Zimbabwe: Will President Zuma grasp the nettle?

20th November 2009 By: Denis Worrall

As Business Day pointed out in an editorial last week, with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) having now laid down certain conditions which must be implemented by the political parties in Zimbabwe within a 30-day timeline (deadline 6 December 2009), the situation in that country has changed quite dramatically - because the effect of these conditions (obviously if implemented) will greatly contribute to normalising things in terms of the inclusive government agreement of 30 September 2008.  At the heart of the issue is the refusal of Zanu-PF to honour its obligations under the unity agreement.  That is the core of the problem.  Sticking points have been the continuance in office of the Central Bank chief, who is blamed for presiding over the collapse of the local currency and other failings, and the attorney general, who continues to prosecute MDC supporters despite guarantees of political freedom in the unity government agreement.  President Robert Mugabe has also failed to appoint certain provincial officers the MDC is entitled to.

The formal aspects aside, the land grabs continue, opposition politicians and activists persecuted, and President Mugabe and the people around him clearly hold the power and call the shots.

Meanwhile, last week South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry confirmed that South Africa would sign a long-awaited investment protection agreement with Zimbabwe - prompting the London Financial Times to optimistically suggest that "this could pave the way for what could be a sharp increase of private sector investment into its troubled northern neighbour".  If, however, as has been suggested, this investment protection agreement doesn't cover property rights, it won't help much to bring capital into commercial agriculture and mining in particular.

While the SADC has demanded that these conditions be resolved by 6 December, it has not said what it will do if this doesn't happen.  But we obviously hope that the SADC's engagement with the Zimbabwe leaders is successful - because if it is, it lays the basis for significant follow-up action.

However, a point in the agreement which has not really been commented on by analysts when looking at the SADC's position is that one of the requirements that needs to be met within the 30-day timeframe is the ending of sanctions.  These incidentally are not general sanctions against the country and its population but travel bans and asset freezes on Mugabe and several of his top aides.  The bans do not apply to UN Summits and Mugabe has attended several Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) meetings, always using the podium to attack western countries that accuse him of undermining democracy.  And this is the Achilles heel of the SADC position.

Earlier this week Mugabe spoke in Rome at an FAO conference and accused western countries of consciously using sanctions to destroy the Zimbabwe economy and "plunge its people into starvation".   And mark my words, this will be the line of defence which Mugabe will ado pt at the end of the 30-day timeframe.  While Mugabe in Rome was laying the basis for it, in Johannesburg the Zimbabwe High Commissioner at an investment in Zimbabwe conference organised by Omega focused exclusively on this particular point in the SADC's position.  What therefore is certain to happen is that Mugabe will refuse to implement the points agreed to on the basis that sanctions have not been lifted.  He should not be allowed to get away with this - and it is for President Jacon Zuma to make sure that he doesn't.

Denis Worrall,
Omega Investment Research
Cape Town, South Africa

Email: kamreyac@omegainvest.co.za for all enquiries