Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn

Sitting here in my Northumbrian farmhouse, fields still white from last Thursday’s snow, I wouldn’t normally be inspired to write about events in a dusty landscape thousands of miles away. But, reading the headlines and seeing the terrible footage of suffering in Zimbabwe, I feel I have to share a few lines of optimism about that country’s appalling situation.

I detect the first rays of a new dawn breaking over the darkness of Zimbabwe. You wouldn’t have guessed it by the tone of the news bulletins, or in the weekend’s editorials. With the number of cholera victims expected to rise to over 60,000, with thousands more facing starvation, with the economy and all basic services in tatters, the army on the rampage and inflation running at 231,000,000%, it’s easy to see why the press has elevated Zimbabwe back to the front pages: it’s another sensational disaster story, and all appears doom and gloom.

Yesterday the Archbishop of York called for Mugabe to be sent to the International Criminal Court along with his evil cronies; Gordon Brown declared that “enough is enough”, and Condoleezza Rice has said it’s “well past time” for him to leave office. None of these outbursts would normally have the slightest effect on events. Indeed, in the past, the louder the international community has shouted, the more entrenched Mugabe has become. And the more contemptuously he has treated the West, the more his African neighbours have appeared to respect the revolutionary qualities which brought him power.

But on Saturday I received an email from a correspondent who sends me regular communications from inside Zimbabwe. And for the first time in many months, I detected a tone of optimism. The key to freedom in Zimbabwe has always been South Africa. And over the past ten days there’s evidence that South Africa has begun to change course. Partly because the exodus of cholera victims across the border is now turning into a flood, mostly because the ineffectual and Mugabe-worshipping President Mbeki has been ousted, there appear to be signs of serious pressure for change. It’s reflected in the South African media, in the statements of its politicians, and in its refusal last week to send Zimbabwe $30million of agricultural aid until the politicians have banged their heads together and implemented the power sharing agreement.

All this coincides with calls by other leaders in the region for Mugabe to go. On Saturday the foreign minister of Botswana said they should starve Zimbabwe of petrol and diesel, which would immediately neuter Mugabe’s henchmen; Raila Odinga, the Kenyan Prime Minister, said “It’s time for African governments to take decisive action to push him out of power”. It’s not a moment too soon.

According to my correspondent, if this pressure continues to grow, it will finally push Zanu PF to release its monopoly of power, and emasculate the tyrant President. And, miraculously for such a blood-stained region, this will have been achieved without the intervention of international troops or a bloody coup. The power-sharing compromise agreement, which is supposed to make Morgan Tsvangirai Prime Minister and chairman of the Council of Ministers, is only a transitional situation, but one big step towards the restoration of true democracy in that battered land. I suspect Zanu-PF will continue to fight all the way against anything that gives their opponents real power. But with South Africa holding the last few tenuous strings of Zimbabwe’s survival, it’s likely that common sense, and Morgan Tsvangirai, will prevail.

The next two weeks are crucial, and events in Zimbabwe could still go either way. Not just for the tens of thousands of people threatened with cholera, but for the entire country and the region. Noone can ignore the events going on in Zimbabwe, not even a writer in faraway Northumberland. So the more pressure we as a nation can exert, the better. Let’s hope it’s not another false dawn.


Troy said...

Amen to that!

Catharine Withenay said...

You sum up the precarious situation in Zimbabwe so beautifully. The sooner the country can be put back on an even keel the better, although I fear it may be generations before it is once more the 'bread-basket of Southern Africa'. I got hopping mad when Mugabe announced they'd "arrested cholera" the other day!