- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Zimbabwe’s harsh repression of strikes and street protests shows the desperation of the regime of longtime President Robert Mugabe, but South Africa and other African powers must do more to help drive him from power, a leading opposition figure said.

“South Africa could be doing much more to help our cause,” said Moses Mzila Ndlovu, the chief foreign policy spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which has organized massive public protests against Mr. Mugabe’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

“If South Africa feels a close identification with the current government, it should be the first to answer for the regime’s misdeeds,” Mr. Ndlovu said in an interview during a visit to Washington this week.

With Zimbabwe’s economy in tatters and political repression on the rise, the MDC organized nationwide strikes and protests earlier this month, calling them off only after Mr. Mugabe sent army units into the streets of the capital, Harare, Bulawayo and other major cities.

MDC party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who narrowly lost to Mr. Mugabe last year in a widely disputed presidential vote, has been charged with treason by the government and many other MDC figures, including Mr. Ndlovu, have been harassed, jailed and beaten.

The United States and the European Union have stepped up their criticisms of the Mugabe government since the 2002 elections, condemning repressive new curbs on the press and civil liberties and a land-redistribution program that has driven some of the country’s most efficient white farmers off their land and sent food production plummeting.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in a New York Times opinion piece Tuesday, said Mr. Mugabe’s “time has come and gone” and urged the country’s neighbors to play a more active role in pressing the president to leave.

“If leaders on the continent do not do more to convince President Mugabe to respect the rule of law and enter into a dialogue with the political opposition, he and his cronies will drag Zimbabwe down until there is nothing left to ruin,” Mr. Powell warned.

Mr. Ndlovu said the MDC has been disappointed by South Africa’s low-key approach to the crisis next door. He said many African countries are reluctant to interfere in Zimbabwe’s domestic crisis and worry about the precedent of ousting a figure like Mr. Mugabe, who has ruled his country since its independence from Britain in 1980.

Like Zimbabwe, South Africa and many African states are governed largely by a single party closely associated with the nationalist struggle for independence.

“Real political change in Zimbabwe could have profound effects across Africa,” Mr. Ndlovu said.

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, which has had testy relations with Zimbabwe’s opposition, has pursued quiet diplomacy in the crisis on its doorstep, rejecting U.S. and EU efforts to isolate Mr. Mugabe and his top aides internationally.

“We are not there to throw people over the precipice,” South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Diaminini Zuma told reporters earlier this year.

The MDC has been criticized for provoking the street demonstrations of recent weeks, which failed to shake Mr. Mugabe’s control.

But Mr. Ndlovu said the decision to call off the work stoppages and protests was merely a “tactical withdrawal.”

That the government had to call out the army to prevent bigger protests “just shows the level of desperation on Mugabe’s part,” he said. “He’s used the maximum force he has against us. His intimidation tactics are exhausted. If we go back into the streets, what more can he do to us?”

The MDC official said the political crisis is growing more acute, as the president’s ruling ZANU-PF party debates how to break the political impasse and retain power as the international pressure on Mr. Mugabe grows.

“Because of his age, because of his crimes, Mugabe has got to go,” Mr. Ndlovu insisted. “But when he goes, we do not know what will happen with ZANU-PF. It is in our interest to work out a transition with ZANU-PF, but we can’t hold their party together for them.”

Mr. Mugabe, he said, “is buying time to try to solve an insoluble problem.”

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