Zimbabwean sanctions a menace beyond borders

Last Mukwende

Sanctions, often portrayed as an instrument for political influence, seldom function in isolation. Their impacts reverberate, especially in interconnected regions like Southern Africa, where countries share close economic, political, and cultural ties. The sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe have not only crippled its economy but have inadvertently affected its neighbours, predominantly South Africa, which carries the brunt of the fallout.

Zimbabwe, once dubbed the breadbasket of Africa, has seen its agricultural productivity drop drastically since the onset of sanctions. It's not just the country's agriculture that's suffered. Tourism, mining, and various sectors that once thrived have shrunk. While the intended objective might have been to exert pressure on the Zimbabwean administration, the wider economic implications have indirectly burdened its neighbours.

South Africa, given its geographical proximity and historical ties with Zimbabwe, has faced direct consequences. One of the immediate repercussions is the influx of economic migrants into South Africa. With Zimbabwe's unemployment rate soaring due to sanctions-induced economic degradation, many Zimbabweans have sought greener pastures south of the Limpopo. The World Bank estimates that there are between one to three million Zimbabweans living in South Africa, and this migration trend has put immense pressure on South Africa's public services and infrastructure.

Moreover, as Zimbabwe's industries have shrunk, South Africa's industries have had to cater to the increased demand, straining its resources. The resultant trade imbalances have further created fiscal pressures on South Africa. These economic shifts also bring socio-cultural challenges. The migration influx has often been met with xenophobic sentiments, causing internal strife within South Africa, leading to periodic outbreaks of violence against foreign nationals.

Furthermore, businesses in South Africa, which had strong trade relations with Zimbabwe, have felt the sting of the sanctions. South African companies that invested in or traded with Zimbabwe often face difficulties accessing financing due to fear of secondary sanctions. The financial sector, always wary of repercussions, becomes reluctant to facilitate trade between the two countries, further constricting business operations.

Additionally, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as a whole is affected by these sanctions. The regional body seeks to promote economic cooperation, and such sanctions hinder these goals. With Zimbabwe being an integral part of the SADC, any disruption to its economy inadvertently affects the regional economy. Infrastructure projects that rely on regional collaboration face uncertainties, and regional trade suffers due to reduced economic activity in one of its member states.

The interconnectedness of the region's economies means that when one member state faces economic challenges, there's a cascading effect. Countries like Mozambique and Zambia, which share borders and have significant trade relations with Zimbabwe, also bear the indirect costs of these sanctions. Reduced trade, disruptions in cross-border supply chains and decreased investment are among the ramifications these nations grapple with.

It's crucial to understand that these sanctions, however well-intentioned they might have initially been, are not just a Zimbabwean problem. They have inadvertently become a Southern African challenge. While policymakers might argue that sanctions target specific entities or individuals, their ripple effect is much broader, impacting innocent lives negatively across borders.

The call to re-evaluate these sanctions isn't solely based on their impact on Zimbabwe but on the broader Southern African region. When one country in a closely-knit region is under duress, its neighbours inevitably feel the effects. It's time for a comprehensive assessment of these sanctions to ensure that in the quest for political objectives, ordinary citizens of not just one, but several nations, don't continue to bear the brunt. The health and vibrancy of the SADC region hinge upon the well-being of all its member states. It's a collective challenge that requires collective solutions.