Talks to try and resolve the Zimbabwe crisis failed again yesterday. When South African President Kgalema Motlanthe expressed impatience about the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe last week, it generated some hope these SADC talks in Johannesburg would deliver pressure on Mugabe and Tsvangirai. But it was not to be.

The question is — why, two months after a Zimbabwe power-sharing deal was negotiated, does Zimbabwe still does not have a functioning government of national unity?

On the face of it, the answer is that Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai cannot come to an agreement about how power is to be divided. Both sides blame each other for the stalemate. The key issue, over which the latest talks have broken down, is the question of whether Mugabe’s ZANU-PF or Tsvangirai’s MDC will run the Ministry of Home Affairs. This Ministry is important since it controls Zimbabwe’s Police and security police. ZANU-PF already controls the Defence Ministry, so the MDC want to counter-balance this by controlling the police.

However, ZANU-PF fears handing Home Affairs to the MDC because of the possibilities this offers for “payback”. After Mugabe came to power in 1980, ZANU-PF launched a brutal war on its opponents, ZAPU. Both ZANU-PF and ZAPU had been liberation movements fighting the Rhodesians. But ZANU-PF represented Shonas and ZAPU represented Ndebeles. In the early 1980s Mugabe’s ZANU-PF unleashed the Fifth brigade on Matabeleland to break ZAPU. Over 20-thousand Ndebele civilians were massacred. There are many people in today’s Mugabe regime who fear the day a new government comes in and calls for an enquiry into this genocide. MDC control of Home Affairs would open the possibility for such an enquiry. That is why Mugabe’s team does not want to give up power. They are afraid. And probably with just cause.

But until a Mugabe-Tsvangirai government of national unity is created, Zimbabwe will continue its spiral downward into economic oblivion. This is generating millions of refugees that have already caused problems in both South Africa and Botswana. Zimbabwe’s economic collapse is also bad news for Zambia and Botswana because during the British colonial period their economies were closely intermeshed with Zimbabwe’s. Not surprisingly, it is the governments of Zambia and Botswana who have been most keen for SADC to sort out the Zimbabwe mess.

But the key to sorting out Zimbabwe is South Africa. South Africa is the giant of SADC and the only country with the power to force change. Because Zimbabwe is largely dependent on South Africa for energy supplies, sanctions applied by Pretoria would force compliance. This is precisely how Rhodesia’s Ian Smith was eventually forced to the negotiating table — Pretoria threatened sanctions.

So why is the ANC-government unwilling to force the pace of change in Zimbabwe?

Firstly, it is hard to see ZANU-PF and MDC working together, and if ZANU-PF feels cornered by MDC ‘pay back’ actions, Mugabe’s team will use violence to protect their interests. This would be very bad public relations for Africa — and the South Africans are still trying to convince the world an African Renaissance is underway, led by a transformed South Africa. Further, Zimbabwean violence would presumably also mean a costly South African peacekeeping force would be needed.

Secondly, there is the issue of internal ANC politics. The ANC is currently breaking apart, and both Motlanthe and Zuma are struggling to hold the different ANC factions together. A significant faction within the ANC has always supported Mugabe’s seizure of white land and would love to see South Africa copy this model. Also Tsvangirai is seen to be too close to whites, and that does not endear him to ANC cadres. The fact is, the Mugabe-Tsvangirai conflict has many resonances within South Africa’s own domestic politics. So intervening in Zimbabwe will have domestic repercussions the ANC would prefer to avoid.

Thirdly, the ANC faces an election next year, and large sections of its constituency support Mugabe’s land-seizures. No ANC politician can ignore this.

Fourthly, the ANC is still trapped in 1960s decolonisation rhetoric. For many this translates into discomfort with Western pressure on Mugabe. There are many frail egos in Africa, which translates into a belief outsiders should not interfere in the sovereignty of any African state. This coupled with the perception that Tsvangirai is too close to whites creates a discomfort with interfering in Zimbabwe.

Lastly, fixing the Zimbabwean economy is not really that important for most SADC members (with the exception of Zambia and Botswana) because they are actually economic competitors — they sell the same goods on the world’s market. So actually, a dysfunctional Zimbabwe means less competition. Perhaps this is why only six of the 15 SADC members even attended yesterdays meeting.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey