'It is scandalous to remain silent'

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa effectively put his head on the chopping block this week after he strongly condemned Robert Mugabe’s regime for its violent attacks on opposition supporters and called for the postponement of the June 27 poll.

“What is happening in Zimbabwe is a matter of serious embarrassment to all of us. It is scandalous for the SADC [Southern African Development Community] to remain silent in the light of what is happening,” Mwanawasa, who is also the SADC chair, told a press briefing in the capital, Lusaka. This just a few hours after Zimbabwe’s opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangarai, announced his withdrawal from the election re-run.

While Mwanawasa’s remarks about the Zimbabwe crisis might not have the backing of all SADC member states, the Mail & Guardian spoke to people on the streets of Lusaka this week about whether they support Mwanawasa abandoning the “silent” diplomacy approach previously favoured by the region.

“In my view, President Mwanawasa has every right to speak on any country in Southern Africa as long as he is not interfering with its sovereignty.
We paid the price for every country to be free in Southern Africa and, therefore, when we see things are not going on well, we have to speak. I support what President Mwanawasa did,” said Wisdom Mwanza, a retired civil servant.

Justine Chanda, a minibus taxi driver, said Mwanawasa’s intervention was long overdue.

“In fact, he should have said it a long time ago. Now it’s a bit too late, but of course better than nothing. I only hope the Zimbabwean government will take heed of his counsel for the good of the region. I also hope that all SADC member states will support their chairmen and condemn the tyrant that Mugabe has become.”

Pastor Harold Gondwe of the Scripture Union in Zambia said: “What’s happening in Zimbabwe is not a pleasant picture, their people are now selling useless products at filling stations here and they are being slaughtered in South Africa. They are troubling everyone in the region. Surely, the president is right. We need change in Zimbabwe.”

Robert Mtonga, a freelance medical doctor and consultant to the ministry of foreign affairs in the Zambian government, said Mwanawasa was merely endorsing the principles of good governance by criticising the Zimbabwean government. “Levy [Mwanawasa] has a point, whether [it is] right or wrong is a moral judgement.

“When the writing is on the wall the humble thing to do is to step back so that the moral good of the country prevails,” Mtonga said.

“The problem with Mugabe is that he wants to rule by dominion and the worst part is that he thinks people still like him; he has become a hostage of his own fantasies.”

Housewife Mildred Muyanwa cut a lonely figure in opposition to Mwanawasa’s criticism of Mugabe’s governance style.

“You see, there are better ways of sorting out a problem, especially because we are neighbouring countries. For example, why say that you are disappointed by [Thabo] Mbeki not giving information about his meetings with Mugabe?

“He [Mwanawasa] could have written to their [Zimbabwean diplomatic] missions here, instead of rushing to the press to publicly denounce his friends,” Muyanwa said.

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