“We Know Why You’re in South Africa,” reads a billboard in a South African town near the Zimbabwe border posted by an underground pro-democracy movement, “Life in Zimbabwe is Murder These Days” (Newsweek Int'l). With government data reporting inflation at 7,600 percent and international economists estimating it is much higher than that, those Zimbabweans who haven’t fled across the border spend most of their time just trying to scrounge up basic goods. Some supermarkets are spreading dog food on the meat shelves in an attempt to hide the shortages, says an Economist reporter. Amid the economic free fall, a deepening split in Zimbabwe’s ruling party has significant implications for presidential elections scheduled for March 2009.
President Robert Mugabe secured the endorsement of the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), to run for reelection (SW Radio Africa). Yet some analysts see signs of a rift within ZANU-PF. Former members of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union, which was incorporated into ZANU-PF in 1987, do not want Mugabe to remain in power and are believed to support a faction led by retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru (IWPR). ZANU-PF “will go into the 2008 election campaign as a fundamentally wounded and deeply divided party,” writes the Zimbabwe Independent.
But the opposition party isn’t particularly strong either. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is split into two factions, which could hinder its ability to garner political support ahead of elections. In a recent interview with CFR.org, Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, downplayed his party’s divisions, saying the party has “reconsolidated.” Even so, there are serious questions about how free and fair elections will be. Voter registration was low, there is no provision for the diaspora to vote, and political violence has intimidated much of the population. The United States has limited influence, writes CFR’s Michelle D. Gavin in a new Council Special Report, so it should work to coordinate preparations for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe with the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), a regional body which does have leverage.
Much will hinge on the outcome of the SADC-mediated talks currently under way between the two parties. While some observers have expressed cautious optimism (VOA) about their outcome, the opposition alleges that the government is perpetrating political violence against its supporters. President Mugabe denies (Herald) the charge.
Ambivalence also surrounds South African President Thabo Mbeki, the mediator of the talks. Though Mbeki has long drawn criticism for his policy of “quiet diplomacy” toward Zimbabwe , there is little indication that policy has shifted. Recently, some academics have drawn attention to how South African businesses profit from Zimbabwe’s economic crisis. A new report from the Solidarity Peace Trust, a regional human rights group, notes that such businesses have also pressured the government to take a tougher line toward Zimbabwe, but it remains unclear what effect such pressure (PDF) has had, if any.
With so many factors at play, “Zimbabwe’s political future is impossible to predict,” writes Gavin. But Mugabe’s rule will eventually end, and when it does, Zimbabwe will need billions to mount an economic and political recovery. Gavin recommends that the United States, along with other donors, establish a trust fund for Zimbabwe that will be made available to a new government if it undertakes a set of governance reforms. Such a policy could spur influential Zimbabweans to action, but it would also give the United States the opportunity to improve its “rocky” relationship with South Africa, she writes.