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Vol 43 No 2

Published 25th January 2002

South Africa

Crossing the Limpopo

Zimbabwe threatens the grand African plans of Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo

From the splendour of Pretoria's Union Buildings, President Thabo Mbeki's vision of a resurgent Africa is obscured by the sprawling crisis in Zimbabwe. Almost everything Mbeki wants to do in foreign policy ­ win more foreign capital, get South African companies to invest in mineral-rich Congo-Kinshasa and Angola and launch a continent-wide development programme ­ is threatened by Zimbabwe. It is the tail wagging the dog. South Africa's economy is 20 times the size of Zimbabwe's but it cannot support hordes of refugees heading south across the Limpopo River or bear the collateral damage done to its currency and credit ratings. The Limpopo is crocodile-infested but for many foreign bankers, the border is a technicality; President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe might as well be a troublesome northern province of South Africa. The United States Chamber of Commerce estimated that by mid-2001, South Africa has lost US$3 billion of potential investment because of the Zimbabwe crisis. That's apart from the damage to its private and state sector suppliers, such as Eskom (electricity) and Sasol (fuel), to which Zimbabwe owes hundreds of millions of dollars. Zimbabwe will also be ­ in the eyes of the USA and Europe ­ a critical test of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), an Africa-wide development plan which needs Western financial support (AC Vol 42 No 14). Central to Nepad is the idea of peer pressure: that African states can be encouraged to liberalise their politics and reform their economies by other African states, rather than by overbearing Western-based institutions imposing micro-conditions on loans and aid.

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