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Short Cuts: Unwelcoming neighbours become Zimbabwe’s last hope

Exile-Zimbabweans demonstrate in the UK (via flickr)

As Zimbabwe’s hyper-inflation has led to a serious foot-shortage in the country, leaving stores empty or with insane prices (a can of baked beans for a monthly wage), the situation of Zimbabwe’s people is getting more and more desolate.

A third of the population – around three million people – has left the country, mostly for South Africa, where they have to cope with the possibility of being robbed or killed by gangs who dwell around the border. At the same time, the South African government does not recognize the people as refugees, leaving them mostly to themselves. As last weeks African summit showed, Mr Mugabe still has nothing to fear from other African leaders, as he was greeted with applause when he arrived.

There is a small possibility of hope, though: As South Africans in the north of the country get more and more fed up with the flood of immigration (around 1,000 people a day), the voice of protests gets louder, putting pressure on South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki. His government is still supporting Zimbabwe with money, but there have been signals that Mr Mbeki might push for a change after the Zimbabwean elections in March 2008. The question remains, how Mbeki might push for a change – if he is really willing to. Making the election unrigged could be one option, but this is unlikely to make much of a difference now, as some argue: The opposition has not only being suppressed by the government, but it is also fighting inner struggles; a lot of the country’s elites like teachers and doctors have left the country in the last couple of months, too, which might lead to Mr Mugabe not even needing rigging this time. On the other hand, a push to bring in a new generation of politicians after the election might not get Mr Mugabe’s attention if not the whole African Union puts its effort in it – which is (remember the applause) highly unlikely.

A change from within, as history has shown, might be the best thing: But Mr Mugabe is 83 and is desperately trying to stay in power until his decease. Like always since he came into office in 1980, he is ready to do whatever it takes to ensure his power: In July, 15 Zimbabwean military officers were arrested for an alleged plan to topple him; another one, General Paul Armstrong Gunda, died in a mysterious accident.

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