WITH Zimbabwe’s political crisis deepening amid growing calls for an inclusive dialogue, senior consultant with the International Crisis Group Piers Pigou, told the Daily News on Sunday last week that South Africa must work with the country’s all-weather friends, China and Russia, to find solutions.
Below are the excerpts.
Q: What is your assessment of Zimbabwe ‘s political and economic situation?
A: In very poor shape, and remains on a negative trajectory for the time being.
Q: What do you think is the best way forward for Zimbabwe?
A: Ideally, the government and ruling party should embrace a more inclusive and comprehensive reform process, but they will not address the core structural challenges around State capture/corruption and related need to unpick the enmeshed relations between the State and Zanu PF; remove the military’s influence in politics and the economy, return to professional soldiering and build civilian oversight competencies; improve transparency over public accounts income/expenditure in the economy, the forex auctioning system, debt management, sale/restructuring of State enterprises; and building institutional capacity/integrity, including independent competencies to address corruption and criminality by State functionaries/members of the security services.
Q: Do you think the government has the capacity to solve the current crisis?
A: It doesn’t have a viable roadmap, and will not develop one or implement one without the requisite political will
Q: Do the opposition have the wherewithal to challenge Zanu PF given the power dynamics within their ranks?
A: The opposition has illustrated some capacity to challenge the government and ruling party on certain fronts, but has not been able to translate this into a clear strategy that has momentum and feeds into a broader-based alliance of interests that promote a national agenda.
They have also been consumed and handicapped by internal dynamics and developments, exemplified by the active spoiling role played by the MDC-T.
Q: What does the opposition need to do in terms of strategy?
A: Actively contribute to building a broad-based alliance and related strategy that promotes national solutions, dialogue and a reform programme that deals with the fundamental challenges as I have already outlined, but that also focuses on bread and butter issues that gives priority to local mobilisation and activism.
The MDC Alliance needs to be seen showing servant leadership in conjunction with an array of civil society actors who are focused on protecting and raising basic living standards, promoting food security, improved access to health and education service, etc.
The opposition has space to demonstrate excellent leadership through local government (especially urban)arenas where it remains a dominant political player.
In areas where it is not, it should promote actions that seek to promote accountable governance.
Greater resources and attention should be allocated to this frontline and to develop best practices that can be shared as inspiration around what is possible; actively engage regional players to promote greater awareness of core challenges; actively engage the military and security sector to find common ground, understanding around core priorities and interests.
Q: What can South Africa do to assist in resolving Zimbabwe‘s problems?
A: The shift to a more public critique is an important stepping stone to promoting a more honest engagement around the issues in play.
This discussion should be extended and shared with other Sadc and AU member States, in terms of government to government.
South Africa’s governing party should also promote a more open discussion around governance and democratic deficits amongst liberation movements as it relates to Zimbabwe.
This also requires a more honest and robust engagement with the nature of the challenges in play; sorting the wheat from the chaff on what constitutes threat, helping reduce the range of acceptable lies and distortions that invariably accompany generic allegations of regime change agendas etc.
There is an opportunity to help sort fact from fiction and to demonstrate leadership on efforts strengthen good governance options.
Q: What leverage does SA have over Zim to force a solution?
A: Limited, given it will not use the same kind of leverage that the apartheid regime did against Ian Smith when it needed to force its hand.
People talk about turning off the power and closing the border, but these are not realistic or necessarily helpful. South Africa seeks to influence change, but in a way that doesn’t exacerbate instability. It’s a difficult balancing act.
The fact that it is now vocalising its concerns and pointing to the damage that is being rendered by the problems in Zimbabwe that are being exported is an important move to promoting a more factually underpinned analysis of the situation, which in turn will lead to more realistic recommendations about support for reform or change, etc.
This includes dealing more pragmatically with issues around sanctions, ZDERA, access to new lines of credit, debt relief etc.
All of this requires candidness in engagement that we have yet to see from the government of Zimbabwe.
South African involvement can help focus on the real issues, but ultimately it is contingent on the government of Zimbabwe demonstrating good faith and a commitment to resolving these issues. It has not done so to date.
Q: Can Harare listen to South Africa when Zanu PF seems not keen to have it mediate its crisis?
A: This is about political will and as we have seen, Zanu PF’s official position remains denial and counter-attack.
Their approach effectively undermines options that could promote remedy, and holds Zimbabwe hostage.
South Africa should not be expected to ‘mediate’ or address this issue alone and should have the support of others from the region and beyond.
South Africa must also make sure that key Zimbabwean allies (China, Russia, Belarus, etc) as well as the country’s main trading partners and donors (US, UK, EU, etc) have clarity on objectives of intervention and desire to support.
Q: In your view, what is impeding inclusive dialogue to take place in Zimbabwe and what should be done for the negotiations to commence?
A: Political will and the primacy of power retention, the asymmetry of power in favour of Zanu PF militates against any meaningful dialogue, which they perceive as threatening to dilute their current position.
Q: If Zanu fails to solve the current crisis, what consequences will this have on the country?
A: Zimbabwe will continue its path to impoverishment, in which a select connected few will do handsomely.
The State will continue to lose its capacities and competencies and will remain riven by corruption and patronage, as institutions hollow out and the majority eke a liking out on the margins.
This trajectory could continue for many years. It will inevitably generate growing hostility from the alienated mass, especially amongst younger people. This is a potentially explosive cocktail.
Q: Mnangagwa has been in office for two years, your assessment of his performance politically and economically thus far?
A: Failure, disappointment and lost opportunity
Q: What do you think ED’s international re-engagement has gone off rail?
A: Because his administration has been unable to demonstrate bona fides of reforms and related implementation; that they have returned to repressive formulae to address critics, and they have spurned the widespread goodwill that followed the November 2017 coup.
Q: Is there still international goodwill for ED and his government?
A: If they actively start to walk the talk, there would be traction for this. On the current game plan, there is widespread disappointment. Some, especially Western countries, but now also from the continent, concerns are vocalised, but many continue to sit on their hands. It is instructive that you don’t see any consistent praise from external players (including fair-weather friends such as China) for what is going on. By all accounts they are also deeply worried by the current trajectory.
Q: Let’s turn to main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa. What do you think he can do in resolving the Zimbabwe crisis?
A: Play a more active statesman like role — provide leadership around ‘national solutions’ to specific challenges, and actively seek out and start engaging an array of ‘Zanu PF’ constituencies .. especially the military .. some of this must be above the radar, others below, but he must be more actively seen to be seeking national solutions that are not ostensibly rooted in seeking party political advantage.
Having said that Chamisa is also trying to stem the damage being rendered to the party by the MDC led by Thokozani Khupe who on face value appear to be working in cahoots with the State on this.
Q: Is it wise for him to continue questioning ED’s legitimacy or it’s now time to work with ED to find solutions to the crisis?
A: The illegitimacy issue has become a millstone around Chamisa’s neck. He can continue questioning this, but he needs to focus on what it will take to fix things — highlight the structural challenges, failure of reform agenda etc. At the moment, continued posturing around the legitimacy question feeds the impression that his interests are politically selective.
Q: Your take on assertions that Chamisa is unstrategic and too soft to handle ED and his government as shown by his empty threats since the elections in 2018?
A: Chamisa has limited power and leverage in this equation.
His power comes from being able to demonstrate his support base, and he should be focusing on providing a national analysis and commentary whilst focusing on building and mobilising that support base and the political infrastructure needed to activate it, even in challenging circumstances.