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Archbishop's call to action in Zimbabwe

Writing in the Observer on 15 September 2007, the Archbishop text follows...

In one of his last actions as Prime Minister in June of this year, Tony Blair visited Africa to defend his "thoroughly interventionist" foreign policy towards the continent. At the end of his trip, at a press conference with President Thabo Mbeki, the Prime Minister admitted that when it came to the issue of Zimbabwe, only local pressure would do the job. "An African solution," he said, "needed to be found to this African problem."

Yet as the report of the BBC's Sue Lloyd- Roberts demonstrated so vividly earlier this week, in a remarkable piece of television journalism, Zimbabwe cannot any more be seen as an African problem needing an African solution – it is a humanitarian disaster.

The statistics alone are devastating: the average life expectancy for women in Zimbabwe is 34 years, for men it is 37. Inflation rages at 8000%, the shelves are empty of bread or maize, and in the hospitals and clinics of Zimbabwe children die for lack of vitamins, food and medicine, whilst the ravages of AIDS are exacerbated by Government indifference.

In the cramped townships now home to those supporters of the opposition whose own homes Mugabe destroyed in the frenzy of urban destruction called "Clean Out the Filth", there is no electricity or fresh running water and sewage spews out of the dilapidated buildings. The first cholera deaths were reported last week.

The time has come for our new Prime Minister, who has already shown himself to be an African interventionist through his work at the United Nations in favour of the people of Darfur, to finally slay the ghosts of its colonialist past by thoroughly revising Britain's foreign policy towards Zimbabwe, and to lead the way in co-coordinating an international response.

The time for "African solutions" alone is now over. Despite his best efforts, President Mbeki has failed to help the people of Zimbabwe. At best he has been ineffective in his efforts to advise, cajole and persuade Robert Mugabe that it is time for him to reverse his unjust and brutal regime. At worst Thabo Mbeki stands offering the other cheek in a complicit failing to lead the charge against a neighbour who is systematically raping the country he leads.

Britain needs to escape from its colonialist guilt when it comes to Zimbabwe. Mugabe is the worst kind of racist dictator. Having targeted the whites for their apparent riches, Mugabe has enacted an awful Orwellian vision, with the once oppressed taking on the role of the oppressor and glorying in their totalitarian abilities.

Like Amin before him in Uganda, Mugabe has rallied a country against its former colonial master only to destroy it through a dictatorial fervour which has brought the country to its knees. Enemies are tortured, the press are censored, the people are starving and meanwhile the world waits for South Africa to intervene. That time is now over.

It is now time for the sanctions and campaigns which brought about an end to apartheid in South Africa to be applied to the Mugabe regime. What Britain deemed to be in the best interest of the Rhodesian Government of Ian Smith, must now be enacted against the Zimbabwean Government of Robert Mugabe. The smart sanctions implemented by governments towards terror groups now need to be brought to bear upon the Mugabe regime.

The appalling poverty suffered by those who queue daily for bread in southern Harare is a world apart from the shops, boutiques and sprinkled lawns of Northern Harare where Mugabe's supporters live royally in palatial surroundings. Britain must lead the way in calling for targeted sanctions against those purveyors of misery whose luxury is bought at the cost of unbearable poverty.

The "ethical foreign policy" of the first Blair era is a long forgotten memory, sacrificed upon an invasion undertaken without UN sanction. In its place our new Prime Minister, with his record on debt erosion and activism across the African continent, is faced with a spiraling situation of desperation that demands a response. Whilst Mugabe may well brand Brown a "colonialist" or "imperialist" for any action he takes, the people of Zimbabwe look to us, and to others, to heed the cries of their suffering and the voices of our own conscience.

As someone who went on countless marches to campaign for the ending of Ian Smith's UDI and apartheid in South Africa I am deeply ashamed and gutted by what Sue Lloyd- Roberts reported. We now all know. We cannot look the other way on Zimbabwe. Enough is enough.