Abandoning Zimbabwe

South Africa has betrayed Zimbabwe. Far from being an honourable neighbour – as epitomised by the Good Samaritan – we’ve passed by on the opposite side.

With all the petty intrigue of the ANC succession race to distract it, our media long ago lost interest.

Our businesses seem happy to prop up the regime. Corporations such as Old Mutual give it a lifeline of easy credit, while our blundering Eskom provides free electricity to keep the lights ablaze in Zanu mansions – while keeping lesser South African mortals in the dark.

Our government’s response to three million refugees has been fascist intimidation at a place of refuge – it seems the police believes that to spare the jackboot is to spoil the starving refugee. Obviously tackling real criminals is too much effort.

Government doesn’t seem too concerned why there’s  up to 6000 illegals crossing the Limpopo every day in the first place.

Our deputy president, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, once claimed that South Africa could learn a lot from Zimbabwe’s land reform programme. She was touting as exemplary a process which has brought agricultural production to a virtual standstill and has given country retreats to hundreds of civil servants and ruling party elite instead of restitution to the rural poor.

Mlambo-Ngccka was, incidentally, the SA government representative who, as head of the SADC observer mission, hailed the 2005 Zimbabwean parliamentary elections as free and fair – before the voting had even begun.

Yes, South Africa has a lot to answer for. We have given a repressive dictatorship validation and legitimacy. We have defended its honour and, in doing so, besmirched our own.

George Bush’s point man on Zimbabwe, our very own President Mbeki, has done nothing to stop a vital African success story slide into the abyss. His so-called “quiet diplomacy” is actually deafening complicity in megalomaniac Mugabe’s heinous attempts to maintain his grip on power.

On our watch the Zimbabwean state machinery has been committing atrocities that make aspects of apartheid seem almost mild by comparison.

Trevor Manuel says that Zimbabweans need to sort their own problems out. That’s like telling the Jews in 1930s Nazi Germany to make friends with Hitler.

Because the Zanu PF government is at war with its own people. Torture, murders, intimidation are commonplace. The people are trash in the eyes of the rulers. Hence Operation Murambatsvina (Operation Clear out the Trash) where, in an action tantamount to the destruction of District Six, vibrant shantytowns have been razed to the ground.

Over a million middleclass black Zimbabweans have joined the diaspora. Roughly a quarter of the population (possibly more) has fled the country. Only those entrenched in a system of party patronage starkly similar to the ANC’s – or those who simply aren’t able to leave – remain.

After all, who would want to stay with dysfunctional hospitals, collapsing infrastructure and shortages of even the most basic foodstuffs?

The Zimbabwean tragedy could have been avoided. It could have been avoided if South Africa had acted on its moral obligation – as a young democracy and a close neighbour – to champion democracy and uphold human rights.

As elections loom, the misery and persecution across our border continues while South Africa, led by its government, buries its head in wilful indifference.

Our shameful support and consequent complicity in the catastrophe that is Zimbabwe does not bode well for the future of our own fragile, young democracy.

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