- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 19, 2003

Zimbabwe's situation has gone from dire to macabre. More than two-thirds of Zimbabwe's population is on the verge of starvation, and many Zimbabweans can't even cremate their dead, given a shortage of fuel. South Africa, the power broker for the region, would like to stay on the sidelines, gently nudging Zimbabwe's president-by-fraud, Robert Mugabe, towards more reasonable policies. But circumstances have made South Africa a chief protagonist in this unfolding tragedy in a number of ways. South Africa may be forced to take a public stand on the Zimbabwean regime, given, in part, the contempt Mr. Mugabe and his cabal have demonstrated toward the people and government of South Africa.
Back in August, Zimbabwe's Information minister, Jonathan Moyo, absurdly declared there was "no crisis in Zimbabwe" during a summit meeting with other officials from southern Africa. Mr. Moyo then attempted to divert attention on Zimbabwe by highlighting South Africa's problems. "It is you people who have Mandela [squatter] camps all over the place, not us. In fact, the average black person in Zimbabwe is better off than the average black person in South Africa."
South Africa quietly shrugged off Mr. Moyo's delusional rant and has refused to publicly criticize the Mugabe regime, even while the international community has applied mounting pressure on the government to call out Mr. Mugabe's abuses. But Zimbabwe's latest harangue won't be so easily ignored by South Africa.
South Africa's Sunday Times recently published a scoop that is making waves across Africa. On Jan. 12, the Times said Mr. Moyo spent nearly two weeks in Johannesburg around New Year's time with his family. During his stay, Mr. Moyo bought (always accompanied by bodyguards) enough food and other goods to fill not only his Mercedes and his Pajero SUV and one other vehicle, but also a trailer. Perhaps this report explains why Mr. Moyo fails to see a crisis in his native Zimbabwe. For ordinary Zimbabweans, the combination of a severe food shortage and price controls have made food extremely difficult to come by.
The story, while highlighting the remarkable hypocrisy of Mr. Mugabe's associates, could have ended there. But Mr. Moyo felt compelled to lash out against South Africa and its government in reaction to the Times article. In a statement carried in the state-owned Harare newspaper the Herald, Mr. Moyo said, "I have always had a nagging feeling that for all their propensity for liberal values and civilized norms, these people [South Africans] are dirty. In fact, they are filthy and recklessly uncouth. Now the evidence is there for any decent person to see.If these people, in the name of South Africa, believe they can lead an African renaissance, then God help them because they are joking. Their barbarism will never take root or find expression in Africa." Mr. Moyo said his remarks have been twisted out of context.
In a telephone interview, a South African diplomat expressed the government's escalating frustration with the Mugabe regime, saying the government was carefully weighing its response. But the government was tired of taking abuse from Zimbabwe and is considering "turning our backs" on Mr. Mugabe, he said. Meanwhile, a State Department official representing the bureau of African affairs said the Bush administration could be poised to expand its current sanctions on the Zimbabwean regime to include an asset freeze on Mr. Mugabe & Co.
Clearly, Zimbabwe is hitting bottom in every possible respect diplomatically, socially, economically. Many observers expect a wave of food riots to rock Zimbabwe. It does appear Mr. Mugabe could be increasingly isolated, even inside Africa. And that could be the beginning of a new future for Zimbabwe. Other possible outcomes are too chilling to consider.


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