afrol.com, 16 February - Sharing the common history of liberation wars against racist and repressive colonial regimes, the governing parties and trade unions in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique have kept demonstrating solidarity, as have the old allies of the North. Now, South African mighty COSATU union, an ANC ally, distances itself from Mugabe's oppressive regime.
On Wednesday, COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi clarified the union's position towards its old ally, Mugabe's ZANU party. The COSATU can "not associate" itself with the policies of Mugabe anymore, he explained, with a special reference to the government's support to the land grabs. "Despite claims to the contrary the fast track land resettlement programme was an electoral gimmick deployed by a leadership that had ran out of ideas," said Vavi in a speech in Johannesburg.
Land reform is a key issue in all Southern African countries that have a relatively large, white settler population, especially South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Land allocation is utterly unfair and rooted in colonial days, with the most fertile lands being large, white-owned farms, and the vast rural, black majority is pushed into less fertile lands or being employed as seasonal labour on "white farms". There is a need for land reform - even most white landowners agree to that.
Zimbabwe's strategy, though, raises fear in the entire region. COSATU is distancing itself from it, although recognising the need for radical land reforms in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Noting that Mugabe had been inactive on the land reform issue the twenty years he had held power until year 2000, Vavi believes "government's action have discredited the whole land redistribution process and many people see it purely as an election ploy".
The South African government is in no position to criticise neighbouring Zimbabwe, leading a foreign policy of panafricanism and regional unity. Historical ties between the ANC and ZANU are also too strong. Mugabe openly gave shelter and support to ANC activists. "Zimbabwe paid a heavy price for supporting the [South African] liberation movement - sanctions, economic exclusion and sabotage, and direct military attacks," in Vavi's words.
Indirect opposition to Mugabe has, however, been demonstrated by both South Africa and Namibia. South Africa's grand old man and ANC leader in the times of struggle, Nelson Mandela, has urged Mugabe to step down. Although he does not hold any government office, Mandela's words hold great weight and express what the governing ANC cannot express publicly.
Most important, however, is the great effort in South Africa and Namibia not to fall into the violence trap of Zimbabwe over the land issue. Namibia is already negotiating with its first colonial power, Germany, for the co-financing of a land reform, where the white landowners are to be bought off the land and the redistribution will follow in orderly forms. South Africa is working on similar plans, a land reform being of top priority for the ANC government that includes several socialist ministers.
The social and economic decay of Zimbabwe is worrying the whole region. "If Zimbabwe collapses the whole region would be affected," the COSATU leader said in a statement that is far from revolutionary insight in Southern Africa. In many ways, however, Zimbabwe has already collapsed, its economy being more a burden than an asset to the region. The fertile soils of Zimbabwe could help feed the region, but the country now imports most food. Zimbabweans are queuing at border towns to buy gasoline and other imported goods not available in their country.
There is a genuine fear that the violence and political and economic instability could spread to other countries, and this fear makes most regional leaders to distance themselves form Mugabe, not in public but in practical terms. Mugabe is also a striking contrast to other regional leaders, mostly profound democrats and sincerely preoccupied with the economic development of their country. Political violence and human rights violations are an anathema in these countries.
Angola and the Congo
While there is massive domestic opposition to the costly Zimbabwean intervention in the Congo, international voices are also starting to get heard. Until the death of Laurent Kabila, the Congolese president was seen as a major obstacle to peace in the Congo. Now, Mugabe and his allies in Kinshasa, opposing Joseph Kabila's peace initiative, are becoming the black sheep. The Mugabe leadership increasingly is seen as a threat to the security and stability of the entire region.
Scandinavian presence is still very much noted in Southern Africa, nowadays mostly in development cooperation. But the rich, Nordic countries have abandoned Zimbabwe. Only this week, the Swedish ambassador to Zimbabwe told the government there would be no new aid as long as war veterans and ZANU PF supporters remain on commercial farms. Norway has already frozen most of its support to Zimbabwe.
The breaking up of the old alliance however only means that Zimbabwe has been abandoned in favour of the Southern African countries Mozambique and Malawi, receiving enhanced support. Abandoning Zimbabwe is against the poverty alleviation policy of the Nordic countries, but staying is impossible due to the firm roots of human rights in these countries. Human rights violations, violence and the need for judicial independence were given as the reasons for the Swedish halt in aid this week.
As Nordic involvement usually is massive, a possible return to Zimbabwe, when resources are bound in neighbouring countries, might seem difficult. There are, however, being made plans of a quick and massive resume of the cooperation in the cause of Mugabe losing power in order to help a new government to consolidate itself.
The same goes for other alienated allies, waiting for the Mugabe regime to crumble. It is believed that oppositional MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai on his visits abroad already has received promises of a quick resumption of support in case of an MDC-takeover in Harare. The alliances are not dead; they are just on ice, waiting for a new sun to rise.