look elsewhere for that.

Zimbabweans are among the most entrepreneurial people in Africa, but political stability alone will not release their economic potential.

Let us rather explore the innovations they are already involved in.

Given soaring unemployment and poverty, it would be unrealistic to expect Zimbabweans to build economic democracy by themselves.

Many partnerships are possible between the grassroots human economy, a political regime sensitive to its needs and selective support from a few elements of big capital who recognise that they share with the masses, in some key respects, an interest in economic democracy.

Any such partnership would go beyond the “empowerment” rhetoric that reflects the interests of capital, while leaving most people out in the cold.

Zimbabwe’s political crisis, if it is to serve the country’s long-suffering people effectively, could be a catalyst for building a principled human economy.

In other words, if a new politics is to yield sustainable economic development and reduced inequality, the economy should nurture the potential of Zimbabweans.

If not, any difference between the past decade and the next will not be visible, save for new faces at the top.

Musyoka is a postdoctoral fellow at the Human Economy programme, housed in the University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship

Read more on:    anc  |  nkosazana dlamini-zuma  |  robert mugabe  |  gwede mantashe


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