• The Southern African Development Community (SADC) criticized the 2023 elections in Zimbabwe.
  • However, Cyril Ramaphosa had a different perspective on the matter.
  • What are the implications of this in terms of international politics?

Harare- As a businessman invested in milk production, let's envision you as the owner of a company similar to Dairibord Zimbabwe Limited, the largest milk processor in the country. In this scenario, your most significant client, responsible for purchasing 90% of your products, has failed to make payments to another company operating in the same industry. When approached for a comment, you find yourself in a dilemma: should you prioritize your ethical principles and openly criticize your client, even if it potentially jeopardizes the survival of your business? Alternatively, do you opt to protect your business by refraining from commenting or downplaying your client's negative behaviour? It's crucial to consider that your business serves as your primary source of livelihood, and one can better comprehend this situation by drawing a parallel to Cyril Ramaphosa, the President of South Africa.

Zimbabwe conducted elections on August 23, 2023, to select representatives for the legislative body, local councillors, and the presidential position. The electoral process in areas dominated by the ZANU-PF party proceeded smoothly, with no reported shortages of ballot papers, and timely delivery of all necessary materials. However, in opposition party strongholds, specifically Harare and Bulawayo, there were significant challenges. Many polling stations in these areas opened late, well after the scheduled start time in the morning. As a result, voters endured lengthy queues lasting over 12 hours in some cases, as they waited to cast their votes. The electoral process even extended into the following day, as certain polling stations were unable to conduct voting during the night. The delayed voting process caused frustration among voters, and some individuals were unable to exercise their right to vote due to the extended waiting times. Tragically, there were even reports of individuals losing their lives while waiting in queues for the arrival of ballot papers.

During the pre-election and election period, reports emerged of flaws in the process, particularly concerning the Forever Association Zimbabwe (FAZ), an organization affiliated with the ruling government. FAZ was accused of intimidating rural voters, with allegations of setting up tables outside polling stations where individuals were compelled to provide their names before and after casting their votes, an illegal practice that went unaddressed by the police. Furthermore, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) did not release the voters roll to the public, citing the cyber act as a reason to protect data security. However, this decision created a conflict between the statutory law and the supreme law of the land, the constitution, which takes precedence over all other laws. Consequently, ZEC's actions were deemed improper, potentially favouring the ruling party, with the courts failing to address the issue. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), the governing body for the region, criticized the elections and denounced them as fraudulent.

However, Cyril Ramaphosa, the President of South Africa, took a different stance from the rest of SADC and chose to overlook the SADC report, despite being a signatory to it. He endorsed. Ramaphosa went as far as attending the inauguration of President Mnangagwa in Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. In a similar vein, officials from both sides, such as Christopher Mutsvangwa and Filile Mbalula labelled the opposition as puppets of the West, implying that the defeat of the opposition equated to the defeat of Western influence.

Many urban Zimbabweans held high hopes that Cyril Ramaphosa, as the economic powerhouse of the region, would apply pressure on the Mnangagwa administration to consider holding a re-run of free and fair elections. However, Ramaphosa's actions went against those expectations. It is estimated that there are over 2 million Zimbabweans residing in South Africa, both legally and illegally, in search of better economic prospects. Concerns were raised that by endorsing the elections by Ramaphosa, it could potentially result in an influx of Zimbabweans into South Africa, posing risks to the country. However, in both political and economic terms, these warnings proved to be incorrect.

In international relations, states operate autonomously in both domestic and foreign affairs. However, at the core of international relations lies the concept of national interests. States act based on their own national goals and the pursuit of economic and political stability. It is often said that in international relations, there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests. Political stability is closely linked to economic stability, and states prioritize actions that preserve their economic interests.

The graph below shows Zim top 4 exporting destinations in SADC


In the field of marketing and economics, the principle often emphasized is that the customer is king. This means that customer satisfaction is of utmost importance, and businesses strive to meet the needs and preferences of their customers. The reference to a monkey's beauty through its ugliness is a metaphorical expression that suggests that even if something may appear unattractive at first glance, it can still hold value or significance.

Zimbabwe is a significant trading partner for South Africa, and the economic relationship between the two countries is crucial for a comprehensive understanding of the Ramaphosa issue. South Africa serves as a major supplier of goods and services to Zimbabwe, acting as a vital "supermarket" for the country. Access to markets is a key factor in marketing, and the Zimbabwean market, with its population of over 15 million people, holds relevance and value for South Africa.

The graph below shows Zim’s top 4 import destinations in SADC


Ramaphosa's stronger support for Zimbabwe can be seen as driven by economic interests rather than solely rhetoric related to the liberation struggle. South Africa has consistently been Zimbabwe's top import and export destination, with the exception of gold, which has increasingly been exported to the United Arab Emirates since 2022. The economic gains derived from the bilateral trade relationship between South Africa and Zimbabwe play a significant role in understanding Ramaphosa's stance and actions toward Zimbabwe.

In this scenario, South Africa sees a favourable relationship with Zimbabwe, even considering Zimbabwe's economic challenges as a net importer, as more advantageous compared to an independent Zimbabwe that produces its own goods. Therefore, South Africa tolerates the present Zimbabwe because it perceives it as beneficial. As long as South Africa maintains a stable market like Zimbabwe, President Ramaphosa is not concerned about the influx of immigrants seeking better prospects in his country. Zimbabweans, in particular, serve as a source of affordable labour for South Africa. Therefore, South Africa believes that it benefits more from a struggling Zimbabwe.

Final Thought

While many may anticipate that Ramaphosa will face consequences for endorsing a controversial election, the perspective of him and his party may differ. Firstly, Zimbabwe serves as a significant market for South African goods and services. A troubled Zimbabwe aligns with the interests of the ANC, as it would continue to rely on importing goods from South Africa. Secondly, Zimbabwe provides a source of inexpensive labour for South African industries, which conveniently allows the ANC to attribute its failures to foreign workers. The ANC may perceive that South Africa thrives under challenging conditions in Zimbabwe.

However, Ramaphosa's disregard for the concerns of Zimbabweans and his endorsement of a flawed election can lead to unintended outcomes. One potential consequence is a surge in illegal immigration from Zimbabwe as individuals seek employment opportunities in South Africa. While this influx may offer a pool of cheap labour, it also strains the country's resources and infrastructure. This raises questions about whether Ramaphosa's actions exacerbate the very issues he claims to address.

Consequently, he can be viewed as a controversial figure and an adversary of Zimbabwe, as he seemingly prioritizes a piece of meat over the well-being of the Zimbabwean people. Nevertheless, for Ramaphosa, the arrival of Zimbabwean immigrants seeking better economic prospects may serve as a convenient scapegoat for the failures of both himself and the ANC. By shifting blame onto foreigners, Ramaphosa attempts to divert attention from internal issues and shortcomings within his own party. It is worth noting that this strategy of attributing economic challenges to immigrants has been observed in other countries as a means to evade responsibility and maintain political support.