Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tide of Zimbabwe refugees flows


The growing tide of refugees – and particularly torture victims like Ms. Magwegwe – raises uncomfortable questions for a South African government that came to power in the name of human rights but that has refused to criticize its hard-line neighbor, led by President Robert Mugabe. But as South African President Thabo Mbeki takes criticism for his "quiet diplomacy," hopes are being raised that Zimbabwe's government may finally be ready to talk with the opposition and that Mr. Mbeki's bid to mediate a political solution between Mr. Mugabe and the opposition will bear fruit.

"The South African government recognizes that the flood of refugees along their quite open border will occur, unless there is a political solution inside Zimbabwe," says Chris Maroleng, an expert on Zimbabwe for the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria (now known as Tshwane.) "But the problem for South Africa is that if they make provisions to allow Zimbabwe refugees in, they have to make a statement of why they are doing that, to criticize the Mugabe regime." That, he says, would scuttle Mbeki's chances of negotiating a settlement between the government and the opposition.

"The problem with the South African government is that it cannot effectively communicate their policy," says Mr. Maroleng. "It always ends up looking like the ... government supports Mugabe."...

Sikhumbuzo Ndiweni, a retired Zimbabwe Defense forces lieutenant colonel and political analyst, says that the Western countries have unintentionally made the human rights situation worse in Zimbabwe by harping on the need for Mugabe to step aside.

"There's no road map," he complains. "You expect Mbeki to say, 'I support you,' but they have no idea how to achieve the new dispensation. If you don't have a road map, and if you haven't helped the opposition come up with a strategy over the long term, then five weeks later, there will be a coup, and the ruling party will all come back again."

Yet rights activists inside Zimbabwe and outside have kept up the drumbeat, calling on the world to keep up pressure on the Mugabe regime to step aside.

In their Easter joint statement, the Roman Catholic bishops of Zimbabwe wrote, "Many people in Zimbabwe are angry, and their anger is now erupting into open revolt in one township after another.... In order to avoid further bloodshed and avert a mass uprising, the nation needs a new people-driven constitution that will guide a democratic leadership chosen in free and fair elections."

But for many Zimbabwean political activists, the only solution has been to flee...

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