By Peta Thornycroft, Zimbabwe Correspondent
Last Updated: 1:23am GMT 24/03/2007
President Robert Mugabe's security forces and youth militia are
inflicting unprecedented violence on Zimbabwe's civilians.
The orgy of violence has seen attacks on opposition activists in every
township around the capital, Harare, since the latest crisis erupted almost
a fortnight ago.
The technique used by the ruling Zanu-PF party's thugs and security
forces is to beat the feet and legs of their targets until they are unable
to walk. After carrying out brutal attacks on the opposition leader Morgan
Tsvangirai and other senior officials, the squads have been turning their
attention to political organisers.
Doctors, who must operate "underground" when treating members of the
opposition Movement for Democratic Change, revealed the scale of the
One said they had helped to treat more than 100 activists in a two-day
period last week.
The beatings are continuing and only those victims who can afford the
bus fare to the centre in Harare are turning up for treatment from doctors
in a number of city clinics. "It is continuing day after day, in all the
townships around Harare," a doctor said. "It seems as though they are going
for the second tier of political leadership.
"We treat them, and it is pathetic watching them hobbling off home,
probably to a house without any food. This violence is the worst we have
ever seen in Harare, including around the presidential elections [in 2002]."
He said that while the intensity of the attacks had reduced slightly
towards the end of the week, some of the injuries were serious.
"It looks as though they want to ensure that all the lower level
activists cannot walk for a while," he said.
Cards used by Zimbabwe activists show Mugabe as the ace of
diamonds and his wife Grace as the queen of hearts
Two weeks ago the police, assisted by Mr Mugabe's crudely trained
youth militia and some military police from the Zimbabwe National Army,
arrested and beat scores of Movement for Democratic Change activists,
including the founding MDC president, Mr Tsvangirai.
After the worst injured were released from hospital last week, the
most brazen of all acts of violence in Mr Mugabe's 27-year rule took place
at the entrance to the Harare International Airport, when, in daylight and
in front of people about to catch a flight to London, a hit squad of eight
men attacked the opposition MP Nelson Chamisa, fracturing his skull.
Mike Davies, the chairman of Zimbabwe's largest civil rights
organisation, the Combined Harare Residents Association, who was detained
two weeks ago, said: "This round of violence is calculated to instil fear
among residents, crush any signs of rebellion and keep people cowed."
Further signs of dissent within Mr Mugabe's regime emerged yesterday with an
unconfirmed report that his vice-president and possible successor, Joyce
Mujuru, whose husband is an influential former army commander, had travelled
to South Africa for talks about the future of her country.
Channel 4 News said it was not known if Mr Mugabe knew of her decision
to attend the meeting.
· Intervention welcomed as breakthrough in Zimbabwe
· Archbishop issues rallying cry against 'dictator'
Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg
Saturday March 24, 2007
South Africa yesterday intervened directly in the Zimbabwe crisis by meeting
the country's opposition leaders for the first time in three years and
hosting separate talks with the vice-president, Joice Mujuru
But following a week of international criticism over South Africa's failure
to intervene after opposition leaders were beaten by Zimbabwean police,
there was little hope of any immediate changes following the talks.
"It is difficult to see how a total meltdown won't take place," said South
Africa's deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad, before the talks began. He
said South Africa was trying to avert catastrophe by using "constructive
diplomacy" to encourage dialogue between the Zimbabwean government and the
opposition. Mr Pahad criticised Britain and the United States for using
Zimbabwean opposition leaders from both factions of the Movement for
Democratic Change described the talks as "very positive, very encouraging".
They said they got a good reception for their plans to draw up a new
constitution and repeal repressive laws to prepare for free and fair
elections. President Robert Mugabe was informed that the South African
officials would be meeting with the Zimbawean opposition representatives.
