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Letter to Mbeki: Mugabe beyond diplomacy

THE world welcomed your timely response to the US-Iraq confrontation. The world and the region recognise your status as the “first among equals” among southern African leaders. The world is mystified that no such morally correct stand is

being taken by the South African government over the crisis in Zimbabwe. Diplomats repeatedly characterise your stand as “incomprehensible”. Could you please become comprehensible.

Not even a superficial glance at Zimbabwe can conceal the fact that a catastrophe has been unleashed. At the risk of repeating what is already known, the following are just a few fundamentals:

Zimbabweans are poorer now than at any other time in the last century. Inflation is running at 526% and rising. Imagine: every week the price of bread doubles. Most basics have all but disappeared from store shelves.

For many people, there is no mealie-meal, no oil, no fuel, no flour, no beef, no salt, no sugar, no biscuits, no grain for either humans or animals. The national cattle herd has been decimated; most chicken, pig and sheep breeders have been forced to slaughter.

Critical fuel shortages enter their third year with no sign that the government is doing anything. Millions are starving. The agricultural sector has been systematically vandalised. The land reform process has been grossly mismanaged and hijacked by unscrupulous officials. With Robert Mugabe’s

“Operation clean sweep”, the process has become openly racist, targeting even tiny holdings and non-arable mountain reserves. Only a few landless peasants are benefiting, and tens of thousands of hectares of prime land now lie fallow.

The knock-on effects are disastrous. Agro-industry has been eviscerated, forex earnings almost obliterated, hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, the tax base seriously depleted and banks thrown into disarray. Small businesses everywhere are collapsing. The brain-drain amongst all races is huge.

Medical, industrial and educational expertise is dissolving. Nurses are striking for a 7 000% pay rise, desperate to make ends meet, while bodies rot in mortuaries because hearses have no fuel to fetch them. Government price controls have backfired. Almost all small bakeries have been put out of business, and bread sales have simply gone into black market mode. In effect, the entire population has become a nation of petty criminals as there is no other way to survive. Cross-border smuggling is rampant.

On my most recent visit, I gave a lift to an elderly man who showed me his scars: Zanu PF militia had smashed his legs with bricks for campaigning for the opposition. Dissenting newspapers are bombed and harassed.

Opposition leaders are arbitrarily arrested or attacked.

Food and fuel distribution are regularly reserved for Zanu PF card-holders. Documented human rights abuses at the hands of government agents now run into the hundreds of thousands.

The majority feel once again – as they did under Ian Smith – that they have no recourse to the law. The constitution has been emptied of meaning.

Meanwhile, officials and unscrupulous businessmen and foreign hunters make millions by pillaging the country’s resources, often with government connivance. Patriotism is dead. President Mugabe harps constantly about Zimbabwe’s sovereignty, but Zimbabwe has never in its history been so dependent on the outside world, and never so vulnerable.

To blame all this on foreign saboteurs is absurd. Only a centralised machinery, a governing power, could bring about such comprehensive vandalism and collapse.

The environmental impact is catastrophic. One tiny example: in the Nyanyadzi district young baobab trees are stripped of bark to make fibre mats for a tourist market which no longer exists. Unsold mats hang everywhere; the baobabs die. This inward-turning, hopeless destruction is happening nationally. Extensive denuding of tree-cover is affecting water supplies. Even non-arable conservancies are being carved up amongst Zanu PF heavies. In satellite photographs, Zimbabwe looks like semi-desert. The latest count: 60% of wildlife on private conservancies is gone; 40% in national parks in two years. South African citizens are implicated in the slaughter.

I am sure you do not need reminding, Mr President, of Nepad’s explicit commitment to environmental health for all, as well as to the principles of good governance. No amount of prevarication and sidestepping can conceal the fact that Robert Mugabe’s government is primarily responsible for the meltdown, and that it is a regional disaster. If Zimbabwe is not rescued, Nepad is dead.

This is not about saving a few thousand whites, who are not even remotely an electoral or pragmatic threat to Zanu PF, and who will in any case survive. It is not about some mythical return to a pernicious colonial or neo-colonial rule. It is not about kowtowing to self-serving programmes dictated by the World Bank or rapacious multinationals. It is not about narrow party politics. And it is not just about removing a single man from power.

Mugabe is not the only member of the Zanu PF government who has publicly threatened death to a constitutionally-protected opposition or boasted about being greater than Hitler. Hitler – do we really need to remind ourselves? – murdered six million people on purely racial grounds, and launched the most destructive war the planet has ever known. These are not boasts worthy of any statesman, whatever his liberation credentials. In Zimbabwe, those credentials have been comprehensively betrayed and abandoned.

It is time, Mr President, to turn the corner.

It is now a much wider matter of upholding moral, humane and democratic principles. It is about saving millions of lives, and averting the already massive refugee crisis. It is about serving the majority for whom the liberation wars in the whole region were fought. It is this majority which is suffering: not the colonials, who effectively no longer exist, and certainly not the new elite who are making astounding profits from the crisis itself.

“Quiet diplomacy” has not worked, not because it is in itself a bad policy, but because Mugabe and his henchmen have already put themselves beyond diplomacy. Current “power-sharing” initiatives simply avoid the central problem: that Zanu PF has been abusing power for years (are the 20 000 Ndebele dead of the 1980s Gukurahundi not testament enough?).

They have consistently proven themselves tyrannical, incompetent and untrustworthy. They have deliberately destroyed truthfulness in Zimbabwe. Their lies are transparent to a 12-year-old, their public assurances contravened daily on the ground. “Sharing” with them will solve nothing, unless tied to a clear programme for a thorough election-based overhaul.

President Mbeki, no one expects from you an armed invasion, or even punitive sanctions. But the majority of oppressed people in the entire region look to you to express open, upright, consistent, and public outrage at the slow genocide and state-sponsored criminality being perpetrated in Zimbabwe.

They need this moral support to help themselves. They need your powerful presence to help permit a non-violent change to a peace-loving and selfless government. They need you to lead the region’s leaders into an unequivocal stance against a terror which can no longer be shut away within Zimbabwe’s borders: it is a cancerous regional problem.

Above all, President Mbeki, we all need to hear your voice, loudly and now.

Dan Wylie,

South Africa.

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