Misguided African brotherhood

South Africa has always maintained that there is no problem in Zimbabwe. Official policy there has been to turn a blind eye to even Mugabe’s grossest human right abuses. Desperate Zimbabwean asylum seekers, flooding south to escape torture, starvation and the total breakdown of law and orde

r, education and health systems have been forced to queue for days, subjected to corrupt and abusive behaviour in many cases by the authorities and the police force and then penned by their thousands in the filthy, overcrowded Lindela holding camp.

Until recently the vast majority of Zimbabweans trekking across the border in search of safety and a better life have largely operated within the law. They have queued patiently, worked like slaves, lived in crowded tenements and church basements and sold their bodies and their children in order to keep body and soul together.

But now, with the exodus of rank and file members of the army and police, the situation is turning ugly. These people are different. They have been trained in the use of firearms. Violence is their way of life. They have no other training. Shooting, killing, beating, handling weapons – that’s all they know how to do.

In recent weeks this newspaper has carried reports on the increasing numbers of soldiers resigning and deserting as the country’s economy crumbles. Prosperous neighbouring South Africa is an obvious magnet for them.
Last week’s armed robbery at Honeydew and the ensuing fire fight with South Africa police, during which four policemen and eight robbers were killed, is a foretaste of what Thabo Mbeki can expect his country to go through if the Zimbabwean situation is not resolved quickly.

Former Zimbabwean soldiers have been involved in armed robberies in South Africa since 2002 – but such incidents are becoming steadily more commonplace.

It is equally disturbing, or it should be, that the SA authorities are getting no cooperation from the Zimbabwe government, as reported in the Joburg-based Sunday Times this week.

An intelligence officer told the newspaper that “a number of soldiers are leaving the Zimbabwean army and coming here. Last Sunday’s shooting involved people with serious military training”.

South Africa is beginning to reap the whirlwind of six years of unproductive quiet diplomacy concerning its northern neighbour. We would have thought it would be in that government’s interest to use whatever methods necessary to force Mugabe to the negotiating table. It is almost too late, but better late than never.

The fact that Mbeki appears to be prepared to allow his country, his people and his economy to suffer so severely because of some misguided feelings of African brotherhood towards one of Africa’s formerly respected liberation heroes, who has gone rotten, is beyond our comprehension.

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