"This is a major breakthrough for South Africa," said a Zimbabwean analyst,
John Makumbe, in Harare. "South Africa cannot stand by as things get worse
and worse. It is finally taking the initiative to get the ball rolling on
negotiations. Unfortunately the talks will collapse at this stage because
Mugabe does not want to talk to anyone. But now that process has started."
In Zimbabwe, however, there was no sign of a reduction in tensions as Mr
Mugabe's government warned of a further crackdown on the foreign press.
The information ministry warned journalists, specifically naming the
correspondents of two British newspapers - Jan Raath of the Times and Peta
Thornycroft of the Daily Telegraph - that it might act against them.
The government told foreign correspondents not to engage in "peddling false
stories" on security issues and threatened to clamp down on reporters who
lack government permits, the state media reported .
It said reporters should "stay away from the security forces".
In Johannesburg, Zimbabwe's Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube called for
non-violent street rallies, even if it threatened his own safety, to force
Mr Mugabe to resign.
"This dictator must be brought down right now by the people's power but not
in a violent manner," he said. "If we can get 30,000 people together Mugabe
will just come down.
"I would put myself on the line. I will stand before blazing guns. But we
must be properly organised so we respond, not with fear, but with principled
In Harare, President Mugabe continued his attacks on Britain and the US
yesterday. "Nothing frightens me, not even little fellows like Bush and
Blair. I have seen it all, I don't fear any suffering or a struggle of any
kind," Mr Mugabe, 83, said to cheers from supporters at a meeting in the
23rd Mar 2007 23:52 GMT
By a Correspondent
HARARE - Police on Friday took no action as members of Zimbabwe's ruling
Zanu PF party marched through the streets of Harare in defiance of a police
ban on rallies and such activities that earned opposition leaders fractured
skulls and bones recently.
In what analysts said typified Harare's selectively application of the law,
police who have established a heavy presence in Harare and other cities,
watched as hundreds of Zanu PF women supporters marched from downtown Harare
to their party headquarters.
The police shot dead an opposition activist and severely tortured opposition
leaders and hundreds of their supporters after they attended a prayer
meeting described by the government as political, and therefore illegal on
The police have said they would vigorously enforce the ban, which runs to
May. The state-controlled media reported yesterday that the ban was being
But as main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai and many of his supporters
nursed fractured skulls and bones, a result of army beatings for defying the
ban, Zanu PF women showed yesterday only pro-government demonstrations were
exempt from the ban and resultant torture.
Carrying placards that denounced Mugabe's critics, the women sang and danced
all the way to their party's headquarters, where they were due to hold a
national assembly. Mugabe addressed the women later and urged them to start
campaigning for next year's presidential elections. He has indicated that he
will be standing for another term. His critics doubt that he will stand,
"Down with Tsvangirai, CNN are Liars, Mugabe For Life," were some of the
placards that scared the usually aggressive police away.
Police spokesman, Wayne Bvuidzijena told Zimbabwejournalists.com that he was
unaware of the march.
"What I know is that the Zanu PF Women's League was meeting in Harare."
How the demonstrators skipped the attention of baton wielding and gun
totting policemen dotted at every street corner in Harare remains a mystery,
said political commentator John Makumbe.
"This is the clearest example that the rule is selectively applied in this
country. We would be talking of gunshots and loss of lives had it been
opposition activists demonstrating," said Makumbe.
Dear People of Zimbabwe,
I write from the United States. I write to encourage you to stand up, turn your doorknobs, and go out into the streets. All of you. At one time. You are in a position to not only commit powerful non-violent protest to save what's left of beautiful Zimbabwe from the insane hands of Mugabe and his thugs, but you stand to set an example for the rest of us in the world who sit like frogs on a heating plate haplessly awaiting similar fates in our own countries. We need your example.
You are the vanguard of change we need in the world. What is happening in Zimbabwe right now is happening in varying degrees throughout the world, and getting worse, especially in America where TV's and the Internet anesthsize us while our civil and economic rights are quickly robbed from underneath us. We, too, need to stand up and say "NO. This is enough." But we lack courage. "What might happen?....We might loose our pension?...We might get arrested...my children..."
Those have been your thoughts, keeping you from acting this long. Until now. The only way you can save yourselves is to make the ultimate risk, that of your lives, by walking out into the street and saying "You cannot further rob me of my dignity. What is my life worth if I am left starving and cowering inside my house?"
I write as a woman who has given much of her own pension to support a growing group of people, 9 of them children, in Harare, through my good friend residing here. I have been very involved with your country from here, so I am not making idle words, inflamed by some news story, watched once. I have paid for operations, and funerals and school fees. I have waited by the phone to see if one of the 10 year old girls I have helped would die or not due to being raped and beaten by four of Mugabe's thugs on her way home from school. I have held my friend while she wailed because her bright, top student son died at 15 because no one would operate on his appendix until the money got there from the U.S. I have wept with you, Zimbabwe.
If Mugabe is allowed to continue, if his orphaned thugs are not challenged (they will put down their guns and come stand with you, for they are cowards and go where the power is), then you will surely continue to die in droves as you have. Better by a bullet for freedom than slowly starve to death out of fear.
I send you all the love I have in my heart.
By Marrily Runoona Kuzonyei
When it comes to our rights Mr. President, I refuse to be silenced!
Cease the reign of terror
You were appointed to serve the nation.
Instead you caged the nation.
Decades long you fed us stories
Buttering us like toast.
The age of endurance is behind the times,
We are grey with pain and fury.
Don't sit and wait to be discarded
Like a sprat in a pickle jug.
Tread on the noble heels of Mandela
The first ambassador of freedom
To liberate an entire race
Caught amid a storm with zero humidity.
I had not been born when Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain but I can
vividly remember stories of events that marked independence celebrations in
These were stories of jubilation, anticipation and reconciliation. You
marked the peak of these celebrations as you Mr. President, Prime Minister
then, stood before the entire nation to say:
"If yesterday I fought you as an enemy, you have become a friend and ally
with the same national interest, loyalty, rights and duties as myself. If
yesterday you hated me, today you cannot avoid the love that binds you to me
and me to you. The wrongs of the past must now stand forgiven and
To the majority of Zimbabweans, this served as a landmark of a new era and a
new life for the independent nation of Zimbabwe. It made me think that we
Zimbabweans are one of the most civilized races of mankind, a people of a
magnificent culture and principles.
Today I strongly object the civilization of some of my people especially
you. As I write, I can foretell the rebuke of this article by you and your
faction. However, I will not be intimidated. I write not to please but to be
heard. I certainly know that the truth will set free not only me, but the
entire downtrodden people of Zimbabwe.
Daily I have questions, questions, questions and not a single answer. These
are questions directed at you Mr. President. To begin with, where is the
"same national interest, loyalty and rights" you promised in your Politics
of Reconciliation back in 1980?
Where is "the love" that you once said bound you to those you once fought as
enemies? Sir, have you surely forgiven and forgotten or you are just a
preacher fulfilling your duty to deliver?
Your brutal and illegal seizure of land in 2000 has shown the worst case of
racism at international level next to the Apartheid regime in South Africa.
Considering that oral and written history has shown that not all whites
fought against blacks during the liberation struggle and vice-versa, what
therefore makes black Zimbabweans much more sons of the soil than those
whites who fought on their side? Is it therefore by right or race that one
can claim ownership over land in Zimbabwe today?
In April 1997 you decided to compensate your faction of war veterans with a
cash value of ZW$50 000. What a mockery to the real heroes of this land? I
am talking of citizens who lost their lives. Of course, there were
foreigners too! Did you pay them? What happened to their reward? Mr.
