intervention "long time coming"
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HARARE - Southern Africa
is "finally" assuming leadership in trying to resolve
the burning Zimbabwean crisis on their doorstep, but it has been
a long time coming, said analysts, as three members from a regional
powerhouse met in Lesotho to chalk a way forward. The Southern African
Development Community (SADC), which has pushed for an approach of
"quiet diplomacy" to the Zimbabwean crisis, has increasingly
come under fire for failing to wield any influence.
"But the brutal
public attack on civic and leaders of the opposition leaders [last
week] has forced the private rumblings of discontent over Zimbabwe
to become public and break away from their traditional solidarity
response," said Brian Raftopoulos, a Zimbabwean academic and
African affairs specialist at the South African-based Institute
for Justice and Reconciliation.
A Zimbabwean opposition
supporter was killed last week, and Morgan Tsvangirai, who leads
a faction of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC),
was among the pro-democracy leaders arrested and beaten by the police,
allegedly for inciting violence.
This week, Zambia's President
Levy Mwanawasa, currently deputy chair of the SADC, broke ranks
with the regional body to admit that "quiet diplomacy has failed
to help solve the political chaos and economic meltdown in Zimbabwe,"
and even likened the country to "a sinking Titanic whose passengers
are jumping out in a bid to save their lives."
Acknowledging the gravity
of the recent outbreak of violence in Zimbabwe, he said Zambia had
been forced to re-think its position after "the twist of events
in the troubled country", which "necessitates the adoption
of a new approach".
came ahead of a meeting under the auspices of SADC in the Lesotho
capital, Maseru, on Thursday and Friday, at which Zambia, Lesotho
and Tanzania discussed "how best" the regional organisation
could respond, "with a view to helping Zimbabwe in its current
difficulties", said Vernon Mwaanga, Zambia's acting foreign
minister. Zambia will assume leadership of the SADC in August.
"The meeting, attended
by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who heads the regional security
arm, and Lesotho's Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, who is currently
the chair of SADC, and Zambia, looked at several options,"
These will be put forward
at an SADC meeting in Tanzania next week. Kikwete, whose country
is one of an SADC 'troika' on Zimbabwe, along with Namibia and Lesotho,
met Mugabe a few days ago.
SADC has been in existence
since 1980, when it was formed as a loose alliance of nine majority-ruled
states in Southern Africa, known as the Southern African Development
Coordination Conference (SADCC) to coordinate development projects
to lessen its economic dependence on then apartheid South Africa.
Since then the organisation's objectives have evolved into maintaining
common political values and promoting peace and security, with a
view to boosting development.
Raftopoulos said the
SADC should have stamped the "human rights debate" on
Zimbabwe as "African" at least seven years ago, when the
2000 general elections had been marred by violence but were endorsed
by the SADC as "free and fair".
In 2005 more
than 700,000 people were internally displaced by Operation
Murambatsvina (Drive Out Trash), a three-month campaign to rid
the country of slums and illegal informal businesses. Again, the
SADC maintained its silence. "Instead, it [SADC] allowed itself
to be corned by the Zimbabwean regime into branding the human rights
debate as 'Western'," said Raftopoulos.
Chris Maroleng, an analyst
with the think-tank, Institute for Security Studies, commented,
"SADC has been hamstrung on Zimbabwe, as it has failed to adopt
a common position. SADC, as a multilateral forum, failed to engage
with Zimbabwe, as members found themselves polarised. Except for
smaller countries in the region, such as Botswana and Lesotho, regional
powers like South Africa have failed to criticise Zimbabwe. But
the gap between the countries has begun to narrow."
Africa's efforts to mediate
between Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF and opposition parties have been
fruitless: in 2005, the African Union appointed former Mozambique
President Joaquim Chissano to help solve Zimbabwe's problems; last
year the SADC appointed former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa
to mediate in the strained relations between Harare and Britain.
Maroleng said the region
should now try to create "an enabling environment" in
Zimbabwe to create the "political space" for dialogue
between the ruling party and civil society.
pro-democracy activists have become more vocal. Tension has been
mounting in Zimbabwe for the past two months, marked by protests
and running battles with the police over a worsening economic crisis
compounded by shortages of foreign currency, food, fuel, electricity
and medicines. Last month, political meetings were banned in the
On Thursday, Pius Ncube,
the Archbishop of Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, called for mass
street protests to force Mugabe to "step down" from power.
organisations and a coalition of churches have condemned the political
violence that has erupted in Zimbabwe in recent weeks, and urged
dialogue to restore peace.
Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO), representing
more than 1,000 civil groups throughout the country, said it was
concerned by police heavy-handedness when dealing with critics.
NANGO warned that the
current political tension could lead to civil unrest, adding that
recent violent incidents "have occurred against the backdrop
of a politically, socially and economically volatile situation,
characterised by high levels of poverty and inequality, militarisation
of state functions and de-legitimisation of civil society initiatives."
The association called
for the establishment of a national human rights commission, which
has been on the cards, in addition to lifting the ban on political
gatherings, constitutional reform and the "repeal of repressive
legislation", while the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC)
attributed the outbreak of violence on the ban on political meetings.
In a statement
on Wednesday the ZCC said, "This orgy of violence, which is
attributed to the ban on political gatherings in Harare for three
months, is provoking the opposition, especially at this strategic
moment when political parties are preparing for the 2008 presidential
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