Wednesday, February 25, 2004

South Africa and Zimbabwe
Be warned, this is a long post... Ask white South Africans what they fear most for the country's future, and they're likely to reply that it will go the same way as Zimbabwe. They fear, in other words, that, at some stage, the ANC will lose support and, in a bid to prop itself up, will turn on whites as a convenient scapegoat, and expropriate land and other property. The economy will implode and people will see their life savings evaporate. This fear is, I think, widespread and isn't helped by passages such as the following, which I found recently in the M&G:

Many whites ... decided to stay after [Mugabe] promised that "there is a place for you in the sun."

With the help of their commercial farms, Zimbabwe prospered and developed into a regional breadbasket. Mugabe worked to bolster the nation's health and education systems, making them among the best in Africa.

But the economy soured ... [and] Mugabe ordered the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks, touching off more than three years of political violence that has claimed the lives of more than 200 people and hounded tens of thousands of mostly black opposition supporters from their homes.


Quite clearly, this suggests that Zimbabwe was well-governed for some time and then, suddenly, it all went wrong. No one, in other words, saw Zimbabwe's current crisis coming. This makes it all the more plausible that the same events could unfold in South Africa.

But, having done some reading about Mad Bob recently, I'm far from convinced that Zim was ever that well-governed. Indeed, I'm increasingly beginning to think that the land invasions, and all that's gone with them, simply followed a pattern that was established very early in Mugabe's leadership -- a pattern that has, in contrast, not been evident in South Africa's first ten years of democracy. Three elements spring to mind.

Lawlessness. Disrespect for the rule of law was a key feature of the land invasions in Zimbabwe. On several occasions the Supreme Court ruled the land invasions illegal but was simply ignored. In response, Mugabe orchestrated the removal of the Chief Justice, Anthony Gubbay, and ensured that more compliant judges were placed on the bench. The police force were also consistently been biased, and refused to come to the aid of the white farmers, their workers and MDC members, while assisting the "war veterans" and Zanu-PF.

Lawlessness, however, is far from a new phenomenon north of the Limpopo. Indeed, Mugabe was regularly ignoring court orders as far back as 1981, barely a year after independence. The government also retained emergency powers, inherited from Ian Smith, and habitually employed methods such as torture, arbitrary arrest and detention without trial. Indeed, its worth reminding ourselves that Mugabe kept Zimbabwe in a constant state of emergency throughout its first ten years of democracy; one six-month period simply followed another. And this is despite the fact that, although there was some dissident activity in the early 80's, it hardly justified the invocation of emergency powers. Bear in mind too that, throughout the 80's, Mugabe manipulated the Constitution, so as to entrench his own power. Indeed, just prior to the 1990 elections, Mugabe increased the number of seats in Parliament to 150 -- only 120 of which were directly elected. The remainder of the MPs were effectively appointed by Mugabe himself.

The contrast with South Africa's first ten years of democracy could not be greater. Not only is the Constitution a general source of pride, but the government has consistently followed court orders, even those that it would rather not (such as the TAC judgment, which ordered the roll-out of nevirapine). Indeed, Justice Minister Maduna went so far as to describe TAC as an illustration of the strength of South Africa's constitutional democracy. It's difficult to imagine Mugabe behaving similarly. There have, of course, been rumours about Mbeki changing the Constitution to stand for a third term, but it is notable that he took care to (implicitly) rule this out in his state of the union address.

Intolerance of opposition. From the beginning, Mugabe aimed to eliminate all opposition to his rule and establish a one-party state. To this end, he undermined the rule of law, the independent media, and opposition parties. This tendency assumed its most sinister manifestation in the Matabeland Massacres of the 1982-83, which were aimed at destroying the support base of Zapu, Zanu-PF's main opposition. With the assistance of North Korea, Mugabe formed the so-called 5th Brigade, which conducted a campaign of terror and repression throughout Matabeland, and which resulted in the deaths of at least 10 000 civilians. The tactic worked; Zapu eventually became part of Zanu-PF, and Zimbabwean voters were robbed of a credible electoral alternative.

Accordingly, when faced with a new political challenge in the late 90's, in the form of the MDC, it is perhaps not surprising that Mugabe resorted to the same tactics. Both Mugabe and Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi were clear that the land invasions were as much about destroying perceived support bases of the MDC as anything else, especially in the wake of Mugabe's unprecedented loss of the constitutional referendum in 1999, and in the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections.

Anyone with knowledge of the Matabeland Massacres, conducted so early in Mugabe's rule, could not have been under any illusions as to the nature of his leadership. Again, however, the contrast with South Africa is marked. The ANC might appear intolerant of opposition (as Andrew has noted here) but there is a world of difference between its response to the DA and IFP and Zanu-PF's response to Zanu and the MDC. When faced with dissident activity, in the form of the Boeremag, the ANC also did not use it as a pretext to invoke emergency powers and engage in a widespread campaign to crush opposition. Instead, the matter was handled through the police, and the ordinary courts, in accordance with procedural norms.

Failure to address inequality. Mugabe is fond of blaming Zimbabwe's land problem on Britain which, he says, reneged on its Lancaster House promises to fund land redistribution. But the truth is that Mugabe never seriously addressed the land question. Certainly, re-settlement schemes were introduced in the 80's, but they came no-where near addressing the scale of the problem. When Mugabe addressed the problem more seriously, in the early 90's, the program he implemented was chaotic and haphazard, and appeared mainly directed at enriching high-ranking Zanu-PF officials. It was at this point that Britain cut aid -- not to scupper the program, as Mugabe alleges, but in protest about the recipients of land. Thereafter, the problem festered which meant that, when political discontent gained momentum in the late 90's, arable land remained almost exclusively in the hands of whites, and Mugabe was able to play the issue as a political card.

In South Africa, in contrast, a well-managed and orderly land redistribution program, implemented in accordance with the Constitution, has been underway for some time now. Furthermore, as Andrew has pointed out to me, in South Africa the issue is not so much land as business. Here the ANC has taken steps, such as the Employment Equity Act and Black Empowerment, to ensure that blacks gain a stake in the country's companies. Certainly, these steps are controversial. I'm suspicious of the latter and think that the former should have a sunset clause. But, hopefully, these will mean that there will be less temptation for the government to intervene in the business sector at some later stage.

Regular readers of this blog will know that Andrew and I are far from being uncritical admirers of the ANC. And its also clear that South Africa faces a range of problems -- AIDS, crime, unemployment, poverty, a volatile currency, an over-dominant ruling party etc -- that might not bode well for the future. But, in general, I think, these tend to be the problems of developing countries everywhere. Zimbabwe's problem is, and always has been, far worse: an autocratic leader, hell-bent on retaining power at any cost. As always, comments would be appreciated.

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