President, I am sure as I speak, you can feel the wrath of the soil you are
From the look of things, our forfeited independence did not bring a
considerable change to the rights and lives of many Zimbabwean especially
The majority of Zimbabweans still lack protection from the law. They cannot
to live peacefully in their own country; hence they are birds in flight
seeking refuge in foreign lands. Isn't this the same country they fought to
Have you forgotten that women fought the liberation struggle alongside men
in their various roles as mothers, teachers, nurses, cooks, porters,
soldiers and several others? For these uncountable contributions, don't they
also deserve recognition as freedom fighters?
If they do, why are women of Zimbabwe to this day, landless, defenseless,
silenced and battered with a cane in broad daylight like children?
If both men and women fought the liberation struggle with the equivalent
objective to reclaim their land, what entitles Zimbabwean men today to
acquire and possess the same land that women don't have?
Gary Magadzire, former President of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union pointed out
in 1997 that, "There would be no agriculture without women. The role of
women in this country is paramount and is the central pin to agricultural
I am certain if you had listened to these wise words, no stomach would be
empty in Zimbabwe today. Frankly, your brutal acquisition of land coupled
with its current uneven distribution has not made you different from the
settlers you fought against.
To add to the plight of women in this country is that regardless of input,
field and expertise their roles are continuously regarded secondary to those
played by men. This can be clearly traced back to the liberation struggle in
which women, despite their vital role as the backbone of the liberation
struggle remained voiceless, marginalized and confined to the rear of the
As a result they were deprived of promotion and presence in the liberation
army's hierarchy to this day. Are you sure all these women fought the war to
earn you and your fellow bothers better jobs than theirs? Your current
treatment of women in respect to their rights is a makeup of the genuine
history of the liberation struggle.
Mr. President, look at Zimbabwe today. You have turned the entire country
into a field of repression and violence. The streets have become fields of
bloodshed, constant shooting and beating. Health, education and the quality
of life have deteriorated immeasurably.
Nationwide there is so much fear and restlessness that even a cripple would
feel the urge to flee from this new dimension of the colonization of one
native by the other. If you and your counterparts fought the liberation
struggle with a cause, what has become of this noble cause? Did you fight to
build or destroy Zimbabwe? What therefore are you doing to build this
nation? Surely, it strikes me to the bone to realize that the turmoil of my
people is your lullaby.
To the majority of Zimbabweans, it remains a heart breaking encounter to
accept that while our independence has been not more than a few minutes of
glory, the brutal and illegal acquisition of land by a minority under the
guise of the majority remains a humiliating reduction in the dignity of the
Author and Poet, Marrily writes from Germany.
By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, March 24, 2007; Page A13
Douglas Gwatidzo, a shy general practitioner who specializes in emergency
care at a clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, spoke uneasily about
politics in his country. But he expressed deep empathy for Zimbabweans
crushed by an economic free fall and the tightening grip of President Robert
Gwatidzo, chairman of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights,
addressed the Congressional Human Rights Caucus yesterday about a wave of
violence in Zimbabwe that began March 11 when a political rally was
violently broken up by police.
When he first learned of the crackdown, Gwatidzo said, he expected patients
to begin streaming into his clinic that day, a Sunday. But it was not until
two days later, Tuesday afternoon, that 64 bloodied protesters, including
opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, came to the Avenues Clinic where he
Each patient was guarded by two armed riot police officers, Gwatidzo said,
and they insisted on entering the cubicle where Tsvangirai was being
treated. "They were very aggressive and threatening, and demanded to be
present during medical examination," Gwatidzo recalled.
But the doctor said no. "I will not examine any patient under duress," he
told them. "If you truly believe he can disappear, you can take me instead."
The police relented, though tensions at the clinic remained high as more
than 133 policemen carrying batons, pistols and shields packed an emergency
room filled with the battered protesters.
Gwatidzo described the injuries: severe blunt-force trauma to the abdomen,
ruptured bowel, fractures and extensive wounds from blows to the back,
shoulders, buttocks and thighs. Twenty people were admitted to the hospital.
Tsvangirai, 55, had a long gash in his scalp and was delirious from loss of
blood, Gwatidzo said.
