Don't hold your breath

2008-06-09 00:00

In 1738, Robert Jenkins, the captain of the British merchant ship Rebecca, displayed his severed ear to the outraged members of the British parliament. The result was a protracted war between England and Spain known as the War of Jenkins’s Ear. On the surface at least, another example of a Jenkins’s ear incident has occurred across our northern border in Zimbabwe. The British and American ambassadors to that country were detained, albeit for a short period, and their staff physically abused in direct contradiction to the rules governing diplomatic immunity. Wars, as we have seen in the case of Jenkins’s ear, have been started for lesser matters.

However, those longing for regime change in the dire tyranny that Zimbabwe has become under Robert Mugabe should not become unduly optimistic. There is unlikely to be more than some indignant huffing and puffing by the representatives of the two affected nations. Both are democracies whose recent experiences of war in foreign climes have left their governments with rapidly declining popularity ratings and lame duck leaders. Furthermore, neither country’s economic, political or strategic interests would be served by more direct involvement. Both too, must be acutely aware that any further involvement on their part would fit neatly into the neo-colonial scenario being stridently and effectively painted by Mugabe and would therefore work against the interests of the opposition MDC.

Meanwhile, the chances of a free and fair run-off election later this month are becoming ever more remote. Morgan Tsvangirai has been arrested yet again and the Mugabe government has accused NGOs of working for his “neo-colonialist” enemies and the MDC. As a result NGOs will now be required to seek re-accreditation from the state, effectively ensuring that desperately needed aid will be politically directed. Sadly the nation which could most effectively take up the cudgels on behalf of the battered people of Zimbabwe is South Africa. There is a grim irony in the fact that South Africa’s dour, seventies apartheid prime minister, B. J. Vorster, whose interests in losing a white neighbour to the north were directly threatened by his decision to pull the plug on Ian Smith’s Rhodesian regime, showed much greater decisiveness and leadership than is being shown by our present leaders, whose task, on the surface at least, would seem to be a much easier one. Furthermore, the long-term outcome of a more aggressive policy aimed at restoring stability and economic prosperity to an important piece in the southern African jigsaw would breathe new life into regionalism as a policy and give some meaning to the currently empty promises of Nepad.

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