2008-11-22 00:00

The government’s decision to withhold R300 million in agricultural aid to Zimbabwe has been interpreted as a significant token of a more uncompromising South African approach to the political impasse in that country. At long last, government spokespeople have acknowledged what many observers have been saying for years: that the true victims of Robert Mugabe’s misrule are the ordinary Zimbabweans themselves. Tragically too, as the cholera epidemic takes hold in a country whose health services and clean water infrastructure are in complete disarray and starts to spread across Zimbabwe’s borders, it is no longer possible to fudge the fact that people are literally dying and that the whole region is at risk.

Surely this must now spur this government and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to the forceful action that, adopted earlier, might have prevented much misery. Nor is this the only current instance where the implosion of a state has potentially disastrous ramifications for an entire region. Renewed fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo threatens to suck South Africa further into that morass, while the dysfunctionality of Somalia has let loose a wave of Indian Ocean piracy that threatens international trade.

The lesson is obvious. When, whether through misplaced loyalty or a lack of political will, gross misgovernment is condoned and things are let to slip to the point that the organs of the state can no longer function, the lives and security of people across whole regions are imperilled.

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