Day By Day

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Mbeki's Bind

Western observers, including many bloggers, have long been frustrated by South African President, Thabo Mbeki's, refusal to apply pressure to Mad Bobby Mugabe to halt his disastrous economic and population policies. I have argued here that the reason for Mbeki's refusal to criticize his neighbor is that Mugabe's policies -- as repulsive as they are to Western observers -- are actually quite popular in South Africa and elsewhere throughout the region.

What set Zimbabwe on the road to disaster was Mugabe's decision about six years ago to forcibly expropriate the land of white farmers and to turn them over to his cronies in ZANU-PF. The program was carried out brutally and roused widespread protest. The result of the "land reform" was a collapse in agricultural production and widespread rural unemployment that stimulated a widespread migration of these destitute former farm workers into urban areas where they swelled the ranks of the urban poor. Socialist economic policies simply accelerated the collapse as Mugabe used his control of economic resources, particularly food, to benefit members of his own political faction at the expense of the general public. Zimbabwe, which once had been the breadbasket of the region was now dependent on foreign aid for its survival.

In recent months Mugabe has turned his power against the urban poor, initiating a policy of "drive out trash" reminiscent of the horrors of Pol Pot's regime in Cambodia. Hundreds of thousands were rendered homeless and driven into the countryside where they are utterly dependent on the government for their subsistence. As Western protests against this brutal policy rose Mugabe turned eastward toward China which has protected and subsidized him in exchange for lucrative access to Zimbabwe's natural resources. He has mortgaged his nation's future in order to carry out his demented policies, entering into what analysts see as an essentially colonial relationship with China. [here]

Since western protests were unavailing and the UN, as usual, was hapless, there was some hope that Mugabe might be influenced by other African states. But the African Union, many of whose members had initiated similar policies in their own lands, demurred, and most disappointingly, South Africa seemed to support Mugabe.

At the time I pointed out that SA President Mbeki was trying to placate radical elements in his own nation who admired Mugabe's racist and socialist "land reform" policies and were pushing for similar measures in SA. Mbeki had been carrying out the transfer of land from white farmers to black under a voluntary "willing buyer, willing seller" policy. Complaints, however, were mounting that the transfer was going too slowly and that Mbeki should do as Mugabe had done and simply throw the whites off the land.

Now those criticisms have reached a fever pitch and have resulted in a "Land Summit" currently being held in Johannesburg. Things are not going well.

News 24 reports:
The five-day summit, which ends on Sunday, has heard many people asking that the current willing-buyer, willing-seller principle be scrapped as it was slowing land reform.

Others have complained about the current market system, saying it favours farmers.

The first day of the meeting was dominated by the willing-buyer, willing-seller principle with deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka saying it was slowing down land reform.

She told delegates the principle would have to be revisited as the state was the only buyer, and farmers often asked exorbitant prices for their land.

Land affairs minister Thoko Didiza also raised concerns about the concept, saying the state should be allowed to influence how the markets work.

The government wants all land restitution claims settled within the next three years, and 30 percent of agricultural land to be delivered to blacks by 2014. By December 2004, only three percent of commercial farm land had been redistributed.

Read it here.

The slow pace of voluntary land reform, combined with lingering anti-colonial and racial resentments is a volatile mix. Mbeki is in a real bind. He obviously doesn't want to go down the road to ruin Mugabe has trod, but cannot forever resist the pressures for radical racial land reform in South Africa. This simmering situation explains why Mbeki has been unwilling to criticize or pressure Mugabe. Western moralists -- especially those who inhabit the blogosphere -- should try to understand the realities of the political situation in Southern Africa before they launch into denunciations of those who are trying to forge a reasonable consensus policy there.

Stay tuned.

No comments: