Voiceless government in face of brutal dictatorship betrays our noble past

I am ashamed to be South African.

I am ashamed to be South African.

I am ashamed that the people that I voted into power can have so quickly forgotten who we are and where we come from. I feel like we lied, not only to the people of South Africa but to the rest of the world, when we said that the defeat of apartheid and the installation of a democratic, non-racial, human rights-driven government would mean that we would act in solidarity with the oppressed of the world.

I am ashamed of Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. I am ashamed of this government and I am ashamed of President Thabo Mbeki.

I am ashamed because these so-called leaders have proven, more than anyone in the history of liberation movements, just how quickly those who you help today can forget about you.

Today, when the people of Zimbabwe are at the darkest hour of all they have been through, these so-called leaders have chosen to abandon them to the terrible, barbaric, torturous regime of Robert Mugabe. The people of Zimbabwe, as I have said before on these pages and elsewhere, are being beaten, tortured, starved and murdered by Mugabe's Gestapo.

And what does our government, the government founded on the human rights culture of Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, have to say about this? Last week, despite evidence that tens of opposition leaders had been tortured - and one activist murdered - by the Zimbabwean government, all we could say was that we are "concerned".

The signs of rot in the South African government have been there all along. But last week, with its inane reaction to the news coming out of Zimbabwe, the government of South Africa finally gave us positive proof that they are hypocrites who choose to side with dictators rather than with those who are tortured.

I am ashamed to be South African and I am ashamed to call Dlamini-Zuma my foreign affairs minister. I am ashamed to call Mbeki my president. Their silence on Zimbabwe, their continued support for the dictator Mugabe is an embarrassment for this country. It is a wonder that the party that has put them into these positions continues to keep quiet too.

You will all know by now what has transpired in Zimbabwe since the weekend before last. Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested together with other leaders and activists of the MDC.

Here is a description from The Star of what he and others looked like when they appeared in court on Tuesday: "A robust man normally, Tsvangirai was wincing in pain, his eyes so puffy and bloodshot he could barely see. The left side of his body was hunched, and the stitches on his shaven head glinted in the sun.

"Memory Mapai, 38, a mother and long-time MDC activist, could barely walk and was assisted by injured party official Grace Kwinjeh. Mapai's thin legs were blistered from blows. She clutched her side, and said in a weak voice: 'The pain is very bad. I was tortured at Machipisa, but we will not stop.'

"Elliot Mangoma, treasurer in Tsvangirai's faction of the MDC, and a prominent Harare businessman, had to be carried in and out of court to the ambulance as his left leg was broken. 'Tell the world about this,' he said."

Mangoma should not worry. The world knows now what horror lies behind the lies of Mugabe. The world knows that all talk of land reform was a lie for Mugabe and his cohorts to enrich themselves. The world knows that for all their lies and obfuscation, they are dictators. The world knows that these are people who have shut down newspapers and driven more than three million people out of their country.

The world knows, not the people who rule South Africa. These people, these so-called leaders, have chosen to close their ears and shut their eyes to the horror that is Zimbabwe today. Instead, they say "the problems of Zimbabwe must be resolved by the people of Zimbabwe themselves".

What blindness! What arrogance! What stupidity! Mugabe is walking free and using the organs of state to oppress his own people. The opposition and civil society are being jailed and denied their human rights. Surely the South African government can at least raise its tiny little voice on the side of human rights instead of issuing such stupid statements?

A few months ago, in its first vote since it secured a non-permanent seat on the UN security council, South Africa joined China and Russia in opposing a resolution proposed by the US and backed by Britain and France demanding an end to human rights abuses in Myanmar.

At the time, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: "I am deeply disappointed by our vote. It is a betrayal of our own noble past. Many in the international community can hardly believe it. It is inexplicable. If others had used the arguments we are using today when we asked them for their support against apartheid, we might still have been unfree."

Tutu's point was that our past behoves us to stand with the weak and oppressed against dictators everywhere. His point was that freedom is the one thing that we must, in our international relations, value above all else.

There is no choice for us on the issue of Zimbabwe. A dictatorship holds the people of that country in its grip. We cannot attack Zimbabwe. We cannot send our fighter jets there to unseat Mugabe.

But we can use our voice in the international community to condemn the terrible atrocities taking place there. We can use our voice and influence to bring about positive change in Zimbabwe.

Let us not forget what power a voice has. We, on the southern tip of Africa, were freed by the angry, raised voices of the people of the world. Mugabe was our hero because he raised his voice against apartheid. We can free the people of Zimbabwe with our voice. Why isn't Mbeki using his? Instead, he has consistently defended Mugabe.

The Mbeki government's behaviour since the beginning of the Zimbabwe debacle has been deplorable to say the least.

Its silence now shames us all.