JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Graca Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela, has urged African leaders to press Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to step down from power.
In an emotional address, Machel added her voice that of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other African leaders calling for Mugabe to stop the oppression and suffering in Zimbabwe.
Machel spoke at the launch of Save Zimbabwe Now, in which several civic leaders, including Tutu, launched hunger strikes to increase pressure on Mugabe.
"Any government who goes out and assaults its own citizens, its own people, has lost completely any kind of legitimacy," said Machel of the Mugabe regime.
When asked if Mugabe should step down, Machel said,"The people of Zimbabwe have already said so, through the ballot."
She was referring to the elections in March last year in which Mugabe received fewer votes than opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. However, Mugabe managed to stay in power by holding a run-off election which Tsvangirai boycotted, charging that Mugabe's agents had murdered more than 150 opposition supporters.
Under pressure from neighboring southern African leaders, Mugabe agreed, in September, to form a power-sharing government with Tsvangirai and his opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). But Mugabe unilaterally claimed the most important cabinet posts for his party, Zanu-PF.
Tsvangirai has refused to enter into an unequal sharing of power. He also demands that abductions and torture of opposition supporters must stop.
A meeting between Mugabe and Tsvangirai last Sunday failed to revive the power-sharing plan. Regional leaders of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) will meet next week to decide what to do about Zimbabwe. The region's leaders have been widely criticized for supporting Mugabe, despite Zimbabwe's humanitarian crisis.
"It's hard to admit that I have been part of those who trusted that our leaders knew what they were doing, that our leaders would find a solution," said Machel. "We stood and waited too long. Today I'm here to stand and be counted among those who say, 'Enough is enough!'"
Zimbabwe is in the grip of a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 2,200 people. The cholera outbreak is a direct result of Mugabe's policies to allow the breakdown of water, sewage and health services, according to a report issued this month by the Physicians for Human Rights, who called for Mugabe to be charged with crimes against humanity.
More than 5.1 million Zimbabweans are hungry and need international food aid. Zimbabwe's inflation has soared to more than 1 billion percent, according to independent economists in Harare.
“We are here because we feel our own dignity diminished,” Machel said. “It’s our own humanity which is going slowly with (the dying people of Zimbabwe.)
At the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg, which serves as a sanctuary for more than 1,000 Zimbabwean refugees here, Machel chastised the regional leaders of the Southern African Development Community for failing to solve the political impasse between longtime President Robert Mugabe and his rival Morgan Tsvangirai at a time when many Zimbabweans are facing food shortages, a collapsed health-care system and a cholera epidemic.
Machel’s oratory was matched by Reverend Wilson Mugabe, a diminutive pastor with no relation to Zimbabwe's leader. As he described the fate of his parishioners going without food for days and keeping the bodies of their relatives at home for lack of burial money, the Rev. Mugabe’s voice grew louder, his face showing visible signs of anger and frustration.
“SADC leaders, please hear us as Zimbabweans. Hear us as we have suffered enough,” said the Rev. Mugabe before breaking into tears. Machel then placed her hands on his shoulders to console him.
Save Zimbabwe Now is starting a three-month campaign of fasting and hunger strikes, hoping to press regional leaders and the public in general about the chronic hunger in Zimbabwe. Professor Tinyico Maluleke, president of the South African Council of Churches, saw another goal in the fasting movement.
“It is also a basis for petitioning God,” he said. “Let us ask God to bring down the regime of Mugabe.”
More GlobalPost coverage on Zimbabwe:
Mugabe should be charged with crimes against humanity
Zimbabwe: the perfect humanitarian storm
Make or break meeting on Zimbabwe
Cholera death toll rising
Message to Obama: get tough with Mugabe
Zimbabweans think Obama told Mugabe to unclench his fist