Sep 09 2008

Treating the symptoms

Published by at 11:58 am under Opinion,South Africa

First published on my old blog on 26/7/2005. 

It is very tempting to say: President Mbeki, for more than 8 years now commentators have been warning about the dangers of “doing nothing” about Zimbabwe and economists have been warning of an impending economic disaster in that country.

But, you decided to rather wait until the mango hits the fan, or worse….you hoped the problem would go away. Now the SA taxpayer must foot the bill for your inaction. 

But, that would be a bit unfair. An over-simplification of the problem and of the treatment it was given… 

So, I’ll rather not say that, and stick to a few “factual observations” (Yes, I haven’t had my morning coffee yet). 

But before I do, here a short excerpt from a recent article in the Mail & Guardian, to bring everyone up to speed, so to speak: 

“We engage them because we don’t want Zimbabwe collapsing next door,” Mbeki said. 

“South Africa would inherit all the consequences of Zimbabwe collapsing,” he said. 

Mbeki said his finance minister and central bank governor were negotiating with top Zimbabwean officials to find ways to help the country pay for urgently needed imports of food, fuel and electricity. Zimbabwe needs $1-billion to stave off economic implosion, say Harare economists. 

The announcement came as Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, travelled to China to request financial assistance from Beijing. 

Mbeki confirmed that his officials were considering ways to pay off the $300-million that the Mugabe government owes to the International Monetary Fund. 

Zimbabwe risks becoming the second country ever to be expelled from the IMF later this month. 

Mbeki said the termination of Zimbabwe’s membership would be “counterproductive” because it would create “a bigger problem” that would “require bigger resources to solve”.  

My observations. Firstly, until Zimbabwe’s “real problem” is removed, the country will fall from one economic and political crisis to the next and outside money-givers will have to keep coughing. 

One could still have agreed with this $1 billion loan Mbeki wants to give Zimbabwe if that would have put the country back on the road to recovery. But, it won’t. This will be the first of many bail-outs with Mugabe at the helm. And will SA be the money-giver every time? 

Secondly, I said “money-giver” and not “moneylender”, although this assistance is called “a loan”. Because SA will never see that money again. How can SA insist on getting it’s money back from one of the poorest of the poor in Africa, while at the same time it campaigns (quite rightly, in my view) for debt foregiveness in Africa? 

SA can’t and probably never will insist on that money back. If more “loans” follow next year and the year after, this can turn into an expensive party. 

Thirdly, Mugabe’s trip to China is nothing less than a slap in Mbeki’s face. The Mbeki who has been so “understanding” all these years…..who has bended over backwards to keep the “friendship” going. 

But, no. Although Mugabe knows SA is willing and ready to help him, he defiantly flies off to China. Apparantly, because he doesn’t like the conditions attached to the loan.

So, the man is as wild as ever. No sign of mellowing here. 

Question remains: When will Mbeki get to the point where he says “enough is enough” and start putting some real political pressure on the wild one? 

Three “loans” later and with half the Zimbabwean population in SA?

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