Experts believe that the continuation of Zimbabwe’s undemocratic tradition, together with the ANC’s reluctance to speak out against it, has dangerous ideological as well as tangible consequences for South Africa.
Last week, 43 years after independence, Zimbabweans re-elected the sitting president Emmerson Mnangagwa (80) for a second term.
The election has been condemned from various quarters as irregular and undemocratic, and opposition parties now want to contest the result. However, South Africa’s leaders, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, congratulated Zanu-PF on their victory, a worrying trend that is becoming more apparent these days as South Africa increasingly sides with so-called “mouse-dog countries”.
Prof. David Moore, an expert in Zimbabwean politics attached to the University of Johannesburg, believes that most, if not all, of the elections since 2000 have been desperately flawed by democratic standards. “This year’s election was no exception either.”
The ANC’s statements on this are not only an indication of the party’s own attitude towards a democratic election, but are also problematic in light of the thousands of immigrants who are flocking to South Africa due to the political and economic decline of its neighboring country.
‘Open’ borders rarely
Zimbabwe’s political collapse since the 1990s soon spilled over into drastic economic decline, resulting in an influx of Zimbabwean immigrants – legal and illegal – to South Africa.
Moore believes Zimbabwe’s economy is “still a mess”, which will not improve any time soon.
According to the latest figures, there are currently more than 700,000 Zimbabweans in South Africa, the majority of whom are looking for better economic prospects. South Africa’s notoriously weak border control could offer little resistance to this.
“The result of the election really only means that the current bad scenario will continue,” says Jaco Kleynhans, head of international liaison at the Solidarity Movement.
Moore and Kleynhans agree that few Zimbabweans in South Africa will return to their country and more immigrants will instead come here if the current political conditions continue.
According to Moore, this influx has major spillover effects as immigrants eventually settle here, have children and relocate their lives permanently.
All of this has a direct impact on South Africa’s infrastructure, service delivery, crime, competition for job opportunities which often also leads to increased xenophobic violence.
“In that respect, it is precisely so important that South Africa had to have a strategy to help ensure political stability in Zimbabwe,” but according to Kleynshans, shockingly, “there is no such strategy”.
Mouse dog friends
“It’s very clear that the ANC, the government and even President Ramaphosa are not prepared to speak out against undemocratic practices in neighboring countries (…),” says Kleynhans.
This forms part of a broader trend of the ANC which increasingly aligns South Africa with undemocratic countries.
“We see this within the Brics summit, where we have also strengthened relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as our undemocratic friends in Central and South America such as Venezuela and Cuba.”
In recent years, South Africa has spoken out less against undemocratic practices in the world as well as our neighboring countries, explains Kleynhans.
According to Moore, undemocratic and autocratic tendencies in Africa are a major problem, embodied in Zimbabwe’s flawed election, but also the recent coup in Niger.
This is why, according to Kleynhans, “the ANC’s historic ties with the (undemocratic) Zanu-PF and Robert Mugabe” are actually a risk on a continent where democracy has difficulty taking hold.
SA maybe a second Zim?
Kleynhans believes that the ANC’s blasé attitude towards undemocratic governments speaks volumes about their own approach to a democratic election and this is particularly noteworthy in the run-up to the 2024 national election.
“The ANC’s nest, the Zanu-PF,’s only objective is to retain power.”
Seeing that the ANC is obviously not a democratic organisation, they will probably not bend over backwards to protect democracy if it threatens their retention of power. Kleynhans believes voters should therefore not think that the ANC will behave differently from the Zanu-PF if they are faced with a loss of power.
Still, Kleynhans does not think South Africa is on its way to becoming a second Zimbabwe.
“Zanu-PF’s problems arose in the 1990s under Mugabe, with corruption, mismanagement, dilapidated infrastructure and a lot of economic problems – typically things that we now see in South Africa as well.
“However, the Zanu-PF went further by consolidating their power by filling the judiciary with their supporters and dominating the media, electoral commission, every state institution and the police. In the run-up to elections, the government also influenced voter lists and intimidated opposition parties.”
In this respect, says Kleynhans, there are a few important things that distinguish South Africa from Zimbabwe and the typical mouse-dog countries with which the ANC associates.
Moore also believes that virtually all liberal-democratic elements that were once present in Zimbabwe have long since been eliminated, where these elements are still entrenched in South Africa as a counter to autocracy.
Among other things, Kleynhans cites our very strong, free and open economy, enduring strong international ties, strong independent media, independent and competent Reserve Bank with sound monetary policy and well-organized civil society as some of the factors that still distinguish South Africa from Zimbabwe.
Kleynhans further explains: “The expectation of South Africa has also always been set so much higher by Western countries. This was not the case with Zimbabwe, even before their troubles began under Mugabe.
“This expectation serves as an incentive for many Western countries, with major interests and investments in South Africa, to remain involved in the local situation and help stabilize it.
“So even where we can see the similarities between the ANC and other moose-dog political parties, South Africa looks totally and completely different from all these very isolated countries at ground level,” concludes Kleynhans.