Dear Mr President, ordinarily I would have sent this matter for your attention to your office; but as things stand north of Limpopo, the situation is dire and warrants urgent attention. This is why I elected to write to you this open letter.
By Olwethu Sipuka
Mr President, we have witnessed in recent months a socio-economic and political crisis unfold in neighbouring Zimbabwe. Maybe to put things into context, food prices have more than tripled; going beyond the reach of many.
The latest statistics from the World Bank show that close to 4 million Zimbabweans are food insecure. This number will probably rise.
Medical doctors and other critical health personnel have been on strike for over two months, while hundreds have been summarily dismissed for demanding a fair working wage.
This has crippled the health sector, effectively turning the country’s hospitals and clinics into death traps. It is unreasonable for anyone to deny the horrendous state of affairs currently under way in Zimbabwe.
Earlier today, the police descended heavily on opposition members in the capital of Harare, who had gathered to be addressed by their leader Nelson Chamisa. In recent weeks, the opposition has been denied a space to articulate itself, with virtually all its rallies banned. This, Mr President, is a direct infringement on and violation of freedom of association guaranteed not only by the Zimbabwean constitution but also by international instruments such as the AU Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
There is no denying, Mr President, that the situation in the country has continued to deteriorate since the hotly disputed election of August 2018.
This is in spite of the hope and international goodwill that carried Zimbabwe following the resignation of president Robert Mugabe in 2017.
I write to you, Mr President, because I believe it is in the interest of South Africa and the African continent to have a well-functioning Zimbabwe.
No one wants to see a repeat of 2008, although in the absence of genuine solutions, all preliminary signs point to that. Mr President, South Africa will assume the chairmanship of the AU in 2020 and we cannot expect to be taken seriously by our African brothers and sisters on the continent, if we have continuously failed to provide leadership in Zimbabwe.
In this regard, I humbly propose that we establish a multi-party forum to look into the crisis in Zimbabwe, with a view of providing sustainable solutions that will enable Zimbabwe to stand on its feet and regain its status as an equal partner. I understand and partially agree with Minister Naledi Pandor that South Africa cannot intervene unless we have been “invited”, but is the illegal influx of Zimbabwean immigrants and the dire economic situation not an “invitation on its own”?
History will judge us harshly if we become indifferent bystanders while millions of people continue to suffer.
It is my hypothesis that South Africa’s and the region’s economic growth will never reach our desired expectations when Zimbabwe further collapses. When all is said and done, ordinary Zimbabweans will remember not the words of their “enemies” but the silence of their friends.
* Sipuka is an author and activist based in Centurion, Pretoria.