With Zimbabwe in a state of crisis over its still-unresolved elections, tensions rose this week after China attempted to deliver a shipment of arms to the embattled government of President Robert Mugabe. The Chinese ship, which reportedly contains 77 tons of assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and other armaments, was turned away from a South African port after several African leaders raised concerns that the weapons were to be used to crack down on Zimbabwe opposition groups. The opposition is widely believed to have won the presidential election three weeks ago, which would mean an end to Mugabe’s 28-year rule. But he has refused to release the vote count. Human-rights groups say there has been increasing violence against opposition supporters, including signs of torture, since the election.
Finally, African leaders have found a little backbone, said The Washington Post in an editorial. They have overlooked Mugabe’s thuggish behavior for far too long. Turning away a ship full of weapons is a good first step, but it must be followed by more active intervention to protect democracy in the dysfunctional country. Western nations have little leverage left to use against Mugabe. “If Zimbabwe is to be rescued, it must be by its fellow Africans.”
It certainly is in South Africa’s own interest to act, said David Cote in the Johannesburg Business Day. The crisis in Zimbabwe has already “spilled over the borders.” Fearful of civil war, thousands of Zimbabweans are fleeing their country, and most of them are coming here. It’s past time for South African President Thabo Mbeki to insist that his friend Mugabe accept the will of the Zimbabwean people and step down.
Time is running out, said The Economist. Credible sources report that “violence and repression” throughout Zimbabwe are quickly escalating. “Pro-government militias roam the countryside, terrorizing and beating suspected opposition supporters,” while police either stand idly by or “join in with the beatings.” African countries must step in, with force if necessary. If Mugabe unleashes a full-scale reign of brutality, nobody can pretend that they didn’t see it coming.