Decision whether to use sport to force regime-change lies with us Africans

Cheryl Roberts

Cheryl Roberts

As the media continues to "inform" about deteriorating human and social conditions in Zimbabwe, the question has been asked whether countries should participate in and engage Zimbabwe in sports.

Should South Africa play sport against Zimbabwe, given that a large section of the media informs us that Robert Mugabe is hellbent on inflicting extreme human suffering on Zimbabweans?

There are those who believe that we should isolate Zimbabwe, just as we did to apartheid South Africa. But what anti-Zimbabwe adherents do not understand is that the apartheid government brought politics into sport with their whites-only policy, while the anti-apartheid sports struggle sought to remove it through non-racial sport.

With Mugabe perceived as a dictator, human-rights abuser, land thief and head of an oppressive regime that brutalises dissidents and opposition to his rule, an aggressive opinion exists that we should boycott all sports contact with the country until it is "free" again.

We must fully comprehend that calls for regime-change in Zimbabwe occur within the context of a large number of African countries, fresh from years of civil conflict and antagonism, beginning to engage globally as an African continent. Progressive African leaders are beginning to mount an African offensive in search of a unified Africa.

Zimbabwe certainly has serious human, financial and economic challenges which it needs to face in the short term and over the next decades. Britain, the US and several European countries, are actively engaged in "regime change" actions in Zimbabwe, a country which is reliant on import and exports from these countries. After all, we are in a stage of rapid and furious globalisation.

The US supports sanctions on Zimbabwe, whilst forgetting how they did chrome business with Ian Smith's government at a time when the UN had a sanctions moratorium on the then Rhodesia.

But then again, is the US not the world's number one country to preach virtue and to do everything else but virtue when it claims to be defending freedom and human rights?

But this era is also still about domination, and that is domination by a few powerful countries who are infested with a colonial history.

The US has publicly acknowledged that it is involved in "regime change" in Zimbabwe, this being to impose sanctions, create unhealthy social conditions and support the opposition. But is this not social and economic warfare?

There are those who argue that because South Africa suffered as a result of apartheid and because we mixed sport and politics to isolate South Africa to bring about freedom from oppression, why can we not do the same with Zimbabwe?

The answer is that Zimbabwe is not apartheid South Africa. Zimbabwe is governed by a legitimate government whether we like to acknowledge it or not, and Zimbabweans voted for Zanu-PF.

Zimbabwe does not implement a blacks only international sports policy as apartheid South Africa did.

I have no brief for Mugabe or Zanu-PF. Also, I do acknowledge that Zimbabwe has serious problems. The challenges are critical and deep-rooted, brought on by various external and internal factors.

However, our pivotal interest in Zimbabwe should be the oppression and exploitation of Africa under colonialism, subsequent post-colonial scramble for Africa's abundant natural resources, and growing commitment to a unified Africa from African states themselves.

These are integral initiatives emanating from African countries, catapulting Africa onto a stage never known before, and prepared no longer to sit back and allow western countries to dictate how Africa should be governed and administered.

Should we not leave the governance of Zimbabwe in the hands of Africa through the SADC, which is aware of the country's colonial history, its challenges, particularly the land question which hasn't been fully resolved?

If we are to isolate Zimbabwe, then we may as well isolate countries such as the DRC, Cote d' Ivory, Rwanda, Liberia because the former colonial powers say they are playing offside.

Decisions about playing or not playing sport with Zimbabwe or any other African country should not be left in the hands of those countries creating conditions for regime-change in Zimbabwe. The decision is with us, as Africans.

l Cheryl Roberts is a graduate of African Studies from the Universities of Natal and Cape Town and writes extensively on sports.