Another activist, Grace Kwinje, 33, had deep lacerations and a torn right
earlobe. Sekai Holland, 64, suffered multiple fractures from the beatings.
The two opposition party members were later detained briefly at Harare
airport, though bandaged and on stretchers, as they attempted to leave for
treatment in South Africa.
The crisis had started in Highfield, a poor township near Harare where
Mugabe's ruling party was founded in 1963 as an anti-colonial liberation
movement. Police had cordoned off the area where residents, street traders
and produce peddlers had come to gather.
As people arrived in the area for the political rally, they were rounded up
and dragged off to police stations. When Tsvangirai, president of the
opposition Movement for Democratic Change, followed them to inquire about
the condition of his supporters, he was hurled to the floor and beaten.
Truncheons, rubber batons and booted feet were the weapons of choice,
The beatings have brought international criticism. But Mugabe has vowed to
fight any Western attempt to force him out of office.
In today's Zimbabwe, unemployment has soared past 80 percent, the average
salary has dipped below the poverty line and the annual rate of inflation is
1,730 percent. Millions of people are suffering from severe shortages of
water and food. Deaths from malnutrition, maternal mortality, HIV-AIDS,
cholera, dysentery and other diseases are on the rise. Jails are crowded.
A decision to hand over white-owned commercial farms to black peasants in
2000 has further hurt the country. "What we saw was an ad hoc decision which
threw everything out of balance. Suddenly there was no food," Gwatidzo said.
An International Crisis Group report this month said the economic meltdown
and the bite of targeted sanctions by the European Union and the United
States were hurting the business interests of key officials and pushing the
ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, to split
over the idea of allowing Mugabe to extend his term beyond 2008.
"Targeted sanctions by the world community are not supposed to hurt
everyone, but a handful of people. What you see implies that a few
individuals are controlling the whole economy. Either way, you cannot blame
the West," Gwatidzo said.
He described 2000 to 2003 as the most chaotic and violent period. "I am not
sure whether this is the beginning of a similar cycle. If what happened on
March 11 is a sign of the times, then we expect more brutality to come," he
But a fresh desire to limit Mugabe's rule after 27 years has galvanized
Zimbabweans across party lines and ethnic divisions.
"People think this is a defining year," Gwatidzo said, describing a spirit
of defiance fueled by despair.
Asked whether he feared retribution upon his return to Harare on Tuesday,
Gwatidzo replied: "Harassment is a possibility. When you have decided to do
human rights work, you have to live with fear, and I guess I have to face
If he is interrogated, his response is ready: "I want the Zimbabwean
population to fare better. Either we come out of this and recover, or we
continue on a downward slope."
By Alec Russell at Beit Bridge
Published: March 24 2007 02:00 | Last updated: March 24 2007 02:00
Tariro Mbudzi spent his last night in Harare penning a farewell note to his
father. The two are not close. The son is a supporter of the embattled
opposition Movement for Democratic Change. His father is a former army major
and a diehard member of the ruling Zanu-PF.
But still it was not an easy letter to write. Barely 17, Tariro was
expecting his school leaving exam results any day. His family assumed he
would be there to receive and hopefully celebrate them. Instead, he had
decided to leave his home and join the flood of fellow-countrymen fleeing
the economic shambles of Zimbabwe for the region's powerhouse, South Africa.
"I took three hours writing it," he recalled. "I ended by saying: 'If God
loves me I'm going to help you take care of the little ones [his younger
brothers and sisters]. And please make sure they go to school.' "
The following morning before dawn he caught a bus south. Just 24 hours
later, in daylight and in view of the Financial Times, he was clambering
over the barbed wire fence at the frontier, his attaché case with a spare
set of clothes flapping in his wake. Behind him his friend Obey Sithole
grunted as his T-shirt snagged.
