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South Africa under fire for failure to act in Mugabe crisis
Chris McGreal, The Guardian (UK)
March 21, 2007,,2038725,00.html

Zimbabwe's archbishop, Pius Ncube, has accused the South African government of failing to use its power to force change in Zimbabwe as Robert Mugabe threatens to crush opposition to his 27-year rule.

"They [South Africa's leaders] are in the best position to put pressure on Zimbabwe, to call for sanctions if necessary," the archbishop of Bulawayo told the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

"They could force Mugabe to change but they have been watching this thing. It's now the eighth year it has been deteriorating."

His criticism came as South Africa reluctantly agreed as president of the UN security council to allow a British request for a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe.

South Africa's UN ambassador, Dumisani Kumalo, earlier said he would not permit the briefing on the grounds that the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe "is not a matter threatening international peace and security".

Britain's UN ambassador, Sir Emyr Jones Parry, said he asked for the briefing "because of the widespread condemnation of events in Zimbabwe, the attacks on the leader of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai, and the impossibility of the present situation".

Mr Kumalo's justification for keeping Zimbabwe off the security council's agenda has drawn criticism at home, not least because South Africa has been confronted with a wave of hundreds of thousands of economic refugees from its northern neighbour competing for precious jobs and fuelling xenophobia.

Tony Leon of the Democratic Alliance, South Africa's opposition leader, said: "As the situation continues to get worse on a daily basis, there is a distinct possibility that the southern African region will be negatively affected by the fallout from Zimbabwe's implosion. This fallout could in all likelihood constitute a threat to international peace and security."

South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, has pursued what he describes as a policy of quiet diplomacy, arguing that open confrontation with Mr Mugabe by the British government and others has only strengthened the Zimbabwean leader's hand.

Mr Mbeki's reluctance to publicly criticise Mr Mugabe has also been interpreted as tacit agreement with his seizure of white-owned farm land.

But Ayesha Kajee, head of the democracy in Africa programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs, said Mr Mbeki also wanted to avoid confrontation with other African leaders.

"I think initially there was an element of Mugabe is not the type of leader who will give in to overt pressure so let's try and influence him behind the scenes, and let's not alienate his supporters in the region whose support is needed for Nepad [Mr Mbeki's strategy to revive African economies]," she said.

"But given the present situation in Zimbabwe, I think South Africa needs to condemn human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. South Africa needs to do that in order to maintain its reputation as an ethical player in the region."

South Africa's trades union confederation, Cosatu, has accused the government of being soft on Mr Mugabe.

The former archbishop of Cape Town and Nobel peace laureate, Desmond Tutu, last week criticised African leaders for "hardly a word of concern let alone condemnation" over events in Zimbabwe.

"We Africans should hang our heads in shame," he said in a statement. "Do we really care about human rights, do we care that people of flesh and blood, fellow Africans, are being treated like rubbish, almost worse than they were ever treated by rabid racists?

"What more has to happen before we who are leaders, religious and political, of our mother Africa are moved to cry out 'enough is enough'?"

Eric Bost, US ambassador to South Africa, said he was disappointed with the lack of action.

But Ghana's president, John Kufuor, who chairs the African Union, said the rest of the continent was not indifferent.

"What can Mbeki as a man do? Are you proposing that Africa composes an expedition team to march on Zimbabwe and oppose? It does not happen like that. We are in our various ways trying very hard," he said.

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