Way past time for sporting boycott of Zimbabwe

The Weekend Australian reported that “pressure is building on the Australian cricket team to call off its tour to Zimbabwe later this year and join a sporting embargo similar to the one that helped end apartheid in neighbouring South Africa.

Frankly, I find it extraordinary that there is any prospect at all of any Australian sporting team touring that country whilst Mugabe remains in power. I appreciate there can be dilemmas with applying economic sanctions, as they can potentially harm the people who are already the biggest victims of the regime you are trying to pressure. But sporting boycotts are a different matter. It can always be argued as to where the line should be drawn on such things, but wherever the line is, Zimbabwe has crossed it a long time ago.
The shocking recent violence towards opponents of the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe is just a cruder than usual example of what has been happening for years. I met Sekai Holland, one of a number of opposition party members who have been hospitalised after vicious assaults, in Brisbane some years ago. She was touring Australia with a number of other members of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to raise awareness of what was happening in Zimbabwe.

Since then of course, things have got much worse in her country. I’ve made the point a number of times, but it always bears repeating – however frustrating it may seem opposing government decisions and actions in Australia, it is nothing compared to the courage and challenges faced by people fighting for freedoms and rights in many other countries around the world.

It seems to me to be the least we can do to offer them support.

Stuart MacGill may be remembered as the unluckiest spin bowler in Australian cricket history because his career coincided with Shane Warne’s, which has kept him out of the Test team more often than not. However, he should also be remembered as the only one with the integrity and guts to pull out of the Australian cricket team’s last tour to Zimbabwe in 2004 – a decision which seems to me to have harmed his subsequent chances of selection.

When the former captain of the Zimbabwe Test cricket team, Andy Flower, is calling for a boycott, and the continuing atrocities have stacked up so staggeringly high, there really shouldn’t be a need for any further debate. One likes to think that the latest escalation of oppression is the sign of a regime in its final death throes, but that certainly can’t be guaranteed. Mugabe may finally be gone by the time the tour is due, but if he’s not, I hope our cricketers will this time be able to readily show themselves to be the top blokes we’re regularly assured they are.

UPDATE (23/3): After repeated confiscation of her passport by Zimbabwean authorities, Sekai Holland has finally managed to get out of the country, arriving in South Africa to receive further medical treatment. I received this email this morning from a representative from the Zimbabwe Information Centre, which came originally from Sekai’s husband Jim.

We secured a court order yesterday that instructed the police for the third time to leave Sekai and Grace kwinjeh alone, return their passports and allow them to leave the country as no charges had been laid against them, so there was therefore no possible justification for the continuing arrest. Today we flew out of the country by air ambulance, having been escorted to the airport by the Australian consul in Harare. The flight took 2.5 hours. In Johannesburg I was surprised to find the plane being surrounded by police vehicles – it seemed like a repeat of the Harare situation. However this time they had come to give us a friendly welcome and official escort to hospital, with sirens wailing. We were also met at the airport by a crowd of Zimbabwean supporters.

At the hospital there was a large crowd of press people, to whom I later gave a press conference that went well.

Sekai and Grace are now undergoing examination at the hospital and are finally out of the nightmare that is now zimbabwe.

Sekai is in good spirits as usual in spite of the pain she continues to suffer (although hardly ever mentions).

Jim Holland

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  1. It’s not really a straightforward issue I don’t think. Are we supposed to boycott the country or the cricket team? There’s a problem if it’s the latter because we’re currently playing in the same tournament as them in the West Indies. It would seem to be perverse to be willing to play them anywhere except in their own country.

    If on the other hand we should boycott the country that’s a political decision that sports administrators are poorly equipped to make. They shouldn’t be expected to act in isolation without a strong lead from the government, which should be part of a coherent overall policy and not just making a symbolic protest.

    Wasn’t Howard supposed to be leading a Commonwealth heads of government working party to work out what to do with Mugabe? What happened to that, anyway?

    None of which detracts from the admiration I feel for Stuart MacGill for his personal stand.

  2. Another major problem we have is of credibility. Howard is now blaming the South Africans and surrounding nations for letting Mugabe get away with things.

    But when Australia speaks about anything these days there is only one word. Iraq.

  3. I agree with you, Andrew, I think a bunch of Australian cricketers touring a strife torn nation like Zimbabwe and yet having sanctions against them is not consistent at all and almost justifies what Mugabe has done to his own people.
    Besides with inflation and unemployment running so high in Zimbabwe…who the hell is going to watch the matches other then Mugabe and his government henchmen?