Then suddenly they were both over and across the dusty road that snakes
along the frontier, all the while looking out for the South African military
patrols that face the impossible task of stemming the exodus from their
Ever since gold was found in the rocky reef that skirts Johannesburg 120
years ago, Africans have poured into South Africa from the north in search
of money in the continent's El Dorado. Even at the height of apartheid when
an electric border fence was often switched to lethal mode, the northern
frontier saw a steady flow of people across the Limpopo river marking the
However, in the past few years as the Zimbabwean economy, under President
Robert Mugabe's increasingly dictatorial rule, has headed into freefall, the
dynamic has dramatically changed. Rather than migrating back and forth, most
Zimbabweans are staying. They are also more desperate. This year even more
than before the flood appears to be gathering pace.
"The situation is escalating," said Colonel Johan Herbst, of the Limpopo
border command. "In the past Zimbabweans came for jobs. Their families
stayed behind. They came over neatly dressed, and with a food parcel.
"That has changed. Their condition has deteriorated. They are shabbier, some
haven't eaten for days, and we find women and children in bigger numbers."
Although thirsty after 24 hours on the road, Tariro and Obey are not as
desperate as many of the Zimbabweans who sneak across the frontier. But they
have no intention of returning home. "I will stay for as long as it takes to
change my life," said Tariro. "Maybe I can be a garden boy. It's too tough
in Zimbabwe. My teachers earn just 800,000 Zimbabwe dollars (about $45, £23)
a month. How can people survive like that?"
Tariro says he spent many an hour with his fellow pupils at Harare's Mazoe
High School plotting their escape. As it happened, his was not an entirely
smooth run. Just before they raced for the wire, he and Obey had to hand
over many of their possessions to the "guides" who had helped them to bribe
the Zimbabwean guards.
"They took my baseball cap and my smart shoes. I brought them in case I had
a good job."
In other respects, Tariro and his friend were fortunate. Many refugees
remain for weeks stranded in the border region before being picked up and
sent back by the South African authorities. But within days the pair had
travelled by road and melted into the mass of Johannesburg's townships 340
miles to the south.
Official estimates suggest that up to 3m Zimbabweans live in South Africa.
That sounds high given that Zimbabwe's population is fewer than 15m.
But it does not surprise Johannesburg residents who have become used to
highly qualified Zimbabweans working as gardeners and waiters. Nor does it
surprise residents of Diepsloot, an informal settlement outside the city,
with a high density of Zimbabweans. "It used to be just men, now it is women
too," said Dorah Mafifi, a South African resident. "There are too many of
them. What can we do?"
That is a question that is vexing the South African authorities amid public
concern that the incursion has fuelled crime and xenophobia. Tariro offers
no comfort: the flood, he says, has barely begun. "To tell you the truth
almost everyone in Zimbabwe sees South Africa as their saviour and wants to
come here to start again."
March 23, 2007, 9:11PM
The Washington Post
In recent years it seemed no outrage by Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe
was enough to inspire a rebellion by his political cronies or effective
intervention by outsiders. The 83-year-old president destroyed the country's
once relatively prosperous economy, stole multiple elections and cruelly
drove hundreds of thousands of slum dwellers from their homes. Still his
once proud ZANU-PF party, which led Zimbabwe to independence, stayed with
him, while fellow African leaders shrank from confronting him.
Now Mr. Mugabe is once again testing - or shaming - those who have chosen to
endure him for so long, at such cost to Zimbabwe. Last week, newspapers
published an interview in which the president suggested that next year he
would seek another six-year extension of his term. Then his police brutally
attacked an opposition prayer meeting, beating and arresting 50 leaders.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the head of the Movement for Democratic Change, was
hospitalized with a suspected skull fracture. Released last Friday, he said
he had suffered "an orgy of heavy beatings" while in custody. Other
activists had their arms broken; one was carried out of jail on a stretcher.
Over the weekend the violence continued, as the regime forcibly prevented
opposition leaders from leaving the country. One, Nelson Chamisa, was
stopped on his way to the airport and beaten with iron bars.
