Thursday, May 10, 2007

There is still time for Mugabe...but not much

By Morgan Tsvangirai

ON March 11, 2007 I was arrested while attempting to attend a prayer vigil in Harare, and taken to a police station where officers, whose job it is to protect the public, beat me so badly I suffered injuries to my skull and had to be hospitalised for almost a week.

My crime: trying to pray for change in Zimbabwe.

The world's outcry over the past two months at the brutality exhibited by the regime of President Robert Mugabe has been heartening to the Zimbabwe people. Make no mistake, this condemnation, both in Africa and abroad, has had a huge and positive effect on the morale of those fighting for freedom.

True, there have been worse leaders in the world. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Joseph Stalin killed more than 30 million people. Idi Amin, murdered around 300 000 Ugandans, while one-in-10 Cambodians perished under the rule of Pol Pot. Stalin, Amin and Pol Pot lived out their lives in relative comfort, and died of natural causes.

Nevertheless the world has changed. General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, propped up so shamelessly by Washington and Europe during the Cold War, ended up on trial, stripped of the immunity he had forced the Argentine government to give him in exchange for a transfer to democracy.

On my own continent, the former leadership of Rwanda and Sierra Leone are in the dock, while one-time president of Liberia, Charles Taylor is under arrest at the Hague for crimes against humanity.

These are dangerous times for dictators.

I have little doubt that one reason Robert Mugabe is so determined to stay in office until he dies (he's already 83 years old) is a fear of prosecution.

In the early '80s, he sent his army into our southern province of Matabeleland where they slaughtered thousands of people loyal to his rival, the late Dr Joshua Nkomo. That one act would be enough to see him tried for war crimes, let alone the wide scale murder and torture committed by his government since our party, the Movement for Democratic Change or MDC, first challenged his authority in 1999.

Mugabe was not alone. Air Marshall Perence Shiri amongst others, led the Matabele genocide; speaker of Parliament Emmerson Mnangagwa oversaw it as minister; various heads of the feared Central Intelligence Organisation or CIO, including the incumbent Didymus Mutasa.

These individuals could be held responsible for permitting acts of torture and abuse, not to mention the wholesale displacement of an estimated 1.5 million people when their homes were bulldozed in 2005 during operation Murambatsvina (clear the trash).

And that's the Catch-22! If we say we'll bring these people to justice, they will cling ever-more firmly to power. Yet, if we offer them unconditional pardon, we sell out the hopes of their victims: millions of people who have a right to justice.

The change I talk about will come, regardless of whether Mugabe agrees to it or not. As surely as dictatorship fell in Chile, Cambodia, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and the former Soviet Union, it will collapse in Zimbabwe. But the longer Mr Mugabe and his allies stall that change, the greater will be the wrath of our people.

There is still time for Mr Mugabe to make a dignified exit, but not much. Beatings, torture, killings, rigged elections and control of the media may secure his position in the short term, but nothing will change the outcome.

Let's pray that Africa and the world can persuade him of that before it is too late.

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