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Moving Mugabe out

South Africa and other nations propping up Zimbabwe's leader need to change course.

June 06, 2008

It's a shame that the Iraq war has made it impossible to advocate regime change, because Zimbabwe's strongman, President Robert Mugabe, is such a deserving candidate. While the CIA has been dutifully keeping its powder dry, Mugabe, a despot who lacks oil or nuclear weapons, has become an increasingly lethal menace to his own people.

Zimbabweans voted for peaceful regime change in March. Despite intimidation, they voted in such numbers that Mugabe was unable to steal the election outright and has been forced into a June 27 runoff with challenger Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe's response has been to unleash a reign of terror: death squads, mass beatings of political opponents, crackdowns on the media and on aid groups that have been feeding the desperate populace. This week, he gate-crashed an international agricultural meeting in Rome, where, as usual, he blamed Western colonialists for his failures. Meanwhile, his police detained Tsvangirai for nine hours on the pretext that the rival presidential candidate drew too large a crowd. And his goons stopped a convoy of American and British diplomats who were attempting to investigate the political violence, slashed their tires and threatened to burn them to death in their cars.

Mugabe is beyond hope, but it's worth attempting an international pressure campaign against his chief enabler, South African President Thabo Mbeki.

“Zimbabwe is not a province of South Africa,” Mbeki famously answered those who have urged him to curb Mugabe's excesses. That's true. It's more like a protectorate of South Africa. South Africa supplies food, fuel, money, remittances and electricity to its neighbor. The electricity runs Zimbabwe's vital platinum mines, in which South African firms own a large interest. Platinum prices have hit record levels, and anxious manufacturers, including the Chinese, are desperate to prevent disruption of supplies. Could a threat to cut off the free electric power make Mugabe's minions more amenable to a political settlement?

Two million Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa, where some have been murdered by angry mobs. To date, however, the African Union has looked the other way. If the AU wants credibility, its new leader, Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, must condemn the violence in Zimbabwe and insist on unrestricted access for election monitors. So must the U.N. Security Council, where decent nations should demand the appointment of a special envoy and an investigation of the violence. If China, South Africa or Libya won't help, they bear responsibility for Zimbabwe's impending implosion.

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