The crackdown has drawn condemnations from the United States and the
European Union, which long ago sanctioned Zimbabwe. More important, it
prompted at least a modest reaction from the African leaders who until now
have given Mr. Mugabe a pass. African Union Chairman John Kufuor of Ghana
said that A.U. governments found the situation "very uncomfortable" and
South Africa, which has stubbornly stuck to a failed policy of "quiet
diplomacy," this week warned Mr. Mugabe against declaring a state of
emergency and said its "primary worry" was "abuse of human rights."
Mr. Mugabe has responded by threatening more violence. "They will get
arrested and get bashed by the police," he said of the opposition. The West,
he said, could "get hanged"; its ambassadors have been threatened with
expulsion. Such words ought to force both his countrymen and his neighbors
to realize they can no longer afford to allow Mr. Mugabe to go on destroying
his own country.
As Mr. Tsvangirai put it in an interview with The Post's Craig Timberg,
"Unless they are prepared to stand up to Mugabe, this man is prepared to
burn down the building."
By Simon Heffer
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 24/03/2007
It is possible we might have reached a tipping point in the horror and
suffering of the people of Zimbabwe. The call by a Catholic prelate for
Zimbabweans to stop being timid in the face of "Butcher Bob" Mugabe's
tyranny, and take to the streets and rise up against him, is sure to add to
the momentum needed to displace this monster and his odious regime.
In an ideal world, we would be in a film starring Roger Moore, Sean Connery
and quite probably Oliver Reed, who would parachute into Harare and displace
Mugabe moments before their fellow Brit Simon Mann is ordered by a
Zimbabwean court to be sent to trial, and certain death, in Equatorial
Sadly, we live in a world where the Seventh Cavalry - or 2 Para - do not
drop in at the first sign of trouble. If Mugabe is removed - and I fervently
hope he is, and soon - then nothing will wipe away the stain of shame that
our Government has caused by its inaction and feebleness over the past few
It has made me ashamed to be British.
New York Times
By MICHAEL WINES
Published: March 24, 2007
JOHANNESBURG, March 23 - Modern South Africa came about, historians agree,
in part because of the United Nations' unrelenting stance against apartheid.
The United Nations affirmed that South African racism was not merely an
internal political problem, but a threat to southern Africa. It banned arms
shipments to South Africa. It demanded fair treatment of black dissidents.
It worked. This month a democratic South Africa sits as president of the
United Nations Security Council. It was a remarkable, even poignant
affirmation of the power of morality in global diplomacy.
Or so it might seem. After just three months as one of the Security Council's
nonpermanent members, South Africa is mired in controversy over what could
be its great strength: the moral weight it can bring to diplomatic
In January, South Africa surprised many, and outraged some, when it voted
against allowing the Security Council to consider a relatively mild
resolution on human rights issues in Myanmar, whose government is widely
seen as one of the most repressive on earth.
Last week the government again angered human rights advocates when it said
it would oppose a request to brief the Security Council on the deteriorating
situation in Zimbabwe, where the government is pursuing a violent crackdown
on its only political opposition. South Africa later changed its stance, but
only after dismissing the briefing as a minor event that did not belong on
the Council's agenda.
This week South Africa endangered a delicate compromise among nations often
at odds - the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany - to
rein in Iran's nuclear program.
The major powers agreed on an arms embargo, freezing of assets and other
sanctions against Iran, but South Africa proposed dropping the arms and
financial sanctions and placing a 90-day "timeout" on other punishments,
which critics said would have rendered the sanctions toothless.
"I'm not gutting the resolution," Dumisani S. Kumalo, South Africa's
ambassador to the United Nations, told news agency reporters this week. "I'm
Granted, none of these positions by themselves have been fatal to the
efforts at hand. The Myanmar resolution was dead on arrival anyway,
condemned by vetoes from China, which backs that nation's dictatorship, and
Russia. Nor could South Africa have single-handedly blocked a Zimbabwe
South Africa's wrench in the Iran sanctions effort has complicated things,
but mostly because the great powers would like Iran's defiance to be met
with unanimous disapproval.
