Scenario planning: With disaster looming in Zim, what should SA do?

By Mike McWilliams*

In the rolling disaster that is our neighbour, South Africa should put some thought into what could or should be done to help both countries to weather the coming storm.

Zimbabwe has run out of money, this despite the planeload of newly printed Rand that conveniently landed at Harare Airport some weeks ago.

Sadly, even a planeload of weakened Rand doesn’t go far when Mugabe’s spending habits and the demands of salaried comrades are concerned.

The explosive mixture of no money, nor the wherewithal to print more, and no work combined with the imminent demise of an evil leader, is providing a moment of unprecedented danger or opportunity for all the countries surrounding Zimbabwe.

South Africa is most likely going to be the ultimate destination of the balance of the Zimbabwean population who haven’t already moved there, when living at home becomes impossible.

South Africa, in contrast to Zimbabwe’s other neighbours, (excluding Botswana) still has some of the prosperity left over from European rule and will thus be the destination of choice. Another reason is that Zimbabweans have already gained a strong toehold on SA due to the 30 years of Mugabe genocide and kleptocracy.

The border between Zimbabwe and SA is so porous that it presents no real barrier to entry and because of ANC’s mismanagement and propensity for corruption, is unlikely to prevent any determined mass migration southwards.

Read also: Zimbabwe’s tipping point – Here’s why it can turn around quickly

This means that South Africa, like it or not, is going to host almost the entire nation of Zimbabwe in the near future.

Like the great Wildebeest migrations across the Masai-Mara, Zimbabweans are already smelling the new grass just across the river. The stampede is about to begin.

As these new immigrants will not be due any help from the SA state, their only means of survival will be charitable institutions that are already overburdened and crime, both petty and serious.

The SA Police are incapable or unwilling to cope with the existing crime in SA, so asking them to deal with a new crime wave superposed upon the present one, is wishful thinking.

How do we deal with a neighbour who has lost its sovereignty its currency and its people?

Once a country has lost everything that makes it an independent country and all that is left is unproductive land, something radical needs to be done.

Perhaps a fair solution (there can be no good solution under these circumstances), would be for South Africa to make the people of Zimbabwe an offer that would limit the damage to both countries.

The South African government could propose to the people of Zimbabwe that their country become a province of South Africa in a legal amalgamation.

This will not be the first time the people of Zimbabwe have been offered this option.

Read also: Zimbabwe’s cupboard bare – misses promised deadline to pay $1.8bn to IMF

In 1922 a referendum was held in the then Southern Rhodesia as to whether the country should be amalgamated with the Union of South Africa. Because of the perceived unfavourable terms, the voters of Southern Rhodesia made their first of many bad decisions that would eventually lead to the disastrous rule by Robert Gabriel Mugabe. They rejected amalgamation and elected instead to go ahead with Responsible Government and independence.

If the same offer were to be made today, it is likely that the vast majority of Zimbabweans would elect to join SA instead of chancing their future to another more youthful and energetic despot from ZANU-PF scuffling through the ashes of the nation, stealing and destroying whatever is left among the ruins that majority rule had brought them.

What’s in it for both parties?

South Africa: The benefits of amalgamation for South Africans are that Zimbabwe is already a de facto province of SA. The borders are no barrier to people but are a barrier to road and rail traffic. This means that Zimbabwe can restrict imports, thus preventing SA companies from profiting while at the same time the export of Zimbabweans continues apace. This is not a good trade for SA.

In exchange for accepting the Zimbabwean immigrants, South Africa inherits one of the world’s most beautiful countries, not only is it prime tourist bait, but it was in its heyday, far more agriculturally productive per hectare than even the best South African land. This could be a great testing ground for BEE farmers rather than imperiling scarce South African productive land.

Re-invigorating the new province’s economy will be much easier than starting from zero with zero banking credibility that would otherwise be the case. This could make amalgamation a very good deal if well managed.

Once rehabilitation begins to take effect, old and new Zimbabwean immigrants will start the homeward trek, thus easing housing pressures on SA.

Read also: Reader: Reviewing ‘A Handful of Hard Men’ – The day Zim’s spine snapped.

Zimbabwe: The benefits for Zimbabweans is escape from tyrannical and fiscally idiotic rule and the poverty and sickness that accompanies this.

While they would still stream south, this would only last while their homeland is rehabilitated. Once things look better at home, the reversal of the tide would carry both recent as well as old migrants back to the land of their birth.

The disadvantages of amalgamation

South Africa: The large injection of impoverished new voters will put enormous strain on infrastructure and social support structures. A large part of these strains will occur anyway, whether a formal and legal amalgamation happens or not. South Africa may have to take on all of Zimbabwe’s international debt although very reasonable terms could be negotiated with the IMF and other creditors. At least they would get something back, rather than nothing as the present dispensation promises.

Of course, as new South Africans, the ex-Zimbabweans will be eligible for social grants and all the other expensive and unsustainable expenses with which the SA government has saddled the taxpayer.

A tidal wave of new recipients would force the government to re-appraise the sustainability of free everything to non-contributors to the fiscus. This is necessary and the sooner it happens the better.

Zimbabweans: If the ANC remains in power, amalgamation will just mean a temporary relief. The same policies and behaviour that brought about their ruin, is proudly displayed by their new rulers. For the new immigrants, it will be a case of “Out of the frying pan and into another that hasn’t reached operating temperature, yet.”

However, a few years of relief, before they again face utter ruin under the ANC is still preferable to living in utter ruin right now.

The best-case scenario.

If there is a change in government in SA, it will be a win-win situation. Both sides will enjoy better governance and the future will no longer be a spiral into the stone age, but will offer a prospect of relative prosperity and health for all citizens.

Naturally, it is unlikely that a change in government in SA that involves the EFF taking power will persuade any Zimbabwean voting to amalgamate in the first place. If they have learned anything from 36 years of Zanu-PF rule, it is that things don’t ever get better by land and asset grabs, and this is all the EFF offers, in other words Mugabe by another name.

A vibrant prosperous country, stretching from the Cape to the Zambezi will go a long way towards healing the artificial separation of peoples that the Colonials forced upon them by the arbitrary borders drawn up in Whitehall.

It may even be the beginnings of a United States of Southern Africa.

The alternative is, in the established SA-Zimbabwe tradition, is to do nothing.

This would mean that South Africans would still be subjected to a tsunami of poverty-stricken humanity that would have no hope nor inclination to return home, ever. A wasteland with the odd roving band of bandits making forays into SA, plundering and murdering before returning to their sanctuaries north of the Limpopo.

  • Michael McWilliams, author of Battle for Cassinga and Osama’s Angel.

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