|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
Barnaby Phillips |
BBC Johannesburg correspondent
The elections in Zimbabwe have aroused strong feeling across the world - but perhaps nowhere more so than in neighbouring South Africa.
Zimbabwe is a constant nagging reminder of how a multi-racial society in Africa can go badly wrong
Listening to the spluttering rage and indignation on the radio talk shows or reading the letters in the newspapers, only one thing has mattered this week in South Africa - and it's Zimbabwe.
But in the six months I have been living in this country, Zimbabwe has never been far from people's minds.
And what heat and anger it arouses.
Fear of the future
I've yet to meet a white South African who doesn't think President Mugabe is a wicked despot.
Some, no doubt, still full of nostalgia for the racist idyll that was their Rhodesia.
Others who genuinely want today's Zimbabwe to succeed, and are dismayed by its plight.
But there's also fear in the white reaction. Fear that Zimbabwe is holding up a mirror to South Africa, and showing it where it will be 20 years down the road.
At the best of times, white South Africans don't need too much encouragement to feel nervous about their future on this continent.
Mugabe says take the land back, he says Africa is for black Africans. How can this message not appeal to the miserable in South Africa's urban squatter camps
It also serves as another reminder - of just how different perceptions are across South Africa's racial barrier.
Apartheid is not just a humiliating memory for the black majority in this country.
Its consequences - the wealth enjoyed by most white people, the poverty endured by most black people - are still the everyday facts of life.
President Mugabe says take the land back. He says Africa is for black Africans.
How can this message not appeal to the miserable in South Africa's urban squatter camps, to the millions in the countryside hoping to get the land back that was taken from them under apartheid?
Approving and disapproving
Most black commentators in South Africa fiercely condemn President Mugabe's violent methods.
Often, however, they welcome his stated goals - to sweep away the vestiges of colonialism, to right historical wrongs.
And no-one appears more equivocal about Zimbabwe than South Africa's President, Thabo Mbeki.
In the days since the election, governments all over the world have been quick to condemn or congratulate President Mugabe on his victory.
But from the leader of the most powerful country in Africa, just next door to Zimbabwe, there is silence.
President Mbeki is in consultations. His advisors say he must not do or say anything that will undermine regional stability.
The problem is that it is not only white South Africans who need re-assuring that President Mbeki believes what has happened in Zimbabwe is wrong.
Whether it is fair or not, Zimbabwe is now regarded in the West as a test case for South Africa - that if South Africa wants to be taken seriously and as an equal partner it must come off the fence.
It must put universal standards of human rights above solidarity between African leaders.
There's one certainty, though - the steady flow of jobless and hungry Zimbabweans crossing into this country will continue, and most likely accelerate
Economists say the beleaguered rand is suffering from Zimbabwe fever.
As ever, it is hard to know which way President Mbeki will turn.
In private, he is said to have little time for President Mugabe. In public, he rails against white supremacists trying to have things their way in the Commonwealth.
There is one certainty, though - the steady flow of jobless and hungry Zimbabweans crossing into this country will continue, and most likely accelerate.
Escaping to South Africa
Already several thousand slip across the border each month.
The government says there may be one million Zimbabweans here; some put the figure as high as two million.
In the townships, in the poorer parts of the cities, and on the big commercial farms, they are working and living alongside black South Africans.
Sometimes there is friction, more often friendship and shared understanding of difficult lives.
President Mugabe made sure this huge migrant community could not vote - but there is little doubt where its sympathy lies.
The Zimbabwean man who helps out in my garden is typical. His name is Clever, and he comes from Plumtree, in Matabeleland.
We watched television together as the election results came in. Clever was not happy with President Mugabe's re-election.
"Now my country is finished" he said.
"Do you know, I'm already sending back 250 kilos of maize meal each month, just to feed my family?"
What are they going to do now, I asked?
He replied "I don't know, come down here I suppose, there's no other alternative".
South Africa cannot escape Zimbabwe's agony if it tries.