Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mandela ends silence on Zimbabwe crisis (Independent)

Nelson Mandela has now thrown his tremendous moral prestige behind the increasingly widespread condemnation of Robert Mugabe's tyrannical regime in Zimbabwe. It's unfortunate that Mandela felt compelled to wait this long--other prominent veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, took that step years ago. But better late than never.

Mandela's statement about Zimbabwe was also carefully understated and even a bit oblique (in an almost Papal manner). But even with all those qualifications and reservations, this has to be seen as an important intervention by Mandela. It should contribute to the process by which Mugabe's remaining defenders--including Mandela's successor as President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki--are finding themselves increasingly isolated and discredited.

To quote from the report in the Independent:
Nelson Mandela has broken his silence on the Zimbabwe crisis to castigate the "tragic failure of leadership" in the violence-torn country.

The former president of South African did not issue any specific call for action, and did not criticise by name the 84-year old Zimbabwean President, a fellow activist from the days of the struggle against white minority rule.

But in his statement, read out at a fundraising dinner last night in Hyde Park for his 90th birthday, the statesman made clear the depth of his feelings on the matter. After speaking of his "sadness" about the conflict in Darfur, he said: "Nearer to home, we had seen the outbreak of violence against fellow Africans in our own country and the tragic failure of leadership in our neighbouring Zimbabwe."

It was Mr Mandela's first statement since Zimbabwe's 29 March elections, which triggered a wave of "electoral cleansing" by Robert Mugabe's supporters after he came a humiliating second in the presidential contest against his opposition challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change.

Mr Mandela made it clear in 2004 that he would no longer intervene publicly in politics. But his words will be an embarrassment for the South African President, Thabo Mbeki, whose mediation efforts on Zimbabwe have been criticised by the chairman of southern Africa's regional bloc and by Mr Tsvangirai.

The dinner, attended by Gordon Brown and a host of celebrities, was part of a week-long series of events in London marking Mr Mandela's 90th birthday, which culminates with a concert tomorrow.

His words were seen as hugely important because of the influence of the former political prisoner as the world's moral conscience, and came as African leaders became the latest to urge Mr Mugabe to call off the run-off vote scheduled for tomorrow. Mr Tsvangirai withdrew on Sunday from the election. [....]

A spokesman for Mr Mandela said: "He had to wait until the United Nations had finished and until it was clear that Mugabe was going to go ahead with this election."

The UN Security Council issued an unprecedented statement on Monday about Zimbabwe, agreed by all 15 members, including South Africa, which had resisted UN discussions. The council condemned the "campaign of violence" and the restrictions on the opposition, which it said made a "free and fair election" impossible tomorrow.

Then yesterday, an emergency mini-summit of Zimbabwe's neighbours in Swaziland issued a call for the election to be postponed, saying that conditions were not conducive for a fair poll. The meeting comprised the leaders of Tanzania, Angola and Swaziland – in their capacity as the Southern African Development Community's troika organ on politics, defence and security – who have themselves turned on the Zimbabwean President. They said they had invited Mr Mbeki, who did not attend, but he was briefed about the outcome of the meeting. [....]

--Jeff Weintraub