Courageous presence

2008-08-21 00:00

The death of Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, at the relatively young age of 59, is a sad blow not only for Zambia but also for the whole region covered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC). He had a reputation for bold action in the interests of clean government, even putting his predecessor, Frederick Chiluba, on trial for corruption when Chiluba’s massive theft of state funds came to light.

Among the heads of state in the southern African bloc, his was a lone voice in its criticism of Robert Mugabe, likening the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy to the sinking of the Titanic and, most recently, condemning the mockery of a free and fair process in the run-off presidential election in June. Mwanawasa was a leader with a mind of his own and a willingness, despite his mild-mannered temperament, to express it. His legacy will be one of a pragmatic and principled approach to human affairs.

So far as Zimbabwe is concerned, Mwanawasa’s mantle of criticism has fallen on the shoulders of Ian Khama, the recently elected president of Botswana who publicly boycotted last weekend's meeting of the SADC leaders in Sandton, Johannesburg because Mugabe would be there as the de facto

still-recognised president of Zimbabwe. It is time for others to show the same courageous grasp of principle and, as a sign of that, to insist on a just power-sharing arrangement in Zimbabwe. What must certainly be rejected is the current deal which apparently leaves Mugabe as president with power to appoint and dismiss all members of cabinet and to control the security establishment. Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), is right to refuse to sign such a deal and thereby allow himself to be co-opted into an arrangement where he will be a lame duck despite winning a parliamentary majority in the election of March 29.

The negotiations will continue under the agreed mediation of President Thabo Mbeki and others, but at the same time Mugabe must be strongly pressured by his African colleagues into giving up ground.

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