Soutern Africa Watch

South Africa increases region’s risks in gathering storm

Mugabe and Mswati at SADC meeting

It is not breaking news that southern Africa is facing mounting challenges, but it is disconcerting that the region’s powerhouse, South Africa, under President Jacob Zuma is increasingly adding to its problems.

The Intelligence Bulletin over the past two years carried a number of articles warning that Southern Africa is becoming an increasingly unstable region.

Adding to concerns, Human Rights Watch recently lamented that southern African governments are backsliding on human rights, repeatedly violating basic rights and defying their own constitutions.

Research by Freedom House, a US-based rights advocacy in 2015 found that only four of the 15 Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states are considered to be ‘free’ – South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Mauritius – the rest fall into ‘partly free’ or ‘not free’ categories.

An article last week in The Christian Science Monitor (CSM), argued that although still free, South Africa is heading for stormy waters, which could spell serious trouble, also for the region.

Brief synopsis

A brief synopsis shows that regional instability is indeed on the rise, in some cases even faster than anticipated:

Angola: Reliable information from there is always difficult to obtain, with the MPLA government’s tentacles deeply imbedded in all aspects of society. It keeps strict control and clamps down forcefully, even violently, on anything or anyone the Dos Santos regime considers a danger to its absolute control over the state, its assets and its subjects. 

Scraps of information that do filter out suggests the government is clamping down with renewed vigour on the few brave voices prepared to speak out against government abuses and kleptocratic behaviour and patronage.

How much longer the Angolan population will tolerate MPLA’s repressive policies while the economy continues to retract, is anyone’s guess.    

Mozambique: The economy is not only in bad shape, with government spending money it does not have, because the extraction of the massive offshore gas reserves fails to meet delivery dates, but a civil war (which ended twenty years ago) is again threatening. Confrontation between the opposition Renamo and ruling Frelimo has turned violent.

. Fourteen foreign donors stopped aid and demanded an investigation by international auditors on the use of loans to certain state-owned entities before resuming aid. This followed a revelation by the Mozambican government of more than US$1.4 billion in previously undisclosed debt.

The escalating Renamo/Frelimo hostilities could rapidly add economic and social damages to southern Africa, with thousands of Mozambicans seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, particularly Malawi.

Malawi: While Malawians love to call their country “the warm heart of Africa”, it remains a basket case. The economy is barely afloat and without substantial donor assistance will sink fast. Ordinary Malawians struggle daily to survive and a lingering drought and the influx of thousands of Mozambicans are not making life any easier for most Malawians.

Zambia: Against all odds Zambians held elections last month which were by and large peaceful. In contrast to what was predicted, there were very little violence and intimidation.

There are, however, very little else for Zambians to celebrate. The incumbents retained office with such a slim margin that the opposition is challenging the outcome in court, claiming election fraud. An intense battle between government and the opposition lies ahead, while the economy is ailing.

Lesotho and Swaziland: The two tiny tin-pot countries in the region remain close to the bottom of any reputable global barometer measuring progress and growth. To make matters worse, Lesotho has politically all but disintegrated into what resembles a throw-back to the Middle Ages when politics was characterised by plots, threats, intrigue, intimidation, kidnappings, assassinations, imprisonment and torture.

All external attempts to re-establish stability have failed. It would be foolish to expect the situation to change any time soon. 

Swaziland boasts the continent’s ‘last absolute monarch’, King Mswati, still reigning like a modern day Henry VIII, courtesy of a traditional system akin to feudal times.

Last week southern Africa’s political leaders convened in Swaziland for a SADC heads of state summit where Mswati was elected as SADC chairman for the next twelve months. They were apparently unperturbed by the fact that the king deprived his impoverished people of R16 million to host and impress them.

As one journalist wrote: “This would be forgivable if Swaziland were not facing such disasters as drought, increasing unemployment, HIV/AIDS and massive poverty.”

People in Swaziland are dying of hunger but the region’s political leaders have no qualms about being dined and wined by a corrupt monarch who does not care about the well-being of his subjects, with 69% of them trying to survive on less than US$1 a day.

It is highly ironical that one of the topics on the summit agenda was political reforms in SADC member countries, with discussions taking place in a country where opposition parties are forbidden.

The feeling of many of the region’s citizens were probably expressed by Thembinkosi Dlamini when writing in The Nation, Swaziland’s only independent media voice: “The SADC should be allowed to collapse because for many years of its existence, it has failed to deliver on its promise of development and economic growth, poverty alleviation, enhancing the standard of and improving the quality of life of the peoples of the region. I imagine, however, that for the 36th time, as citizens of the region, we are about to be lied to, sold out and in effect raped and robbed as yet another talk shop unfolds at [sic] our own back yard.”

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): President Kabila’s ill-concealed plans to try and change the constitution, the latest ploy by many an African leader to ‘legitimise’ clinging to power, has plunged the country into a major crisis with consequences for the entire region.

As the end of Kabila’s second term in office in December 2016 gets closer with little progress in preparing for an election, tension is nearing boiling point. Failure to find a solution agreeable to all involved, would be cataclysmic, with potential disastrous consequences for the DRC’s entire volatile Great Lakes region.

With the DRC also a SADC member, southern Africa cannot escape the effects of political instability in its biggest member. 

Zimbabwe: The only question remaining there is when will Mugabe go – the preferred answer seems to be rather sooner than later.

Protests, particularly in Harare, have become an almost daily occurrence. In a dramatic development Zimbabweans seem to have lost their fear of the brutal and violent actions of the police and security forces.

Recent media reports suggest the police and security forces are losing their appetite for repressing the demonstrators and in some cases have even joined in the protests. It probably has much to do with Mugabe’s inability to pay them on time because of empty state coffers, largely the result of his disastrous policies.

Following in the footsteps of many dictators before him, Mugabe stubbornly refuses to learn two important lessons from the past; It might take a long time, but violence and repression can keep you in power for some time, but eventually those oppressed will reach a point of no return and once they lose their fear and start fighting back, it is, in most cases, the beginning of the end.

The end often arrives soon after those instructed to execute the oppressive measures, become hesitant and start disobeying orders.      

With attention shifting to a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, for whatever reason, questions arise about contingency plans in the region and in particular in South Africa, to deal with the almost inevitable uncertainties that will accompany it.    

South Africa will be tested by the expected fallout from a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe at a time when the country itself is experiencing its most challenging time since the dawn of democracy in 1994. 

South Africa: Under the Zuma presidency South Africa is snowballing towards the precipice the CSM has alluded to and The Intelligence Bulletin has meticulously reported on it over the last few years.

Last week in the article, End game for Zuma is on – SA on the edge, the message was clearly spelled out. The end game for Zuma and his circle of patronage, trying to retain their stranglehold on the South African state and its resources, is on.

It could leave the country in ruins.    

Commentators, academics, even some politicians, after lamenting the disaster the Zuma construct is inflicting on the country, often state, in closing, that all is not lost yet and place their trust in what they say are the many honest and hard-working people in the ruling party and government.

Well, the time has arrived for them to speak up. If not, they will be held co-responsible for what Zuma has brought over the country.

by Garth Cilliers

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