TCS Daily

Thank Goodness for Racist Canadians

By Richard Tren - October 20, 2003 12:00 AM

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- During the many years of Apartheid, our southern African neighbours, such as Zimbabwe and Zambia, provided Nelson Mandela's liberation organisation (and now government), the African National Congress (ANC), with practical and moral support, often at considerable risk. Today, Zimbabweans who are suffering under the murderous rule of one of Africa's most brutal tyrants unfortunately have not been afforded the same.


However it seems that the support they desperately need may come from far further away; the Canadian government is currently considering indicting Mr. Robert Mugabe on the charge of crimes against humanity.


A group of international lawyers has prepared draft indictment papers and has written to the Canadian Minister of Justice urging him to act swiftly against Zimbabwe's tyrant. If the indictment goes ahead, it will be the first time that Canada's three year old Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act will be used.


The move has been supported by a number of Canadian MPs from different parties, including Dr. Keith Martin of the Alliance Party, who recently visited Zimbabwe. Should Canada proceed with the indictment, Mr. Mugabe would effectively be trapped in his country as he would run the risk of arrest and deportation to Canada if he left. (Unfortunately for Mr. and Mrs. Mugabe, this means that the shopping sprees in Paris that they so love would be a thing of the past.)


Right and Wrong


The first charge in the 20 point draft indictment is that of extermination. Mr. Mugabe's particularly heinous policies -- such as withholding food aid from people who could not demonstrate that they were ZANU PF (Mugabe's party) supporters or who had dared to oppose his policies -- can be seen as nothing less. The indictment also cites the disappearance of people either through arrest, detention or abduction; the routine torture of Mugabe's opponents; the persecution of groups (such as farmers and farm labourers); and, lastly, widespread imprisonment in violation of the fundamental rules of international law.


Should Canada go ahead, a good many feathers -- particularly in Africa -- will be ruffled. One official I spoke with from Zimbabwe's opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (who preferred not to be named) worried that the any potential indictment would deepen the rift between the black and white countries in the British Commonwealth. He suggested this would not necessarily be helpful to restoring democracy to Zimbabwe.


Should this happen, it would be most unfortunate: Acting against Mugabe only becomes a race issue if one chooses to make it so. Responding to the Zimbabwean crisis should have nothing to do with race, but with what is right and what is wrong. It is wrong to abuse, torture and starve your population. It is right to make a public stand against such behaviour and try to bring an end to it as soon as possible. If one is accused of being racist for making a firm and unequivocal stand against Mugabe and his violent abuse of power, then Canadians should be happy to be labelled as such.


Failure of Quiet Diplomacy


The quiet diplomacy approach favoured by President Mbeki and most other African leaders only seems to have worsened the crisis in Zimbabwe. In an inspiring speech in Johannesburg at the weekend event organised by the MDCs Peace and Democracy Project, the MDC's Secretary General, Prof. Welshman Ncube, ridiculed Mbeki's diplomatic efforts.


Those in favour of quiet (or perhaps silent) diplomacy, as Ncube explained, compare an aggressive, hard-line approach (such as that of he EU) to putting an angry dog in a room, closing all the doors and then telling it to get out of the room. But the quiet diplomats' desire to engage and negotiate with Mugabe is, in the words of Ncube, "bewildering." Mbeki's approach, Ncube went on, "is to feed that dog and wait for him to leave on his own, fat and satisfied." Fat and satisfied while ordinary Zimbabweans starve.


According to Ncube, the beauty of the quiet diplomacy approach -- which can really be likened to doing nothing -- is that it can never fail. If Mugabe is forced by the EU, Canada and others to hold free and fair elections and allow the democratically elected winner of those elections to take power, the quiet diplomats will claim the victory. If however no such election is held, Mbeki et. al. can always blame the strong arm tactics of the EU for the failure.


Reason for Hope


The recent crisis in Liberia should give some hope to those who favour indicting Mugabe. The charges of crimes against humanity that were laid against Charles Taylor led to his acceptance of a life in exile and paved the way for peacekeeping troops. No doubt there are some African countries that would readily offer Mugabe refuge; Namibia's leader, for instance, sycophantically praises Mugabe's every move and no doubt would welcome him.


While the MDC has not responded formally to the calls for Mugabe's indictment, Prof. Ncube said that he was personally in favour of it, arguing that any additional pressure against Mugabe would be likely to bring a swifter end to the crisis.


Over two years ago, African leaders launched the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) with the commendable aims of securing democracy, peace and prosperity for the Continent. Yet the stance that those same leaders have taken on Zimbabwe shows that NEPAD is meaningless and only designed as a vehicle for politicians to make trite, empty statements upon which they have no intention of acting. Given this failure, we should be encouraging the Canadian government to do what is right and treat Mugabe for what he is; a vicious criminal.


Richard Tren is a freelance writer based in South Africa and works for the health advocacy group Africa Fighting Malaria.

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