Mpumelelo Mkhabela

The limits of bribery as illustrated by Zimbabwe

2017-11-24 08:46
Emmerson Mnangagwa with President Jacob Zuma before heading back to Harare on Wednesday. (GCIS)

Emmerson Mnangagwa with President Jacob Zuma before heading back to Harare on Wednesday. (GCIS)

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South Africa's Defence Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and President Robert Mugabe had one thing in common: they were confused by the bloodless coup executed by the Zimbabwean army.

The source of their confusion has exposed the limits of the power of bribery to secure preferable political outcomes.

According to Mapisa-Nqakula, who visited Zimbabwe on a fact-finding mission as SADC envoy, Mugabe didn't understand why the army would act the way it did after he had given them land.

After her visit, Mapisa-Nqakula was quoted, saying: "President Mugabe said‚ 'I've done everything for the army. I've given them land and therefore I do not expect that when there are problems that they would take to the streets but rather that they'd come to me and engage me.'"

In his much-anticipated but defiant public address later on, Mugabe made remarks that corroborated Mapisa-Nqakula's report. He spoke of how he had done a lot for military veterans and that he understood that more could still be done for them.

And there lies one of the lessons from Zimbabwe's political drama: bribery has its limits. The land reform project was used to dish out farms for the politically connected including army chiefs and politicians.

Relationships based purely on material things like land to comrades, forgetting the values of freedom, were bound to collapse. South Africa is home to a number of wrecked relationships where comrades, once united by state resources, turned against each other when the resources either ran dry or the appetite for more became insatiable.

No one has infinite resources to bribe everyone. Even the state, which supposedly commands ownership of key resources in a territory – such as land or mineral resources – will never have the capacity to control people through bribes.

Bribery as a currency of governing is unsustainable. But you have to admire Mugabe's record for holding on to power in a democratic political system (at least on paper) through bribery of veterans and other elites for too long.

Long after he had become unpopular with the majority of voters, the real people who, in a democratic political system (an authentic one), should have been the most powerful instead of army generals.

The Guptas, who operate a bribery machine linked to President Jacob Zuma, his children, certain ministers and their associates have also encountered difficulties. There are just too many people to bribe through Cabinet reshuffles, contracts and cash in black bags. Imagine the amount of cash that is exchanging hands ahead of the ANC conference.

No matter how much in state resources is stolen to pass on to others in the form of bribes, there will never be enough. Besides, not everyone is keen on accepting bribes.

There is also competition to pay bribes. It's not improbable that Emmerson Mnangagwa, the new president of Zimbabwe, has a list of things to take care of from the generals. His deal is probably sweeter than Mugabe's, who was always destined to be a yesterday's man eventually.

Bribes aside, the Zimbabwean political situation has also exposed the South African government's lack of strategic foresight in the region. It was inevitable that Mugabe would in the near future vacate his position. The manner of his departure might not have been foreseen, but owing solely to his frailty, the man was definitely on the way out soon.

But South Africa, the biggest economy in the region with the largest population of Zimbabweans, doesn't seem to have prepared for it. Nor did it have a strategy to help Zimbabweans rebuild their country after Mugabe left.

For years, South Africa has been hiding behind two factors: multilateralism and non-interference in the domestic affairs of another country. As a multilateral institution, SADC has been useless in dealing with the Zimbabwean situation.

No wonder Zimbabweans made it clear last week that they didn't need SADC intervention; they would get by just fine as they took advantage of the political opening created by the failure of bribery to sustain the artificially imposed stability of the Mugabe regime.

The idea that South Africa wouldn't intervene in the domestic affairs of another country is also archaic. Of course, South Africa could and should intervene in Zimbabwe to secure its own interest by ensuring that the Zimbabwean economy improves.

Such improvement would help ease dog-eat-dog job competition in the South African labour market and ensure that our goods find a market in Zimbabwe. South Africa has a direct interest in the recovery of Zimbabwe. There is no point in obfuscating it.

Failure to craft a clear foreign policy strategy by the government doesn't constitute a lack of interest by South Africans to revive the Zimbabwean economy. South Africa should work with Zimbabwe to craft an economic recovery plan which could be sold globally.

For decades, the two countries were so intractably linked by trade and investments that any political instability in Zimbabwe would impact on the value of the South African rand. But the arrogant Mugabe, unwilling to make tactical manoeuvres to assuage the West, played into the hands of his detractors. The country was hit by sanctions.

The consequence was that although Zimbabwe continued to be a trading and investment partner of South Africa, the volumes declined so dramatically that Harare was decoupled from the economy of the region. At some point the rand didn't react to whatever was happening across the Limpopo.

With South Africa's economy struggling to grow, thanks to governance failures, political misdemeanours and poor business confidence, a well-calculated plan to revive the Zimbabwean economy could be among the key factors to reignite our growth.

Taking advantage of the opening in Zimbabwe requires a foreign policy strategy that transcends the exchange of pleasantries. Common sense has to prevail. But Jacob Zuma is so incompetent at these things that he doesn't see anything wrong with taking pictures with Mnangagwa before he was properly elected president by the Zimbabwean parliament.

He should have invited Mnangagwa to a state visit to meet investors and Zimbabweans living in South Africa once he had ascended to the top job. Of course, we are expecting too much from our president who has too much on his plate.

- Mkhabela is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) at the University of Pretoria. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    robert mugabe  |  emmerson mnangagwa  |  zimbabwe  |  bribery  |  state capture  |  corruption
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