WHEN the news of former Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa’s death reached the ears of many Zimbabweans, a blanket of heartfelt grief enveloped the nation.
While his death might have been in essence a sad loss to the people of Zambia specifically, it is trite to also point out that also a substantial amount of tears also flowed from millions of pairs of eyes watching from across the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe.
It may also be necessary to also point out that not everyone felt the pain of his death in Zimbabwe. In all likelihood, the news of his demise might have been greeted with a huge sigh of relief by the ruling elite in Harare. Mwanawasa had by the time of his death become such an unpopular person both with Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF cohorts.
On the contrary, Mwanawasa had endeared himself with the long suffering masses of Zimbabwe by breaking out of the traditional apologetic stance on Zimbabwe as propounded notoriously by the former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki is widely discredited for helping to prolong Mugabe’s overstay in power though his largely ineffective and controversial ‘quiet diplomacy’ on the Zimbabwe crisis.
In one of his highly publicised open rebukes of the Mugabe regime, Mwanawasa urged Africa especially the SADC region to accept that Zimbabwe was now like a ‘sinking Titanic’ and decisive action needed to be taken in order to resolve the never-ending crisis in Zimbabwe.
And so it was, when Mwanawasa passed away, that many Zimbabweans felt that he was going to be such an irreplaceable loss in terms of his strong principled stance on the Zimbabwean crisis.
However, it now appears so much of that agony and despair was not really necessary in the circumstances. This is so because yet again, a new leader in the SADC region has decided to take over from where Mwanawasa left in an even more radical way.
As I write today, millions of long-suffering Zimbabweans have started to acknowledge that the new President of Botswana, Ian Seretse Khama, has now assumed the moral leadership role that was left vacant by the late Mwanawasa.
Khama assumed office on April 1, 2008, in one of the most peaceful presidential transitions in African political history. Until then, he had been the Vice President of Botswana and also the preferred successor by his predecessor, the former President Festus Mogae.
This fact on its own was made even more spectacular in the sense that it is normal for incumbents in Africa to prefer any other candidate except their Vice President to succeed them.
Added to that, Mogae did something so rare in African politics. He decided to step down a year earlier from the end of his term to allow Khama to settle down smoothly without the hassles of an election campaign. As such, Botswana is due to hold its next presidential elections in 2009.
Ever since Khama took over the reigns in Gaborone, he has gone out of his way to voice his displeasure with the situation in Zimbabwe. He has boycotted a SADC heads of states summit. He has also called for a new United Nations-supervised election to be conducted in Zimbabwe to enable the electorate to have a decisive say on its preferred leader of the country. Even more, a news report recently claimed that he had said that his country was even prepared to help fund the proposed election re-run.
In this regard, his commendable stance has been ably complimented by his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Phandu Skelemani. Skelemani has also been principled and outspoken when it comes to the way forward in terms of the crisis in Zimbabwe. In a recent interview with the BBC, he boldly called for Mugabe to step down and also called for the neighbouring states to seal off their borders for a period so as to force Mugabe to step down.
It is common cause that the Mugabe regime has a very terrible record in terms of its ability to uphold or respect human rights in Zimbabwe. Under his leadership, the regime has grossly violated several inalienable rights of its own people. In this regard, the genocide in Matabeleland, Operation Murambatsvina, among a plethora of similarly destructive army and police-led operations; and the ruthless suppression of the opposition parties, media and the NGOs come to mind.
Zimbabwe is now known as one of the top ten worst human rights violators in the world.
As we joined the rest of the world in commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights charter last week, the Mugabe regime was yet again under heavy media spotlight in the wake of a fast-paced humanitarian crisis in the country represented by the ravaging effects of the unprecedented national cholera epidemic.
But as if dealing with the cholera crisis was not enough on its own, the Mugabe regime also chose to celebrate the International Human Rights week by unleashing a series of politically-motivated abductions and disappearances.
As I write, the question is no longer when the abductees will be found but it is now about whom else is going to be abducted next.
The Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, Jestina Mukoko, former aide to the MDC leader, Gandhi Mudzingwa and dozens of others have all been abducted by suspected CIO operatives and Zanu-PF political thugs.
In all this, most of Africa, except Kenya’s Raila Odinga, has chosen not to take a public stance against the Mugabe regime. Odinga has joined Khama, the seemingly lone voice from the Kgalagadi wilderness that is crying for peace and justice to return the land of Zimbabwe.
And so let us all hail Odinga together with Khama for standing with the people of Zimbabwe at this hour of need.
When the history of the nation is written for our posterity, we will not only remember those who oppressed and committed the atrocities against our people; but we will also remember those who chose to keep silent and ignore the gross violations of human rights in Zimbabwe by the Mugabe dictatorship.
We will also remember the good that the likes of Mwanawasa, Odinga and Khama did for the benefit of our beautiful nation.
Indeed as the great Martin Luther King once said, ‘for evil to prevail, it always takes good people to keep silent’.
Aluta continua! Viscera caritate!!!