Football might save Zimbabwe where others cannot.
The situation in Zimbabwe got some press when a prayer rally was broken up by thuggish police and photos of Morgan Tsvangarai was posted on all the networks and newspapers.

Alas, since then Mugabe got approval by his fellow African presidents and has been busy arresting dissadents, while the photographer who took the famous photo was “disappeared” by unknown persons and later found dead. Sigh.

The only ones left who can oppose Mugabe inside Zimbabwe are the churches, and so the Catholic bishops released a letter comparing Mugabe with the previous apartheid white regeime, and called for a day of prayer this weekend. Evangelical churches have also called for a day of prayer. And the next prayer meeting in Bulawayo will be held within a church.

Yet the only one with enough influence to make Mugabe resign or at least not run for election in 2008 is South Africa’s President Mbeki. So far, despite pressure from both the churches and the Trade Unions in South Africa who support their Zimbabwean brethren, he has refused to do so.

Ironically what might change his mind is not the dying of a once vibrant country next door, nor the two million economic refugees that have fled to South Africa, but football.

So,

Football?

Yup. The world cup is due to be held in South Africa, and a half million tourists and a lot of good publicity are expected. But some European countries are hesitating…and the reason is the problems in nearby Zimbabwe.

Already a number of European countries have raised their concerns at sending their teams to a country whose neighbour is involved in gross human rights abuses. Amid the spiralling brutality, violence, rapes and destruction of property belonging to the opposition, there are reports that the Southern African Development Community are also pushing Mbeki to force Robert Mugabe to stop his ‘dirty war’ on innocent Zimbabweans. Sources on Thursday said Mbeki is expected to travel soon to Harare for talks with Mugabe and opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara. Reports from Johannesburg said there have been a flurry of discussions over the phone between other SADC leaders and Mbeki, urging him to act fast on Zimbabwe to ensure the whole region benefits from South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 World Cup.

So, the irony is that if the forces of moral persuasion don’t work, there is a possibility that the sportsworld might do what the churches cannot.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs on Zimbabwe at MugabeMakaipa blogspot.

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