SA's shameful silence
WHEN our children learn the history of post-colonial Africa, they will be confronted with a case
They will learn how the bread basket of Africa descended into chaos, with the highest inflation rate
in the world.
They will learn that about four million Zimbabweans fled hunger and political persecution.
They will learn about a kleptocracy that lined its pockets while the poor died.
This will not be a history lesson. It will be a dissection of a massacre.
By the elections of March 29, 2008, our children will read, the average life expectancy of a
Zimbabwean woman was 34 years and that of a man, 37.
Television footage of that day will show women with babies on their backs crawling under
barbed-wire fencing into South Africa in the hope of finding food, safety and a life for their children.
Election day 2008 will be a slice of tragic history.
Our children will learn that, in a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the developing
world and blessed with a vibrant press for more than two decades, only two daily newspapers inside
Zimbabwe reported on these elections.
Both were owned by the state and neither published a single positive story about the opposition in
the run-up to elections.
On that day, election observers from Europe and the US were banned from the country. Only SADC
observers were allowed in.
Our children will learn that during the previous election the South African observers were beaten up
And that those bandaged heroes declared as free and fair an election universally condemned as
Election day 2008 will be remembered for the fact that broadcasters such as Sky News filed their
stories from Beit Bridge in South Africa because they were banned from entering Zimbabwe.
Independent stations such as South Africa's e.tv were also banned.
Our children will learn that police inside the polling booths "assisted" Zimbabweans to vote.
They will read that these same police had, for 10 years, put a stop to any kind of democratic
activity by the opposition or civil society.
They will learn that, only a year before these elections, the same police officers destroyed the
homes of thousands in President Robert Mugabe's inhumane "Operation Murambatsvina".
Our children will learn that these same police beat opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to within an
inch of his life only a year earlier, forcing him to seek medical treatment in South Africa.
At this point our children will ask the teacher (perhaps a Zimbabwean who is a naturalised South
African): "But what did our parents do? What did South Africa say when all this was happening?"
And our children will learn that for nine years the president of South Africa pursued a senseless,
immoral policy of "quiet diplomacy".
In essence, the policy meant that South Africa chose to be friends with Mugabe, aiding and
abetting the dictator while desperate Zimbabweans fled torture and imprisonment.
They will learn that Nelson Mandela, the iconic first president of the new and democratic South
Africa, spoke out about leaders who clung to power at the expense of their people and was told to
shut up; that Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu spoke up and was vilified by the dictator Mugabe,
the South African presidency and its acolytes.
And they will learn that most South Africans expressed neither outrage nor shame at what was
happening just across their border; that they went about their business without a care.
Our children will learn that a good man, Father Paul Verryn, gave refuge to hundreds of
Zimbabweans in his church in central Johannesburg.
And they will learn that police raided the church and arrested refugee children as young as five
By the time our children ask what South Africans did about this outrage, Zimbabwe will be just
another African country paying off massive debt to the World Bank when it could have been a
beacon of peace, prosperity and hope.
The silence of your parents, the history books will say, was deafening.
Justice Malala is a columnist and political analyst on our sister paper, The Times