Zimbabwe Church accuses S Africa over failure to act

As accusations of a 1980s massacre of 20,000 people by forces loyal to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe are revived, the Catholic Church has accused South Africa of failing to use its economic clout to pressure the authoritarian regime.

Voice of America reports that Zimbabwe's Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube said on yesterday that South Africa is in a good position to put pressure on Zimbabwe and could force the government to change through sanctions if necessary.

But he said in a statement the South African government is merely watching.

The announcement came as a civic group of exiled Zimbabwean dissidents in South Africa criticised African leaders for remaining silent about the incidents which have brought condemnation from Europe and the US.

Several dozen opposition leaders were beaten this month while in police custody after they tried to gather for what was termed a "prayer rally".

One person died in the incident and several others were hospitalised. The group says dozens of other opposition activists have since been arrested.

An analyst with South Africa's Institute for Security Studies, Chris Moroleng, says the confrontation between the Mugabe government and its opponents has entered a new phase.

"They [authorities] are not waiting for incidents to occur but they are preemptively attacking the opposition and civil society before a direct confrontation takes place," he said.

In response, President Robert Mugabe has remained defiant in the face of international criticism and indicated in a recent address to members of his ZANU-PF party that he is prepared to continue the crackdown if the protests continue.

"They (the opposition) will get arrested and will get bashed by the police," said President Mugabe.

Meanwhile, an analyst for the Middle East Times, Benedict Unendoro, has resurrected earlier accusations by the Zimbabwe Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace over an alleged massacre of 20,000 Ndebele people.

The Commission had found that more than 20,000 people - most of them from the Ndebele ethnic group opposed to Mugabe - died or disappeared during a five-year reign of terror known as "Gukurahundi" - which, roughly translated, means "sorting the chaff from the grain."

The killings received universal condemnation, but no international action was taken to stop them.

"Mugabe's story, since independence in 1980, is a bloody trail of mass murder and the torture of political opponents," Thompson Zhou, a teacher in the farming town of Kadoma told Udendoro.

"With such a track-record, why would Mugabe lose sleep over the recent round of condemnation over the torture of Tsvangirai and company?"

Criticism Rises of African Leaders' Silence on Zimbabwe (Voice of America, 20/3/07)
Mugabe's sense of impunity (Middle East Times, 20/03)
What to do about Mugabe (Eureka Street, 20/3/07)

21 Mar 2007