To save Zimbabwe, South Africa must step up
Its clout is needed to help end the ruin Mugabe has wrought.
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Under the ruthless rule of its despotic strongman, Robert Mugabe, its economy is near collapse and its people live in fear, as the regime cracks down on political opponents. Thousands have died of malnutrition and starvation. So many have been buried in their remote villages that nobody can be sure what is now the country's actual population.
Mismanagement of the economy has produced inflation of an incredible 231 million percent, a figure undoubtedly outdated even as this column is written. The ordinary staples of existence are beyond reach of most citizens.
The public health system is in dire straits. There is a shortage of fuel to run the filtration pumps that provide clean water. Consequently, an outbreak of cholera (which Mr. Mugabe at first declared nonexistent) has taken more than 1100 lives, afflicted thousands more, and spread to neighboring countries.
Foreign journalists are personae non grata and humanitarian workers from the rest of the world are screened and often denied entry. Mugabe recently denied access to former US President Jimmy Carter, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and Graca Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela, South Africa's legendary foe of apartheid.
Originally Southern Rhodesia (so named by white settlers after the British Empire builder Cecil Rhodes), Zimbabwe achieved African majority rule in 1980 following a guerrilla war in which Mugabe played a significant role. But over time, he dispossessed white farmers of their land and called for them to leave the country. His reputation as an anticolonial freedom fighter became sullied by rigged elections that kept him in power as an increasingly dictatorial ruler, responsible for a failing economy and egregious human rights abuses.
Though various world leaders, including those of the United States, Britain, and France, have called for him to step down, he has defiantly resisted such demands. This resistance has been met with international dismay but little zeal for any effective tangible pressure.