  4. Sports bodies take their lead from government policy. Individuals can do as they are inclined. If no policy decision, leave it to the players. We live in a democracy.

  5. Looking back on the French revolution, there were all the same ingredients of chaos and power-mongering after the elite class was disposed of.

    Zimbabwe is going through the same pains. As did/are Zambia, Tanzania, Mocambique etc. No one will defend all the means (who defended the guillotine?) but the important thing for people caught in a poverty trap is that the resource base (land) has been at least partially redistributed through the breaking of the elite class. This class is course in danger of being replaced by another one – but what’s new!

    The poor can at least have some hope for their children/grandchildren to have a future with personal dignity. Under Smith and white rule, the majority had no assets and no hope of economic freedom for themselves and their descendants. Mugabe (in)famously said something to the effect of, “if we have to eat sudza (maize meal) only to free ourselves from white oppression, we will eat sudza”. In his mind the opposition represents a front for white capitalistic interests trying to manouever their way back in. Please note I am not justifying his brutality, only putting it in some perspective. Australia for example has no problem gunning down East Timorese/Iraqis/Afgans to defend its’ political agendas.

    An aspect never picked up on by the western press (surprise surprise) is that Mugabe’s land policy is not unusual in Africa where most free-title has been changed to leasehold (there are partial and in South Africa’s case greater than partial exceptions).

    A truth is that the precedent that history doesn’t necessary clean ancient blood off title deeds and make families respectable is frightening for Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, and the landed English gentry of Scotland and Ireland.

  6. # al loomis says:
    let’s start with sporting sanctions on israel

    Why have sanctions against a liberal democracy ? Perhaps we should have sanctions against Britain and the US too ?

  7. Why blame South Africa David? Simply because they’re the closest? Aren’t other countries equally responsible? And who should we blame for Burma or Cuba?

  8. I’d agree the response from South Africa (over a few years now) is quite disappointing. It’s certainly not all their fault, but their meek responses to such monumental abuses over such a long time have simply not been good enough, given the influence they wield in the region.

    I’m seem some comments from Desmond Tutu which are very scathing of the South African (non) response. This article I read in The Times voices similar disappointments

  9. Up to now Mbeki has had to walk a tightrope. Most South Africans still live from day to day and have little access to resources etc. With affirmative action a small percentage of black South Africans have done really well but the majority, while benefiting with better access to water and electricity certainly haven’t tasted the effects of the economic boom in the region. South Africa is experiencing, if not jobless growth, growth while retaining very high levels of unemployment. Add to this a property boom that has seen prices triple and even quadriple in some areas and the dispossessed are even further away from breaking out of poverty.

    This is a similar pattern to what happened in the first 20 years of Mugabe’s rule. He left the economic status quo essentially as it was and the white population got richer and assets moved out of the reach of the majority. No visible pro-active steps were taken to involve balck Zimbabweans in ownership or management of the primary base of the economy – agriculture. Left with an unhappy electorate, Mugabe went on a redistribution spree which was warped and corrupt but still popular with the dispossessed majority.

    What people here don’t undersatnd and white ex-Zimbabweans delude themselves is that while life is harder for black Zimbabweans it was always so, and now there is hope for their kids to maybe control resources – sometime. Also it is not that much harder as wages were pitiful and poverty and hopelessness rife under Smith.

    Be assured, there are many poor black South Africans who are looking for large scale redistribution in South Africa too….and these make up a good block of the ANC voter base.

    Tutu can be an idealist – he is priest and doesn’t have to walk the balancing act of growing an economy; keeping spoilt skilled white South Africans happy so more don’t emigrate (in competition with Canada, US, NZ, UK, Aust who fuel the brain drain for their own interests); and be seen to have empathy with the poor.

  10. Today’s Madam and Eve, South Africa’s leading satirical strip (amongst the white population at least) reflects the critisism of Mbeki re: Mugabe, while unsympathetically acknowledging his tight-rope position. http://www.madamandeve.co.za/

  11. Try the link in the next paragraph. I battled to find the other side of the story and had to resort to the Zimbabwe Herald as a source. While he doesn’t defend the person Mugabe (or any any other politician), he states the case for the broad actions being in line with the democratic wishes of the general population. These are to be free from white economic rule; keep the west and their take-take ways out of the economy and let Zimbabweans grow their own future – at a snails pace if that is what it takes to avoid being owned again by someone else.


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