Zimbabwe’s Friend: Powerful Mbeki

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Flexing economic and political sovereignty, South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki has brushed off Western schemes to abandon Zimbabwe and vowed to assist the country with hundreds of millions of dollars for economic relief.

Media reports from South Africa indicate that South Africa and Zimbabwe have already signed a provisional memorandum of understanding for a $1 billion credit facility to assist Zimbabwe with the payment of its overdue IMF debt. Mbeki told his countrymen that South Africa would have to bear the brunt if a neighbor is unstable. "It is wrong to say the debt problem in Zimbabwe is a problem of corruption, that money was disappearing to corrupt politicians," he said recently in Johannesburg. "To respond to the demand to meet the urgent needs of the people after liberation, the government of Zimbabwe spent more money than it had."

He said Zimbabwe's foreign debt was not a recent phenomenon, but was evident from 1983 as the country struggled to meet the development needs of a newly liberated population. "Already the debt had started three years after 1980. With the victory of the liberation movement, the new government said ‘We fought for and achieved liberation, but we must now move on education, on health, housing and clean water for the people,’� the South African, himself a veteran of liberation struggle, said.

Zimbabwe's arrears to the IMF are reported to be at US$295 million. The South African leader said his country was taking some financial responsibility for Zimbabwe to prevent its neighbor from being isolated further. Udo W. Froese, a Johannesburg-based political analyst says South Africa “could quite easily afford to help its neighborâ€? with the requested US$1 billion as the government currently sits on extra savings of $18 billion in cash from last year's tax overrun.  Standard Bank economist Goolam Ballim was quoted as saying “Giving Zimbabwe the money will not make South African any more or less poor…In fact, a more prosperous Zimbabwe would reflect positively on the Southern African Development Community region."

South Africa and Zimbabwe enjoy excellent relations and the two countries have signed several bilateral agreements despite rumblings by opposition parties and critics in South Africa. The white-owned South African media in particular the right wing media churns out hate propaganda against Zimbabwe President Mugabe calling him a “traitor,� “dictator,� “killer,� and other assorted pleasantries.

But political analysts say Mbeki has not been swayed by this right wing media and has largely remained level-headed, a rational operator and an able manager who remains conscious of Zimbabwe's role in the liberation of South Africa. And, recently South African Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka met her Zimbabwean counterpart Vice President Joyce Mujuru to put regional political programs between the two countries in sync.

Zimbabwe is facing a crippling shortage of foreign currency to import fuel, drugs, machinery, chemicals and food owing to the sanctions imposed by Britain and its western allies. Zimbabweans hailed Mbeki for support saying he remains a true revolutionary unswayed by the pressure by Britain to isolate Mugabe and bring “change,� which means bringing in a stooge government.
Says Froese: "South Africa, more particularly the black ruling party, would have to endure few days of vicious media attacks. However, it is indeed irrelevant. In general, the loan would be seen as a humane effort, uniting and strengthening particularly southern Africa."

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