Negotiations between the MDC and ZANU-PF over the political future of Zimbabwe have reached a zenith in the past few weeks. It now seems almost inevitable that some sort of deal will be attained by the political masters of the MDC and ZANU and that power sharing will become a reality. The mediator in the negotiation process, the South African government, has claimed that the outcome of the negotiations between these parties will lead to a new dawn in Zimbabwe. As part of this, we are assured that the corner has been turned and that democracy and freedom will be a reality in the beleaguered country in the near future.
South Africa’s role as the mediator in Zimbabwe’s elite negotiations has, however, not been without controversy. The MDC has even accused the South African state of not being an honest broker. This is because the South African government has defended the ZANU-PF on various occasions in the past. For example, it has used its power within the United Nations to block that body from taking any punitive steps against the Zimbabwean government. It has also fought tooth and nail to try and ensure that economic sanctions were not imposed on Zimbabwe. Conventional wisdom is that the South African state took these actions because it shares a Pan-Africanist ideology with the ZANU. The reality is far more mundane. The South African government did not want sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe because South African companies with economic interests in the country would have been severely harmed by sanctions. Many South African-registered companies also have long-standing, and lucrative, links to the ZANU government, which the South African state was and is loath to undermine.
South African companies are major players in every sector of the Zimbabwean economy. Companies like Impala Platinum, Metallon, and Mmakau Mining control almost all of Zimbabwe’s mining industry. Similarly, South African corporations like Standard Bank and Shoprite dominate the country’s banking and retail sectors. SASOL and the South African arms company, Armscor, are major exporters to Zimbabwe. The likes of First National Bank (FNB) even have direct business relations with the ZANU government through lending arrangements. Likewise, Barloworld supplied the ZANU with the bulldozers that it used during Operation Murambatsvina. The truth is that these companies, along with the South African government, resisted sanctions because their business arrangements and profits in Zimbabwe would have been damaged.
Events this year, however, have overtaken the South African state and ZANU. With the victory of the MDC in both the presidential and parliamentary elections, massive pressure has been placed on the ZANU by the US and EU to relinquish power. Linked to this, South Africa has also come under pressure from the US and EU to ensure that some deal is reached in Zimbabwe. The economic situation in Zimbabwe has also worsened markedly and many South African companies in the country now desperately desire economic stability whether it is under the ZANU or the MDC. With this, the South African state shifted its position and began in earnest to push for a power-sharing deal between the MDC and ZANU. The South African state now seems to want economic and political stability in Zimbabwe so that capital accumulation can recommence — a government of national unity seems to offer the best possibility for that. Indeed, the South African-mediated negotiations are about ensuring the future of the Zimbabwean economy for foreign investors, rather than creating true democracy or freedom for the people of the country.
The reason for this is that multinational companies stand to be the real beneficiaries of a deal in Zimbabwe. Already, corporate investors from South Africa, the EU, and the US have been investing heavily in the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) in the last few months. They are snapping up assets in Zimbabwe for very cheap prices and stand to make massive profits once there is a degree of political stability and some sort of economic recovery. The financial support that has been offered by the EU, as part of a political solution, will also inevitably have neo-liberal conditions attached, which would benefit corporations. In fact, multinational corporations from the EU are poised to make a massive thrust into countries in sub-Saharan Africa over the next few years, including into Zimbabwe. This year, the ZANU government initialed a free trade agreement with the EU in the form of an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) — putting a lie to the notion that ZANU is some kind of anti-imperial champion. The EPA is not merely aimed at creating free trade in goods between Zimbabwe and the EU; it is also aimed at opening up Zimbabwe’s service sectors to European corporations and ensuring total investment liberalization in the country. The few remaining public services that Zimbabweans have, such as healthcare and education, will come under severe pressure to be totally privatized. For EU corporations, political stability in Zimbabwe would be an important link to the EPA.
The reality is that the corporate vultures are descending on Zimbabwe. Considering that both the MDC and ZANU are neo-liberal in orientation, a power-sharing deal won’t alter this; it would speed it up. Far from achieving true democracy and freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, a power-sharing deal stands to open up Zimbabwe’s economy to foreign corporations from South Africa, the EU, and the US. As with any elite transition, it is not the people’s needs that are the main priority but rather the interests of big players in the economy. Of course, the people of Zimbabwe will suffer the consequences of this. For this reason, the best hope that Zimbabwe and its people have is for the people themselves to start building a truly anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, and democratic movement. Through this, the people themselves can begin to work towards creating a better country and world in which the economy serves the people’s needs rather than those of foreign corporations.
Shawn Hattingh is a research and education officer at the International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG) in Cape Town.