On April 18, 2008 The Guardian, a UK national newspaper, printed a news story about the delivery of arms to Zimbabwe from China. (Beresford, 2008) Since Zimbabwe was undergoing a disputed election, the story took on heightened importance. Robert Mugabe the incumbent president faced a tough challenge from the Movement for Democratic Change party. The election uncertainties and the refusal of other countries to recognize Mugabe as the winner resulted in a power sharing agreement between the parties. (Zimbabwe, 2008)
Since Mugabe’s regime was rife with terror and human rights violations, this delivery was ominous, yet, with all of the paperwork in order, the delivery could not be halted. The ship docked in Durban in South Africa for ultimate shipment to Zimbabwe. Although the South African government claimed that it could not interfere with a deal between two countries, its leaders agreed that the situation was touchy.
Reaction from the opposition foreign affairs spokesman in South Africa was quick and to the point. He called the shipment “putting a fuse in a powder keg.” (Beresford, 2008) Dock workers refused to unload the cargo that was shipped from China, a government that has supported Mugabe’s government despite international criticism.
The chief fear is that these weapons would be used by Mugabe’s “enforcers” to cause even more internal strife and bloodshed. Pressure was being put on neighboring countries, especially South Africa, to make it clear that they will not accept these types of shipments. This delivery of arms to a country in such turmoil via South Africa precipitated a strong reaction for an important reason. The South African president was the chief mediator in the Zimbabwe election crisis, so this issue took on all the more importance. The Zimbabwe opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, called on him to resign as chief mediator in the election crisis. In addition, the leader of the ruling African National Congress has become more hostile to the Mugabe government. The consensus throughout the international community in places like Great Britain, the USA and other nations was similarly negative.
Coverage of Zimbabwe – its elections, violence and bloodshed – in the United States is more likely to be centered on human rights violations (Jacoby, 2008) rather than shipments of arms to a neighboring country, although something like an arms shipment would still be considered news. Readers of a UK paper such as the Guardian are more likely to be interested in South Africa’s role in Zimbabwe’s troubles than US readers because of the former political ties that the two countries shared until South Africa’s independence.
Beresford, David. “Chinese Ship Carries Arms Cargo to Mugabe Regime.” The Guardian,
18 April 2008, online edition. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/18/china.armstrade. (accessed
20 November 2008).
Jacoby, Jeff. “A Blind Eye to Mugabe’s Reign of Terror.” The Boston Globe, 15 June 2008, online edition http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2008/06/15/a_bli nd_eye_to_mugabes_reign_of_terror/. (accessed 20 November 2008).
“Zimbabwe Power-sharing Deal Signed.” Msnbc.com, 15 September 2008. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26715920/ . (accessed 20 November 2008).