Saturday, 19 May 2007

Time to do something about Zim

It is now high time we did something about Zim. With hyperinflation, iron-fist action by police and the apparent free rein of mysterious "third force"-type squads, it is time we say "enough is enough".

I have heard the arguments that go some way to helping us understand the tolerance of many South Africans to the situation up there.

I even relate to some of these viewpoints. Remember Bob (the man that fought bravely in the Rhodesian liberation war) who in 1980 inaugurated the new country with that other Bob (Marley) whose music was a veritable soundtrack to anti-colonisation and anti-oppression struggles everywhere. That inauguration was a golden moment, one hard to remember now. Recall also that many promises were made to Mugabe by the West - how they would assist with loads of dollars and pounds (especially pounds, given who the colonising party was) to help the new state, inter alia with land reform. Of course (and this is what shapes the South African government's official view) the West reneged. The upshot was major fiscal problems (by then Zimbabwe, counting on the injection of these "reparation" or transitional funds, had begun to roll out major social delivery programmes). When the cutbacks on social spending began (as they had to, and as the World Bank and IMF dictated), civil society organisations and trade unions - responding to community and worker discontent - began to organise and mobilise against the government. The MDC was thus born out of such realities obtaining in the second decade of Zim independence. While the story is only complete if we also grapple with aspects such as the Matabeleland Massacre, the dictator-style control of Zanu PF, and the scandalous "farms-for-pals" practice (none imposed by, or linked to, macro pressures), we must take seriously this reference to the role of key Western governments and the ultra-powerful global bodies in Zimbabwe's crisis.

But valid as these perspectives are, it is now time to say "enough" to the way that that troubled country is run and to the battering of human rights there. We cannot remain stuck in the mode of "understanding" Mugabe. He has failed utterly as a leader and has absolutely no vision about where to take his country from here. Leaders seldom get ideal situations; they are supposed to provide insight, inspiration and a capacity to unite people precisely at a time of greatest hardship and adversity. Furthermore, Mugabe has overseen a string of injustices and human rights abuses - and the list of violations will grow the longer he remains in power. Thus I say: as valid as the understanding of the historical context is, millions of ordinary people are suffering in the present, and the imperative is to end the distress and torment sooner rather than later.

Of course, although I plead for us to stop being so passive and noncommittal, I do recognise that there are limits to what we can do, especially given that Zimbabwe has a democratically elected government. As South Africans, we are generally not advocates of effecting regime change in other people's countries. As government has said repeatedly since 1994, we have no fantasies of being the continents' bully boys, the USA of Africa, nor the Sheriff of the SADCC region. Consequently, it would be folly to campaign for our government to launch some spectacular military invasion.

But we can act; we can "be there" for the people of Zimbabwe; we can ensure that we do not - by our neutrality and disinterest - help to prolong Bad Bob's stay.

I believe we should support the progressive and democratic forces and the people of Zim. There should be regular on-site visits from SA - so that we undermine attempts to filter news and to cast a blanket of secrecy over the actions of Mugabe's stormtroopers. Such visits should be ongoing and should involve different groups - civil society, the "tripartite" alliance, parliamentarians, faith groups, etc.

Through such actions, ordinary Zimbabweans should get to know that their neighbours in the region care and that they are not forgotten. The ruling party and government in Zimbabwe will be made aware that other people are on hand to see for themselves what is happening and to disseminate accurate information.

In addition, such delegations should, wherever possible, work to create a conducive climate for reasonable and truthful deliberation in Zimbabwe about a way forward. Delegations from SA could encourage dialogue between key groups in Zimbabwe about a credible, realistic and meaningful change process that involves all stakeholders. We should be acting as a catalyst for real engagement, and - using our own experience of democratic and inclusive consultations of major political change - tackle and expose excuses by any party opposed to such a negotiated solution.

Put differently, South Africans must have a presence (there), and through such a presence be a voice of reason and a source of moral support to democratic groups seeking an urgent and decisive way forward out of the crisis. It is to be hoped that having good emissaries visiting Zimbabwe would reduce the space for the Zimbabwean government to act brutally and provide some protection for civil society groups who are organising for change. Also, being there will be a mechanism for giving South Africans up-to-date feedback - lest we have forgetful spells - about the harsh and repressive realities of Zimbabwean life.

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