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South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA)

South African Foreign Policy Monitor

Editor: Tom Wheeler

Published by the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA)

Jan/Feb 2007

SARPN acknowledges SAIIA as a source of this document: www.saiia.org.za
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Zimbabwe is the New Bantustan

There is nothing that South Africa can learn from Zimbabwe about land reform, says Moeletsi Mbeki, speaking to Jannie Ferreira.

The South African government should never have allowed President Robert Mugabe to destroy his economy. It is in South Africa’s national interest that neighbouring states do not collapse. Zimbabwe has now become a South African homeland, says Moeletsi Mbeki, businessman and political analyst who used to work in Zimbabwe as a journalist.

‘What we have here is a good example of a failed South African foreign policy,’ he said.

‘If Dr (Hendrik) Verwoerd (former prime minister of South Africa) were to return to South Africa today, he would have been very sad that his Bantustan (homeland) policy had failed. But if he looked across the Limpopo, he would have seen that there was at least one place where it worked.’

‘I do not know whether the South African government wants a Bantustan. They have diagnosed the problem incorrectly. They have treated the wrong ailment, namely Zimbabwe’s national sovereignty. Instead of protecting our national interests, our government concerns itself with theories of sovereignty.’

But to understand Zimbabwe correctly the background must be seen in context, Mbeki explained. South Africans had never correctly understood the nature of the problem in Zimbabwe.

The first problem is the economy. Zimbabwe had a few export products that carried its economy for the greater part of the 20th century. These key products were asbestos, tobacco and gold.

Problems with asbestos began to develop when, towards the end of the 20th century, the use of asbestos was banned for health reasons, and gradually it was phased out of the basket of export products. The same started to happen with tobacco as a result of increasing anti-smoking sentiment. Zimbabwean tobacco was highly sought after among the wealthy, but in time it had to be sold to poorer consumers in Asia. And while the gold price was about $800 per fine ounce in 1980, it dropped quickly to $300 in the years that followed.

Wages and Prices


Mbeki said that Zanu-PF always aspired to running a one-party state, and openly said so. It could, however, not entrench this in legislation because by the time Zimbabwe achieved majority rule, the idea of one party states had already been discredited in Africa. Although Zanu-PF strove for this, it was never introduced.

What it did was to place Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu under pressure, with, among others, the assistance of the (North) Koreans. Zanu-PF committed atrocities against Zapu on the pretext that the latter was a front for the erstwhile South African apartheid regime. There was never any evidence for this, and the allegation was pure rubbish, said Mbeki.

Through this suppression of Zapu, the Mugabe regime murdered an estimated 20 000 of their fellow countrymen. Zanu-PF did achieve one of its objectives, namely to force Zapu to amalgamate with them.

When the economy started to decline, urban dwellers were the hardest hit. Income from exports dropped, inflation rose and workers started to blame the government for the developing crisis. The consequence was that in 1999 the trade unions and non-governmental organisations established a political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Around the same time the constitution was amended and tested by means of a referendum. Mugabe’s party received a hiding in the referendum.

The result of this was that Mugabe reverted to violent methods. He tried to suppress the MDC and intimidate its supporters, in the way he had done with Zapu in the 1980s. He could, however, not use the violent methods the military’s Fifth Brigade had used and turned to his secret service and police to carry out the task.

Mugabe needed a new scapegoat because South Africa’s National Party government was no longer there to blame. The ‘new bogeymen’ he discovered were the commercial farmers. They were blamed for Zimbabwe’s economic problems, and Mugabe decided that the solution was to hand over agricultural land to the masses.

Some members of the South African government thought that this was really a very good idea, but land reform was not really what it was about for Mugabe, explained Mbeki. ‘It was simply an excuse for oppression.’

Agriculture was the mainstay of the Zimbabwean economy. Even the manufacturing sector processed agricultural produce, for example the textile industry used locally grown cotton as its raw material. When the agricultural sector was destroyed, other parts of the economy started to disintegrate, and within five years Zimbabwe’s whole economy was destroyed.

‘What we have here is a good example of a failed South African foreign policy,’ said Mbeki. ‘The consequence is that, according to our government, we have between 2 and 3 million Zimbabwean refugees in our country.’

‘We should never have allowed Mugabe to destroy his economy. We should have known that this was going to result in a flood of refugees. Now we are treating the symptoms.’

‘What has happened therefore is that Zimbabwe has become a Bantustan (homeland) of South Africa. Because its economy has been destroyed, Zimbabwe now depends on the money remitted by its citizens in South Africa.’

Is there anything that the South African government can do now? ‘The answer is no. Zimbabwe has no economy left to speak of. All you can do is to try to keep Zimbabwe’s degree of dependence to a minimum, but how do you do that?’ said a downcast Mbeki.

South Africa’s director-general for foreign affairs, Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba, recently admitted to parliament that not much had happened on the Zimbabwe front at Foreign Affairs. The department’s annual report contains long sections on a variety of countries, but just 11 short lines on Zimbabwe.

Mbeki said that after Mugabe had rigged the elections in 2002, he began intimidating the MDC, made false accusations against its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, and had people murdered, raped and tortured.

Average Annual Inflation


‘This has been possible all because of our view of state sovereignty. Our government should have seen what was coming. We were far too concerned about questions of sovereignty, and not about South Africa’s national interests.’

Mbeki said there is a feverish rush among foreign powers, such as the Russians and the Chinese, to get their hands on Zimbabwe’s minerals. This development will make it that much more difficult for Zimbabwe to recover in the future.

Ordinary Zimbabweans are not waiting to be invited to plunder their country’s minerals to the greatest extent possible and then to get out, for fear of the outbreak of a ‘civil war or the like’ in the near future.

‘Mugabe is the principal architect of this mess,’ said Mbeki without hesitation. He is already busy with a plan to postpone the Zimbabwe elections again from 2008 to 2010.

In response to a question whether the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, the African Union and the Southern African Development Community could not contribute more to solving the crisis, Mbeki said: ‘The crisis does not affect them that much. It affects the neighbouring countries most directly – South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia. It is they who suffer.’

On whether his brother (President Thabo Mbeki) should not have handled the Zimbabwe issue more assertively, he replied: ‘I do not want to personalise this. At the end of the day, it is the cabinet that takes decisions, not one man.’

Mbeki said that the accusation that land reform did not make progress because the British did not carry out their promises was another old wives’ tale that the South African government wanted to believe. He said the agreement was that after independence the British would give 50% of the funding for land reform projects, on condition that the Zimbabwe government provided the balance, as well as the necessary infrastructure, such as schools.

‘This happened for the first five years (of Zimbabwe’s independence), but since then the Zimbabwe government has failed to meet its side of the bargain.’

‘In addition, Zimbabwe’s idea of land reform was to give most farms to ministers. It was therefore the Zanu-PF government that stopped land reform in Zimbabwe. All this talk in the South African government that we must learn from Zimbabwe is rubbish. There is absolutely nothing that we can learn about land reform from Zimbabwe.’

Is it a sad story?

‘Yes, it’s a very sad story.’


This article was originally published in Die Burger on 9 December 2006. It was translated from Afrikaans by Tom Wheeler and is published in this form by kind permission of the author.


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