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April 05, 2007
When the heads
of state of the Southern African Development Community convened
last week in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to discuss the political situation
in Zimbabwe, hopes among the Zimbabwean people ran high. President
Robert Mugabe had recently extended his brutal efforts to crush
dissent from his political opponents to include ordinary Zimbabweans.
His ruling party left a trail of fractured bodies and two dead in
its most recent crackdown.
With the economy
in shreds and the tense political situation posing a security threat
not only to Zimbabwe but potentially to its neighbors, too, there
was an expectation that African leaders would finally act.
At the summit,
however, the African leaders showed their indifference to the suffering
that we ordinary people of Zimbabwe continue to endure. At the closing
news conference, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete announced that
he and his fellow heads of state were "in support of the government
and people of Zimbabwe."
"We got full
backing; not even one [SADC leader] criticized our actions," Mugabe
boasted after the summit.
were left to wonder how neighboring governments can continue claiming
to support the brutalizer and the brutalized at the same time.
government continues its assault on the media, its political opponents,
civil activists and human rights defenders, the danger to the population
is growing. Nearly two years after the government's program of mass
evictions and demolitions -- Operation Murambatsvina, or "Clear
the Filth" -- hundreds of thousands continue to suffer catastrophic
we can see that this scheme was just the beginning. Mugabe sought
to destabilize the population by arbitrarily destroying people's
homes and property without notice, process or compensation; and
by displacing thousands into rural areas, where they lack basic
services such as health care, schools and clean water. Today, HIV-AIDS
is rampant in my country, and there are acute food shortages. Young
Zimbabweans have no meaningful educational opportunities, and Mugabe
has wrecked the country's economy through macroeconomic chaos, endemic
corruption and political patronage. Millions of black Zimbabweans
who love their country have been forced to migrate out of this insecurity
and hopelessness to live as second-class citizens in foreign lands.
Human Rights Watch documented how police forces in Harare, Bulawayo
and Mutare have beaten Zimbabweans in the streets, in shopping malls
and in bars. The terror has prompted many families in those areas
to obey a self-imposed curfew after dark.
Mugabe is stronger
than ever, though removed from the fact that Zimbabweans want to
be liberated from oppression. Of course, a weakened and terrified
population cannot fight back.
poised to rig five more catastrophic years in office, it is time
for regional leaders to recognize that his campaigns of oppression
make apartheid Rhodesia and South Africa look like amateurs. As
Bishop Desmond Tutu has said, we as Africans must hang our heads
in shame at our failure to make a difference to the suffering men,
women and children of Zimbabwe.
When will Southern
Africa's leaders decide they will no longer align themselves with
tyranny? When will they abandon their failed strategy of "quiet
diplomacy" and move to help the people of Zimbabwe?
and the international community must demand that the government
of Zimbabwe stop its violence against political opponents; create
a democratic environment through the repeal of repressive legislation;
enact a democratic constitution; and hold free, fair elections that
are supervised by the international community.
Africa's leaders finally break their silence about the catastrophe
in their neighborhood, this could be the year Mugabe leaves office
and Zimbabwe reintegrates itself into the world. Or they could remain
silent and complicit, and this year could mark the beginning of
an even steeper decline into oppression.
is executive director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and secretary
of the Law Society of Zimbabwe.
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