Does Zimbabwe know it’s Christmas?

Across South Africa, the malls are crowded with busy shoppers buying presents and food for the festive season. And yet just across the border in neighbouring Zimbabwe, thousands of people are dying of cholera and countless more face starvation, with only a meagre assortment of wild berries, seeds and fruits from the veld to provide sustenance.

Under the brutal oppression of Zanu PF’s dictatorship and the continued post-election stalemate, Zimbabwe has steadily disintegrated. Hospitals have closed. Supermarkets are empty. Raw sewage spills into potholed roads. The politicians continue their interminable bickering. Doubtless both Tsvangirai (head of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change) and Mugabe won’t be going hungry this Christmas. But most of their countrymen — the ones who haven’t fled to safer, saner shores — will.

Zimbabwe is a disaster. It is time for its powerhouse neighbour South Africa, and the rest of the world, to step in before any more innocent lives are lost. The unnecessary, intense sufferings of millions of Zimbabweans must come to an end.

Firstly, Zanu PF must no longer govern. Having systematically destroyed a country and having lost the March 29 election (despite blatant vote-rigging and intimidation), those thugs have no claims to being a part of the new Zimbabwean government.

An interim government must be installed by the United Nations, supported by South Africa and other regional players. This government, staffed by non-political technocrats, can handle humanitarian operations to ensure the rollout food supplies and healthcare countrywide.

The UN must demobilise the security and army, and provide a “peacekeeper” contingent of soldiers and police to ensure safety and security.

And then, some time next year, proper elections must be held – free and fair elections implemented and monitored by the international community.

To those who think this is an internal affair, or must be resolved “by Zimbabweans”, the time is long past for such trifling excuses. Quiet diplomacy and regional SADC involvement has been an abject failure – and has merely propped up an illegitimate and wicked regime hell-bent on remaining in power. Of course that was Thabo Mbeki’s intention all along. His inaction on Zimbabwe casts a dark, bloodstained shadow on his presidential record and role as so-called “mediator”.

South African President Motlanthe must act in the spirit of our constitution and democracy and do his utmost to resolve the situation. This is long overdue. So much suffering could have been avoided. And yet so much suffering still can be avoided.

It is the festive season and yet Zimbabwe has absolutely nothing to celebrate. This Christmas, let us not forget the ongoing crisis – the hunger and pain and misery – in that poor country.

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