/ 21 January 2009

‘Hear us, we have suffered enough’

Southern African leaders have failed miserably in saving Zimbabweans from a government that has lost all legitimacy, Graça Machel says.

Southern African leaders have failed miserably in saving Zimbabweans from a government that has lost all legitimacy, Elders member Graça Machel said on Wednesday.

”We trusted too long, it’s time we tell our leaders we lay the lives of all those who passed on … in the hands of the SADC [Southern African Development Community] leaders because they took the responsibility to stop that mess there,” Machel said in Johannesburg.

”Politicians have very huge egos to protect. They don’t care if another thousand, another thousand and another thousand die, as long as they protect their egos.”

The former Mozambican first lady was speaking at the launch of the ”Save Zimbabwe Now” campaign by church leaders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who will participate in a period of fasting to raise awareness of the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Machel said long-time Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe’s government had lost all legitimacy and warned other liberation movements in Southern Africa against following the same route.

In the past, leaders in the region, including Zimbabwe, stood together to fight against oppressive white rule, said Machel.

”What has happened in the meantime in Zimbabwe? Those colleagues of mine from yesterday now brutalise their own people simply because the people consciously voted them out.

”It is a question which haunts me again and again,” said Machel.

More than 2 000 people have died of cholera in strife-torn Zimbabwe and many others have died in political conflict. Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai failed yet again on Monday to agree to a power-sharing government.

SADC has been facilitating talks on a government of national unity in so-far unsuccessful attempts led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

Zimbabwean Pastor Wison Mugabe, a member of the National Pastor’s Forum, said he would start a 21-day hunger strike on Wednesday.

Pastor Mugabe said the people of Zimbabwe were already on a ”forced fast by the government”.

”We have become beggars … yesterday we were people who could feed the whole of Southern Africa.

”Hear us, we have suffered enough,” said the pastor, who broke down in tears and had to be comforted by Machel before he could continue talking.

”Let’s just pray for God to restore the conscience of political leaders and open the eyes of SADC leaders,” said Pastor Mugabe.

He will be joined by about 54 others who will take part in the fasting period, most of them fasting one day per week, including Tutu, who will start next Wednesday.

Other participants are Bishop Paul Verryn of the Central Methodist Church and Reverend Priscilla Everson.

The SaveZimbabaweNow campaign, whose headquarters will be the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg, is supported by several organisations and religious groups, including the South African Council of Churches, the Young Communist League, The Elders, the South African Communist Party and the Islamic Relief Support centre.

Nomboniso Gasa, chairperson of the South African Commission for Gender Equality, and Kumi Naidoo, honorary president of the NGO Civicus, will join Pastor Mugabe in the 21-day hunger strike.

‘This is a lesson’
Machel, who is not participating in the fast ”for personal reasons”, said SADC leaders needed to add new voices in their attempts to solve the Zimbabwean crisis.

”They will be meeting here on Monday again … I think we have to send a very clear, unequivocal message — ‘we are dying, this has got to stop’,” said Machel.

She said SADC had the mandate of millions of citizens in its region to create stability in Zimbabwe.

”This is the biggest test to all leaders of SADC … They, as a collective leadership, took the responsibility to solve the conflict and we have been waiting too long.”

Machel said Zimbabwe had failed in its responsibility to protect its citizens and called on Mugabe to release all political prisoners from jail.

”I want to say to the leadership who are in government in Zimbabwe … a government must protect its citizens … it’s how you treat your own citizens, that’s where your legitimacy comes from.

”It [the Zimbabwean government] has lost completely any kind of legitimacy.

”This is not normal. This is a lesson to our region. We came together to liberate ourselves, but now [we see] that power can pervert you to become precisely the opposite of what led you to become a freedom fighter.

”This is a lesson to other liberation movements in our region,” said Machel.