People wait in a queue for cooking gas at a garage in Zimbabwe's capital Harare. Picture: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Johannesburg - In the wake of a week of unparalleled security force violence against civilians in Zimbabwe and signs of economic collapse, South Africa is working on throwing its northern neighbour a lifeline. 

Minister for International Relations Lindiwe Sisulu said from the World Economic Forum in Davos that South Africa is monitoring the situation in Zimbabwe, and that South Africa will look into a bail-out as long as it is affordable.

“Instability creates displacement of people, conflict, and illegal migration. We will help Zimbabwe, as a neighbour we need to do that. They are a sister country and we have very close relations with them, and we would like to see an end to their problems. We are considering anything we can afford,” Sisulu said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has also said from Davos that South Africa favours the lifting or easing of international sanctions on Zimbabwe. “Zimbabwe faces serious, serious economic challenges and they can be assisted by the world if those sanctions are lifted, Ramaphosa said, “Zimbabwe could begin to operate in an economic manner with the capabilities that it has.”

While the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the United States are targeted sanctions on senior Zimbabwean officials, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the argument is that existing sanctions make it difficult for Zimbabwe to access lines of credit.

“Sanctions may inhibit lines of credit in the US, but the issue is how Zimbabwe is going to pay the US$1.8 billion of arrears on its existing debt to the African Development Bank, European Investment Bank and the World Bank. In order to access new lines of credit it has been told that it needs to pay its arrears,” Piers Pigou of the International Crisis Group has said.

Zimbabwe is in dire need of cash liquidity, and with rising prices of consumer goods and fuel, ordinary Zimbabweans are finding it impossible to make ends meet. 

The economic crisis and 150% hike in the fuel price sparked the strike called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions last week, and the mass protests which followed. 

The street protests saw the most draconian clampdown of the security forces in decades, with over 844 arrests and gross violations of human rights.

On his return to Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa vowed to investigate the security forces after the brutal crackdown. “Violence or misconduct by our security forces is unacceptable and a betrayal of the new Zimbabwe...chaos and insubordination will not be tolerated. Misconduct will be investigated, and if required heads will roll,” Mnangagwa said.

“Economic recovery will only happen when the politics is fixed. South Africa should tie its financial assistance to economic and political reforms in Zimbabwe. There needs to be accountability, and we can’t airbrush the response of the security forces to civilian protests,” Pigou has said.