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Criticism Rises of African Leaders' Silence on Zimbabwe


The Catholic Church in Zimbabwe has criticized the South African government for failing to use its economic clout to pressure the Zimbabwean government for change. The announcement comes amid renewed protest in South Africa against what is perceived as the silence of African leaders over recent police abuses against opposition leaders in the country. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our Southern Africa Bureau in Johannesburg.

Zimbabwe's Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube Tuesday said South Africa is in a good position to put pressure on Zimbabwe and could force the government to change through sanctions if necessary.

But he said in a statement the South African government is merely watching.

The announcement came as a civic group of exiled Zimbabwean dissidents in South Africa criticized African leaders for remaining silent about the incidents which have brought condemnation from Europe and the United States.

Several dozen opposition leaders ten days ago were beaten while in police custody after they tried to gather for what was termed a prayer rally. One person died in the incident and several others were hospitalized. The group says dozens of other opposition activists have since been arrested.

An analyst with South Africa's Institute for Security Studies, Chris Moroleng, says the confrontation between the Mugabe government and its opponents has entered a new phase.

"They [authorities] are not waiting for incidents to occur but they are preemptively attacking the opposition and civil society before a direct confrontation takes place," he said.

He says security agents now are also directly targeting the opposition leadership.

The Zimbabwe government accuses the opposition of instigating violence in the country.

President Robert Mugabe has remained defiant in the face of international criticism and indicated in a recent address to members of his ZANU-PF party that he is prepared to continue the crackdown if the protests continue.

"They [the opposition will get arrested and will get bashed by the police," said President Mugabe.

Defenders of South Africa's policy say behind the scenes diplomacy is far more effective than public posturing. And broad economic sanctions would hurt primarily the Zimbabwean people who already are suffering from unemployment, inflation and shortages of food and services.

Analyst Moroleng says there is a growing feeling that African leaders should take stronger public positions even if they do not take punitive measures against Zimbabwe.

"What they should do is not intervene or engage with the Zimbabwean government in a manner that gives a perception of their support of ZANU-PF or of President Mugabe," he said.

He cites as positive steps the recent expressions of concern by the government of South Africa and by the government of Ghana which currently chairs the African Union.

And he notes that the security group of the Southern African Development Community is to meet in a few days to discuss the situation.