Association of Concerned Africa Scholars Review (previously: Bulletin)
ACAS Bulletin 79: Special Issue on Zimbabwe Crisis

An Open Letter to South African President Thabo Mbeki

June 2008

The motivation behind this issue originates in our dismay at the growing urgency of the situation in Zimbabwe. Human rights are being violated with increasing frequency. See, for one example, a report recently published by the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR). Please read it; a link to the report appears at the end of this issue. We also have personal friends in Zimbabwe who have confirmed that such violations are indeed taking place, and at the hands of people acting in the name of the state. Such a development is in direct violation of all that the liberation struggles against colonialism in southern Africa stood for. We call for all speed and urgency from every agency acting to influence the government of Zimbabwe to allow for the run-off election to be free and fair. Additionally, we insist upon a halt to the intimidation, murder, and beating of persons deemed opposition supporters.

What has Mugabe’s rhetoric wrought, that the call to protect human rights is cast as a neo-imperialistic impulse? It was from studying the human rights abuses committed against colonized people in Africa, Jews in Nazi Germany, and enslaved Africans in America, that led many of us here in the United States to realize how important human rights are. We became teachers of African history in the interest of, among other things, making Americans aware of the evils of colonial rule as seen in the Smith and Apartheid regimes of the 20th Century. We want to see no more such atrocities committed, such as those suffered by Biko and countless thousands of others, by anyone in power against anyone, anywhere, no matter the race or religion or economic condition of the persons involved at either end of the power scale.

How is it that President Mugabe and his supporters can take the desire for a free Zimbabwe and from that somehow twist it to accuse people like us of neo-imperialism – we who cry out against the beating of grandmothers, children, pregnant and nursing women, beautiful and irreplaceable sons and fathers? The people of Zimbabwe sacrificed their lives and their well-being in the 1970s so that they could be free to express their views, to choose their own leaders, and to chart their own way forward to a prosperity that they could build for themselves. Zimbabwe’s people did NOT make the sacrifices of the liberation war so that Mugabe’s government could send militias out to beat, brutalize, and terrorize them. Haven’t southern Africans had enough of that under the previous regimes that were defeated at such cost and after such long struggle? The world looks to South Africa, the UN, and the SADC, to take courage and convincingly call upon Mugabe and his government to act in protection of its people, immediately, before another precious human life is damaged or lost.

About the Author

Wendy Urban-Mead, Bard College,


Link to the May 9, 2008 Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) Report, available at

See also the statement in support of the ZADHR by the Physicians for Human Rights:

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