WASHINGTON - Calls are growing for the international community to do more about Zimbabwe, and now global human rights leaders including Desmond Tutu are engaging in a "relay fast" and other nonviolent acts to pressure neighboring countries -- particularly South Africa -- to support the Zimbabwean people's struggle for democracy and human rights.
"SADC and African governments must act resolutely to protect the people of Zimbabwe who are being subjected to a passive genocide. The suffering of the people of Zimbabwe cannot be ignored any longer," says the Save Zimbabwe Now! Coalition in a petition calling for immediate action to resolve the East African nation's political, economic, and humanitarian crises.
In addition to the petition and fast -- which human rights leaders including CIVICUS's Kumi Naidoo and Nomboniso Gasa of the South African Gender Commission are joining for 21 days apiece -- Save Zimbabwe Now! has launched letter writing campaigns and will hold public meetings and rallies throughout Southern Africa.
The coalition of human rights activists is demanding that the regional economic alliance South African Development Community (SADC) and African political leaders abandon the notoriously fruitless policy of "quiet diplomacy" toward Zimbabwe.
Instead, they say, the SADC and other continental powers should staunchly condemn the political violence and the Robert Mugabe regime's violation of regional and international treaties and conventions on human and democratic rights.
One such treaty is the Memorandum of Understanding, signed by Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and the two factions of the leading opposition MDC party paving the way for talks to resolve the country's political impasse.
The international community must also address Zimbabwe's crippling humanitarian crises: primarily widespread food scarcity and hunger, the near-collapse of the country's health system, and the cholera and AIDS epidemics, the Coalition says, adding that Zimbabwe's neighbors in particular must provide humanitarian assistance and refuge to those fleeing the country.
"The act of purposefully going without food is also symbolic. It recognizes the worsening food shortages in Zimbabwe, and the deepening humanitarian crisis. It acknowledges the (mis)use of food as a tool in the ongoing political turmoil. Most importantly, it expresses solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe, as many struggle to meet the most basic of daily needs -- food," said a written statement released by Save Zimbabwe Now! earlier this week.
Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his efforts to help end apartheid in South Africa, believes international activist pressure can yield results for Zimbabwe too. "If we would [only] have more people saying 'I will fast,' maybe one day a week -- just to identify myself with my sisters and brothers in Zimbabwe," Tutu pleaded on South African radio recently. The 77-year-old archbishop will be going without food one day a week until the Coalition's demands are met.
Save Zimbabwe Now! is also calling for a halt to the government's intense assault on civil and human rights activists, marked by a series of abductions and torture of those criticizing the government.
New Mediator Needed?
Many of Save Zimbabwe Now!'s demands are directed at the SADC, but some human rights groups are so disappointed with the regional body's efforts to date that they are suggesting the African Union (AU) take control of mediation efforts in Zimbabwe.
"During the recent Citizensâ€TM Continental Conference held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia...the participants called upon the African Union to formally recognize that the SADC mediation is challenged and has not achieved the desired results and that the resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis should be done under the direct authority of the AU," wrote the 16-member Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum in an email to supporters Wednesday.
Human Rights Watch, which is based in New York and monitors abuses around the world, agrees. "Ongoing human rights abuses have not ceased and those responsible have not been held to account," the group said Thursday, calling on the African Union to "insert itself formally into the mediation process and set basic principles, specific human rights benchmarks, and timelines for resolving the crisis."
Human Rights Watch also urged the AU to suspend Zimbabwe from the grouping of nations if -- within a specific time frame -- it does not meet specific human rights and good governance benchmarks.
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The African Union will begin a week-long summit meeting in Addis Ababa Monday.
Call to Americans
Zimbabwe- and U.S.-based groups are also urging Americans to stand up on behalf of Zimbabweans.
Following a December holiday visit to his home country, Washington, DC-based Zimbabwean Briggs Bomba relayed to reporters the requests of civic leaders and activists in Zimbabwe.
Groups like Zimbabwe Crisis Coalition, Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Zimbabwe Peace Project, and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights all need help spreading the word about the problems Zimbabweans are facing, said Bomba, who works with the nonprofit pressure group Africa Action.
Indeed, noted Bomba, campaigners in Zimbabwe believe human rights defender Jestina Mukoku finally surfaced after more than three weeks of disappearance only because of intense international pressure from human rights groups around the world.
The grassroots and community organizations that Bomba connected with in Zimbabwe are also strapped for funds to enable basic operations such as accessing and sending e-mails and traveling to connect with other organizations and provide services within the country.
These groups "bring an important perspective and feeling to the table and are absolutely vital to the democratic and social justice struggle in Zimbabwe," said Bomba. "They are severely crippled by lack of basic resources for communication, transport, and other needs."
Ordinary Zimbabweans Make Their Plea
The idea for the global hunger strike was born when activists from South Africa were in Zimbabwe in December to produce a film about the struggles faced by everyday people and local community organizing groups.
The short video features ordinary Zimbabweans, church leaders, trade unionists, community workers, and human rights lawyers, suggesting that immediate and decisive action from South African leaders and the wider international community is needed.
"Here we are not free. We do not get enough food to eat. We do not get enough clothing. We do not get any care at schools. We do not get comfortable at home. When we wake up, we do not get any food to eat. We only get water and go to school," said one young person interviewed in Part I of the film (see video below). "Water does not give us strength to learn," he added. "There are not doctors at the hospitals. We need doctors also. We need teachers -- we need qualified teachers."
The film, entitled "Time 2 Act," can be viewed below and will be distributed to the leaders of South Africa, the SADC, the AU, and South Africa's ruling party the African National Congress, said the producers.