Rather, what has left some of South Africa's admirers slack-jawed is the
apparent incongruity of its positions. It is not merely that South Africa's
current leaders are withholding the same sorts of international
condemnations that sustained them when they were battling oppression.
When apartheid's evils came to the fore in the Security Council in the early
1980s, it was newly independent Zimbabwe that occupied one of the Council's
nonpermanent seats and voted to condemn South African racism. Myanmar, then
known as Burma, joined in denouncing apartheid from its seat in the General
Moreover, South Africa may now oppose sanctions against Iran's nuclear
program, but the white apartheid government voluntarily renounced its own
atomic bomb in the early 1990s, and the democratic government that followed
has ardently continued along that same path. In fact, South Africa remains
the only nation in history to have given up its nuclear program of its own
Given that backdrop, a columnist in The Johannesburg Star fretted last week
over what he called a "fundamental misunderstanding" of the role of human
rights in a nation's development.
The nation's second-largest political party, the Democratic Alliance, was
more brutal: "Instead of furthering an agenda based on the protection and
promotion of human rights," the party stated, "we are more concerned with
using bureaucratic excuses to shield tyrants and despots from international
South African officials have responded with wounded indignation. On Friday,
Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said that the government was committed to
resolving the crisis in Zimbabwe through dialogue, but added that "it is not
our intention to make militant statements to make us feel good, or to
satisfy governments outside the African continent," Reuters reported.
Apartheid, the South African government contends, was a crime against
humanity. In contrast, it argues that human rights abuses in Myanmar do not
fall within the mandate of the Security Council. Indeed, the South African
government says, the Council's encroachment on issues better left to lesser
agencies like the Human Rights Council undermines the organization's global
Seasoned scholars may and do differ, but to many analysts here the real
question is why, given its standing as a beacon of human rights, South
Africa has taken such positions at all. Perhaps nobody outside Pretoria
knows, but there are plenty of theories.
One, advanced by a committed advocate of Burmese freedom, is that South
Africa is feathering its strategic relationship with China, which largely
controls Myanmar, supports Zimbabwe's authoritarian government and has
assiduously courted President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. China has big
investments, a decent-size immigrant population and great ambitions in South
Africa. South Africa has a similarly close relationship with Iran, an oil
But even during its struggle for liberation, the African National Congress,
or A.N.C., now the governing party, maintained ties to supporters with
questionable human rights records, like the Soviet Union, China and Libya.
Another explanation is that South Africa is playing the role of bad boy on
the Security Council to underscore its demand that the Council be overhauled
to reflect new global realities.
South Africa and many other developing nations deeply resent the great
powers' veto over major United Nations actions, often against developing
countries like Zimbabwe and North Korea. They want the emerging Southern
Hemisphere to have more sway in the body's policies and actions.
"South Africa wants reform of the Security Council, come hell or high
water," said Thomas Wheeler, a longtime diplomat for South Africa who now
is chief executive at the South Africa Institute of International Affairs, a
research group. "And they're using practically any means to do it. They've
got almost a bee in their bonnet - that this is the way to go, to force the
issue in this way."
A third theory, a hybrid of those two, is that South Africa's leaders have
yet to decide whether they are democrats or the revolutionaries of two
decades ago, railing against seemingly immovable establishments on behalf of
seemingly lost causes. The powers in those days were the United States and
Britain, powers inimical to the Communists who were the financiers of black
liberation movements in the 1980s.
"What you have here is the continuing, ongoing tussle over whether the
A.N.C. is still a protest movement or the governing party of a responsible
member of the international community," said a retired American diplomat
with decades of Africa experience. "They're reflexively against anything we're
for - we in the States, we and the British, we in the North. It's more
Chinese than the Chinese."