October 25 is a very important and special day on the SADC calendar. It is a day on which SADC member states are set to collectively voice their disapproval of the economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the Western countries, led by Britain and the United States of America two decades ago.
Zimbabwe was in 2002 was placed under an economic and travel embargo by the European Union, at the egging of Britain, following the country’s stance to redistribute land on a more equitable basis and to correct colonial imbalances in the ownership of the resource. This was after the Harare government realized that after more than two decades of political independence, the majority black people did not own the means of production in their own country and remained poor and marginalized.
The land reform programme thus saw more than 300 000 black families having access to land, resulting in their economic empowerment as they could use the resource to venture into various economic projects.
But the land reform programme in Zimbabwe did not go down well with the Western countries, and the US had to enact a law, the misnamed Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) which bars American companies to invest in the country. ZIDERA bars Americans on the boards of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other multilateral financial institutions which the US control, from voting for financial support to Zimbabwe. This is contrary to critics who have tried to advance the flimsy argument that the sanctions are only targeted at senior ruling Zanu-PF and government officials.
In fact, the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) can freeze funds destined for the Zimbabwe government or public or private entities in the country. This therefore means a number of countries are dissuaded from doing business with Zimbabwean companies. A number of companies in Zimbabwe have suffered as a result, with Standard Chartered Bank being one of those private firms heavily affected. Public entities that have borne the brunt of the US sanctions include the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), a company which owns car assembler, Willowvale Motor Industries and Deven Engineering, among others. These companies have been reduced to a pale shadow of themselves, throwing thousands of workers into the streets.
According to the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, economic sanctions are defined as official orders such as the stopping of trade which is taken against a country in order to make it obey the international law. It is further defined as a strong action taken in order to make people obey a law or rule.
In simple terms, these economic sanctions against Zimbabwe are just a punishment against Zimbabwe, but the question is what crime did Zimbabwe commit? Or was it a crime for Zimbabweans to take back what was rightfully theirs?
The sanctions are not only affecting the people of Zimbabwe but the whole of Southern Africa, they have crippled Zimbabwe with a poor economy that has driven many of the country’s population to neighbouring countries, especially Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa in search of greener pastures. They have also affected a number of companies in Zimbabwe which can’t do business with other companies within the region.
At the 39th SADC summit of heads of state and government in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in August, incoming SADC Chairperson and Tanzanian President Dr John Pombe Magufuli could not have said it any better when he said the sanctions on Zimbabwe are like having one’s hand cut off. The whole body will suffer as a result, Magufuli said, to much applause from the summit delegates.
SADC executive secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax also admitted the economic sanctions against Zimbabwe were militating against economic growth in the country and the region.
Reading the communique to mark the end of the 39th SADC heads of state and government summit place in Tanzania, Dr Tax made it clear that the sanctions were doing no good to the whole SADC region.
“Summit noted the adverse impact on the economy of Zimbabwe and the region at large of prolonged economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe and expressed solidarity with Zimbabwe, and called for the immediate lifting of sanctions to facilitate socio-economic recovery in the country,” Dr Tax said.
Nefta Freeman, a top pan-Africanist who has been advocating for the sanctions against Zimbabwe to be lifted, noted that Zimbabweans did not wrong anyone by taking back the land that had always been rightfully theirs. In fact, what Zimbabwe did was the first of its kind since nowhere on the African continent did a nation take such a great stride to confront the former colonisers.
Analysts point that the sanctions on Zimbabwe were made in such a way that no other African country would dare challenge the west and redistribute land to their impoverished people. If land re-distribution is a crime, then countries like South Africa and Namibia, who are currently on the road to re-distribute land and give it back to the black majority, will surely go through the same punishment as Zimbabwe.
This therefore means people of the SADC region should join hands and deal with the issue of sanctions together. United they stand, divided they fall!
Let us embrace the Zimbabwe anti-sanctions day.