Zimbabweans must rise against Mugabe – Boesak

CAPE TOWN – Cleric Allan Boesak says the time has come for Zimbabweans to "present their bodies in the street" as a challenge to President Robert Mugabe in order to end their suffering.

Boesak told The Star he saw radical action by Zimbabweans themselves as a more empowering option to the possibility of foreign troops being sent in to break Mugabe’s refusal to let go of the reins while disease and hunger are killing thousands in his collapsing country.

The controversial cleric, who joined the Congress of the People (COPE) last week in a return to the political arena after 14 years on the sidelines, said the time for passive resistance to Mugabe’s stranglehold was over.

"I have always said that the people of Zimbabwe cannot avoid further suffering before this thing ends," Boesak said.

"The only way I have learnt (that would) get the world to sit up and do something is to confront it with your suffering.

"Not passive suffering, as with a hunger epidemic or pestilence, but through active suffering where you put yourself in harm’s way for the sake of ending the greater suffering… to go on the streets not with stones… (but) to present your bodies as a challenge to Mugabe and the world."

This was the path that South Africa had to take against apartheid, he said.

"Some will get hurt. Some will die, as we got hurt and died", Boesak said of South Africans’ resistance to apartheid in the 1980s and early 1990s.

As a leader of the United Democratic Front, Boesak was in the forefront of confrontations with the apartheid security forces.

He said this week it was his intention that COPE should rekindle the democratic values and non-racial spirit of the struggle movement.

"Only when people see you willing to take on the pain of your own freedom in an active, not passive, way will the world wake up," said the cleric, who is still an ordained minister in the Uniting Reformed Church.

"It was the path we (in South Africa) had to take. The world did not listen till we presented our own bodies as a challenge to powers of the world that had no conscience."

Boesak said while even Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has called for military intervention, he believed Zimbabweans should themselves take more radical action. "I personally would hate to see troops going in there and start shooting and killing Zimbabwean citizens when (the world) could have followed a way that would have avoided that," he said.

Boesak said South Africa’s reluctance over the years to take decisive action against Mugabe’s government was "absolutely inexcusable".

Boesak was part of a South African church delegation to Zimbabwe in April, shortly after it became clear that tampering with the March presidential polls had paralysed any possibility of a democratic solution to Mugabe’s reign. The delegation proposed a series of "swift" financial sanctions by international financial institutions to stop the flow of money to Mugabe’s government.

But Boesak said former president Thabo Mbeki, who became the Southern African Development Community’s official mediator in the crisis, would have nothing of it or the churches’ plea for a peace-keeping force.

Under the deal later brokered by Mbeki, Mugabe would remain president while opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai would become prime minister.

On Saturday, Mugabe ended his Zanu-PF party’s national congress with a vow to ignore international pressure and to fend off his "political death". He urged the party to prepare for fresh elections.

In a proposal similar to Boesak’s, the former Catholic archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, told Zimbabweans during national elections in 2005 to take to the streets because the polls were certain to be rigged.

"Mugabe has to go," said Boesak, who still believes that targeted financial sanctions could assist.

"That still remains a very effective way to target these criminals who use the guise of governmental authority to rob their people," he said.

"It would stop them from continuing to do that and also other nations from supplying Zanu-PF through the backdoor," Boesak concluded.