Africa Watch

South Africa and Zimbabwe: different countries but similar challenges


Both South Africa and Zimbabwe are entering a new era under new leaders, and for both how the future will unfold, depends much on those two new leaders.

In December last year the ruling parties in both countries got new presidents.

In Zimbabwe it immediately meant a new president for the country. In South it will also come – probably rather sooner than later, the consensus seeming to be that President Jacob Zuma will leave office before his second term expires in 2019.

With the defeat, albeit close, of his former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, for the position of ANCpresident, he for all practical purposes became a lame duck state president.

With immediate effect the new ANC president and deputy state president, Cyril Ramaphosa, indicated that he intends to address as a matter of urgency the calamities, particularly corruption and state capture, the Zuma presidency brought on the country, and seriously denting the ANC’s public support.


The dramatic events in Zimbabwe when President Robert Mugabe resigned under pressure from the military after what can only be described as a "soft coup,” was most unexpected. There was little prior indication that the military, for many years an active accomplice in Mugabe’s autocratic rule, would be instrumental in deposing him.

Mugabe, endowed with an acute political awareness which stood him in good stead throughout his long political career, made a critical mistake to allow his politically overambitious wife, Grace, to convinced him to fire her biggest rival, deputy president Emmerson Mnangagwa.

With impeccable struggle credentials, and as former minister of Defense, Mnangagwa enjoyed wide support in the military and his former colleagues in uniform were adamant that they would not accept the treatment handed out to him.

They decided to act. Allowing Mnangagwa to be fired would not only confirm the ascendancy of the Grace Mugabe faction and the demise of the Mnangagwa faction, that served the interests of the military, but would also put in jeopardy the privileges and perks the military always claimed as just reward for its role in the liberation of Zimbabwe.  

As the situation now stands the military in Zimbabwe is as strong as ever and firmly in control of the country’s politics.  

Land issue       

Both Mnangagwa and Ramaphosa must grapple with the controversial and emotional land issue but from different perspectives.

Mnangagwa is facing the almost impossible task of rebuilding Zimbabwe’s economy destroyed by reckless Mugabe policies, including uncontrolled land expropriation without compensation.

Irrespective of the merits of the policy of the expropriation of land without compensation, the manner in which Mugabe allowed it caused irreparable damage to the economy heavily dependent on the agricultural sector.

Mnangagwa has acknowledged the damage caused and in one of his first announcements after taking office, said he intends to reverse the obvious transgressions that took place.

In his inauguration speech he elaborated and said that “the principle of repossessing our land cannot be challenged or reversed”. But, he continued, “My government is committed to compensating those farmers whose land was taken.

When deputy-president Mnangagwa introduced policies and regulations aimed at improving conditions for farmers that benefitted from land reform to become more productive and curbing corruption in the agricultural sector, successes were recorded. It is to be expected that he will continue in this trend.

A more pragmatic land reform policy seems to be on the cards for Zimbabwe which over time could repair much of the damage caused during Mugabe’s rule.

Ramaphosa’s challenge

Ramaphosa is faced with a different scenario, expected to manage the decision taken at the ANC’s December conference that land expropriation without compensation should become official government policy.

Pressure is mounting on the ANC government to do something about the issue considering the statistics that only 8-million hectares of arable land have been transferred to black people since 1994, less than 10% of the 82-million hectares available and a third of the ANC’s 30% target.

Ramaphosa is on record that the issue will receive urgent attention but cautioned, “We will do so in a manner that not only meets the constitutional requirement of redress‚ but also promotes economic development‚ agricultural production and food security”.

First impressions are that Ramaphosa will approach the land issue with much more circumspection than Dlamini-Zuma would she have been elected.

His remark that, “Land issues in urban areas should be addressed through the release of government and municipal-owned land to build homes for people” tends to support this view, but it is early days.

Upcoming Elections         

Both countries are heading for crucial general elections – Zimbabwe going to the polls later this year and South Africa in 2019. The elections will be a test for the leadership qualities of both Mnangagwa and Ramaphosa, and the outcome will be crucial in determining their futures as party and government leaders.

Of the two Mnangagwa undoubtedly has the easier challenge.  Zanu-PF’s flailing fortunes improved considerably with Mugabe’s departure. The military, instrumental in Mnangawa’s rise to power, and intrinsically part of Zanu-pf, will probably, as in the past, play its role to ensure a Zanu-PF victory.

Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF will also be facing a weakened and faction-ridden opposition further debilitated by MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s recent hint that he might be considering retirement. Diagnosed with cancer there is no obvious and prominent successor.

Ramaphosa is confronted with a much stiffer contest with the biggest challenge coming from within his own party. Not only must he restore unity within the ANC, fractured by destructive Zuma policies, but he must do it with the assistance of a deeply divided NEC – some members being outspoken opponents of him.

Since his election as ANC president, the support he has received at public rallies and the massive attendance at these rallies, indicate renewed support for the ANC after opposition parties, and political commentators were starting to postulate the real possibility of the ANC dipping below 50% support in next year’s election and the possibility of a coalition government for the first time since 1994.

It is also early days, and it remains to be seen if the momentum can be sufficiently sustained by Ramaphosa to nullify the scenario sketched. And, as in Zimbabwe where factionalism and intrigue has weakened the opposition since it could have won the 2008 election was it not for Mugabe and the security forces, with Mnangagwa playing a leading role, forcefully compelling the opposition to pull out of the election, the opposition in South Africa, particularly the DA, appears to be making the similar mistakes.

The fiasco that is confronting the DA in the Western Cape, particularly the City of Cape Town with Mayor Patricia de Lille at the center, and with factionalism, infighting and personal egos the ingrediants for a toxic concoction, it is only Ramaphosa and the ANC that could benefit.  

New era

Both countries, Zimbabwe and South Africa, are entering a new era under new leadership and much will depend of them to map out a brighter future, not only for the two countries, but also for Southern Africa.

Also read: Without traditional leaders’ land reform won’t fly

by Garth Cilliers

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