The Southern African Development Community's (Sadc's) relative lack of comment on disputes in Zimbabwe's unity government between President Robert Mugabe's Zanu (PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has been interpreted as an indication that Sadc's strategy of "constructive engagement" with the regime constitutes appeasement. It is a view bolstered by Sadc's previous lack of criticism of Mugabe following widespread political repression and the economic crises in Zimbabwe since the end of the 1990s.

However, the criticism fails to take account of recent criticism by Sadc leaders of state intimidation and violence, and strong calls for the timely completion of a Parliament-led constitutional reform process in advance of elections scheduled for next year. Nor does such scepticism lend sufficient credit to the body's sustained support for intra-Zimbabwean dialogue — currently facilitated by President Jacob Zuma. Recent signs indicate that some positive outcomes are starting to emerge from the peace process, which was initiated in September 2008, when former president Thabo Mbeki brought together Mugabe and the leaders of the two MDC formations, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, to sign the Global Political Agreement (GPA).

The GPA identified the restoration of economic stability as a key issue to be addressed by Zimbabwe's power-sharing government established in February 2009. In addition to the increasing political repression, the country experienced an economic crisis between 2000 and 2008 that saw living standards and life expectancy fall more rapidly than anywhere else in the world. Regionally, Southern African economies are estimated to have lost more than $36bn in potential investments in Zimbabwe as a result.

In response, the government launched a short-term economic recovery plan in 2009, and has since formulated a medium-term plan for 2010-15. Hyperinflation has been curbed and capacity use in the manufacturing and service sectors has improved. But fundamental problems persist, relating to constrained infrastructural capacity, foreign currency reserves, investment and liquidity levels, skills shortages, government finance, and corruption. Most Zimbabweans continue to rely on the informal economy for survival. Even formally employed workers are often unable to make ends meet.

In 2008, Zimbabwe's health sector had almost completely collapsed due to internal crises as well as deep cuts in social spending imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank from the early 1990s. In recent years, maternal and infant mortality rates have worsened and serious outbreaks of cholera, tuberculosis and malaria have taken their toll.

Land reform caused huge instability in Zimbabwe after a market-based approach failed to transform ownership patterns. A hasty land redistribution programme in 2000, under which the government expropriated 11-million hectares held by 4500 white commercial farmers, led to international sanctions, the loss of jobs for most farm workers and a decline in agricultural production.

Proper reform of the security sector — and complementary reform of the political sector — have become key challenges that need to be met to address the pervasive engagement of the military, intelligence and policing agencies in Zimbabwean politics.

The government of national unity (GNU) has said it needs $10bn a year for its national reconstruction efforts. However, the government has so far failed to attract significant funds from western donors and China.

External aid and loans, which crumbled in the wake of sanctions imposed by the IMF, the World Bank and other western donors in 2000, have not been substantially revived, although the GNU has sought to provide a framework to enable Zimbabwe to access such financing.

The challenges facing Zimbabwe are huge and complex; and a clear demonstration of common political will by the parties to the GPA will be needed on the road to national recovery.

With tensions increasing within Zanu (PF) following veteran leader and struggle hero Solomon Mujuru's recent mysterious death, every effort must be made to return Zimbabwe to its citizens by harnessing popular support for, and participation in, reconstruction policies and efforts.

Mwalubunju is a senior manager and Otitodun a researcher at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town.

 



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