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Editor’s Memo

Some perspective

Iden Wetherell

APART from following developments in our own country, editors have to keep abreast of how other newspapers report on events here so we retain some sens

e of perspective.

The South African press, for instance, has been closely watching this week’s stayaway. Some of their front-page pictures of police brutality tell the story better than the proverbial thousand words.

I cannot reproduce here all they have been saying about our predicament. But one editorial should suffice. It comes from Business Day, a publication whose owners have impeccable “struggle” credentials and who are unlikely therefore to have any residual affection for the sort of interests we are constantly being told predominate in the South African media. Published on Tuesday, it reflects views broadly held in South African business and political circles and therefore provides a useful insight into how others see us.

‘As predicted, President Robert Mugabe’s response to the launch of a week-long ‘final push’ mass action by the opposition yesterday was to send in heavily armed riot police and the military to crush the peaceful street demonstrations. Police began the day by incarcerating the leadership of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for supposedly organising the demonstrations illegally, and then brutally set about stopping opposition supporters from gathering, firing teargas, and in some cases live ammunition, at thousands of protesters. Harare in particular was not a pretty sight.

“But even as the geriatric dictator pursued these savage acts of desperation, one thing was clear: he is no longer in charge. All the major urban centres, such as Harare and the second city of Bulawayo, heeded opposition calls and shut down completely. The moral of this sad saga:

Africa can choose to turn a blind eye to Harare’s excesses, and Mugabe can continue to persecute and even murder his opponents as he routinely does, but all he is doing is merely postponing the inevitable – his fast-approaching demise. For those who care to watch, the signs are ominous.

“Yet the end of Mugabe’s era could be less chaotic, if only African leaders had the political willpower to intervene decisively. With both Zimbabwe’s political and economic temperatures at their worst levels since the country’s independence in 1980, there could not be a better time to nudge Mugabe in the right direction. As the country’s leader, he needs Africa more than MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai does. But such a prospect seems extremely unlikely, with the African Union largely quiet on the issue, just like its predecessor the Organisation of African Union, proving that it is nothing more than an old boys’ club where our leaders meet once a year to pat each other on the back for their ability to hang on to power.And so to the question: Can Pretoria fill this void and be expected to show some leadership here?

“Hardly likely. SA’s problems in Zimbabwe began when we endorsed the outcome of last year’s farcical presidential election. Despite the SA observer team admitting in its report that tens of thousands of registered voters were turned away ‘because of administrative oversight’ – clearly a result of conscious, deliberate and well-planned government action presided over by one of the contesting candidates (Mugabe) – the team still reached the unbelievable conclusion that the election was basically free and fair.

“To this extent, and despite the faltering efforts Pretoria is currently making to try to resolve the crisis, we have unfortunately always given the impression that we in fact prefer dealing with the devil we know, Mugabe, rather than the likes of Tsvangirai and the MDC. That cannot form the right foundation for credible intervention.

“Buoyed by this apparent support from his peers, Mugabe continues in the meantime resolutely to execute his own ‘final annihilation’, in the hope that he can blow his opponents out of the political equation. This is why he has routinely slapped treason charges on his challengers. Before Tsvangirai was hauled before the courts, liberation icons such as former Zapu military supremos Dumiso Dabengwa andLookout Masuku (both men were acquitted) and the late Zanu Ndonga leader Ndabaningi Sithole (who was convicted and sentenced to two years, but died before his appeal could be heard) also faced such trumped-up charges.

“And yet, even as Mugabe continues to find his real enemies in white racists in London and Pretoria, it is noteworthy that his predecessor as illegitimate leader of the country – white minority leader Ian Smith – never tried a black nationalist for treason during his time, even though the repressive Law and Order (Maintenance) Act which Mugabe is using was enacted then.

“Hold on as Zimbabwe implodes. Pretoria holds fast to the view that Zimbabweans should solve their own problems. So now they are trying, do we have the stomach for what is about to unfold?”

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