15-year old girl in Florida in the US, recently hiccupped nonstop
for five weeks. Before her hiccups stopped, she was hiccupping 50
times a minute. All manner of remedies, including various juices,
breathing into a bag and consulting neurologists, were tried but
nothing helped. Remarkably, the hiccups stopped on their own. The
moral of this tale seems simple: sometimes, despite our best efforts,
certain things just go away when they are ready to. There are no
logical reasons why this happens they just do.
It appears that world politics operates largely on this hiccup principle.
Seemingly, international relations are governed by the belief that
most of the time things tick over smoothly like a healthy functioning
human diaphragm. Occasionally, when the hiccups start, like they
have for the last number of years in Zimbabwe, the diplomatic response
is to sit quietly by, waiting for them to come to a natural end.
Some paltry gestures like consulting experts or knocking back the
odd glass of beetroot juice can be attempted, but, in the end, the
hiccups will end when they are good and ready.
The hiccup principle of international relations is, however, risky.
This was evident in the bruised face of Morgan Tsvangirai, leader
of the opposition in Zimbabwe, after being severely assaulted by
Zimbabwean State forces. It was remarkable to watch him give an
interview, relating his ordeal calmly and calling for international
action, given what had happened. A few statements of condemnation
followed, then interest waned and the world retreated into waiting
for Robert Mugabes tyranny to go into spontaneous remission.
In seems that in Africa a little hiccupping of the Mugabe kind is
generally accepted. Imagine if Tony Blairs police assaulted
David Cameron, or George Bush decided to beat the hell out of Hilary
Clinton for good measure. What would the world say then? Although
the latter might sometimes seem feasible in the US these days, the
outrage would be immeasurable. In Zimbabwe, it is treated as a minor
malfunction and par for the course.
Well, frankly, I am tired of it. I know all the arguments for and
against speaking out about Zimbabwe. I know complaining about Mugabe
is some white peoples way, especially in South Africa, of
publicly airing racist views without as much as saying it. I know
for some trashing Mugabe in this context, and a global environment
that loves to portray African leaders as despots and Western leaders
as angels, feels like the betrayal of the often unfairly hounded
Africa continent. But I also know when enough is enough, and when
excuses for silence are no longer acceptable. Should the international
community have stayed quiet about apartheid?
Did you know the life expectancy in Zimbabwe is now 37 years old?
It was 60 in 1990. The infant mortality was 53 deaths for every
1000 live births in 1990, and it is now 81. The national income
per head is $340. In South Africa, a country renowned for excessive
poverty, it is $4 960. This means 56% of people in Zimbabwe earn
less than $1 a day, compared with 11% in South Africa.
The situation is desperate. The decision to speak out is not a political
one; it is a humanitarian one.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, some poor fellow once
had the hiccups for 69 straight years. In retrospect, this makes
interesting and almost amusing reading. Is that how we are going
to look back on the situation in Zimbabwe in years to come? Zimbabwe,
the curious little hiccup in history that lasted a mere 30 or so
years, forgetting what this meant to the lives of human beings like
the unemployed, the tortured, the starving and the mother who just
lost her child. Waiting for Zimbabwes hiccups to subside is
no longer an option sustained international action led by
South Africa is what is needed.
Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis
of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its
relevance to South Africa on Polity, see http://www.polity.co.za/pol/opinion/brandon/.
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