In 2008, Peter Hain MP, formerly Britain’s Africa Minister recalls being asked what would happen to Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. "It will get worse and worse was my prediction, unfortunately proving distressingly and horribly true."
This is a moment of truth for Africa and especially the Southern African neighbours. An African solution to this African crisis is needed now, even more than before, when prevarication and complicity from African leaders has enabled Mugabe to persist with his despotic rule.
Although embarrassed by Mugabe, they have deferred to him as the heroic liberation leader of decades ago rather than the corrupt tyrant he became. In so doing they have turned their backs on the people. It was left to Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu to give voice to principle.
In 1980, Hain was "thrilled" when Mugabe was victorious in the first democratic election in which millions of black people were able to vote, but now,
His black tyranny is an ugly stain on Africa, for me almost as abhorrent as the white tyranny of apartheid I and my parents fought so hard to defeat.
What people have been unwilling to acknowledge about Mugabe is that he has never been susceptible to diplomacy. I recall trying to disabuse some of my Foreign Office officials of this, and also arguing with friends in Southern African Governments. The truth is that Zimbabwe represents a colossal failure of diplomacy-for Britain, for South Africa, the EU, UN, Commonwealth-for everyone concerned. And the consequences have been shocking.
Already there are reports that Opposition MDC leaders have gone underground because their lives are in danger. The MDC say they are determined to avoid another Kenya, and have urged their supporters to remain calm-despite increasing provocation from Mugabe’s forces. A prominent MDC leader and newly elected MP, Mrs Sekai Holland (a grandmother who was savagely beaten last year, and who is now in hiding) sent out this message: "Non-violence is our battle cry. That will empower us to deliver the Zimbabwe we want."
The international community must insist that the democratic verdict is upheld and that there is an orderly transfer of power, with Mugabe and his elite offered a safe passage if they wish. This requires global engagement from the United Nations in New York to Beijing (which has been bankrolling Mugabe as it buys up the country’s rich resources).
Above all it requires Zimbabwe’s neighbours in the Southern Africa Development Community to engage and speak with the same voice of democracy as should Europe and the UN. Pretoria could if necessary pull the plug on the regime by calling in debts and banning all forms of economic assistance. Meanwhile there should be an international movement of solidarity with Zimbabweans and against Mugabe, both to support local resistance and to lobby governments and global institutions. The MDC was formed out of Zimbabwe’s trade unions and should get the backing of unions worldwide.
The people of Zimbabwe need our help. And they need it now.