Cries of moral outrage have greeted the brutal crackdown by the Zimbabwean security forces on nationwide protests sparked by a sudden, massive, government-ordained hike in the price of fuel. Naturally enough, the demand is that “something must be done” to stop the brutality.

The death toll remains unconfirmed between three and 12 people, the latter number provided by the Human Rights Forum, the NGO coalition that routinely requires independent verification. Hundreds have been injured and there have been mass round ups.

In SA, demands that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government should take firm action are fuelled by two factors. The presence of a large Zimbabwean migrant community within the country is one. The second is a widespread sense that Pretoria’s policy towards its errant neighbour has always been one of light wrist-tapping rather than a vigorous twisting of arms. Inter-liberation movement solidarity is widely said to have strangled serious SA criticisms of Zimbabwean governments. This “quiet diplomacy” has been regularly dismissed as a strategy of doing nothing. If SA got serious, say the critics, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime would have to comply with its demands. Democracy in Zimbabwe could be given a real chance. Many in SA are concerned by the position Ramaphosa has taken towards the present crisis. SA is reported to have turned down a request from Zimbabwe for a loan of $1.2bn to ease its desperate foreign currency shortage. Yet Ramaphosa was vocal at the recent meeting of gl...

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