Monday, 14 July 2008

When is it possible to resolve major national problems through dialogue?

After being ruled by a ruthless minority for 42 years, South Africa did the unthinkable. Nelson Mandela spoke to the oppressor. The ANC engaged in a dialogue with the National Party government - its long standing deadly enemy. The National Party talked to the ANC that had been banned for many of those years.

Deadly enemies got around the table and talked. The talking continued for the next four years resulting in a constitution that enshrines human rights and democratic elections. This was the South African miracle. Peaceful change.

Across the border to the north of South Africa, Zimbabwe is ruled by no less than a tyrant. Zanu-PF seem to believe that they have the G-d given right to rule rule forever. The democratic voice of the people has been swept aside, and Mugabe has stolen the election.

Around the world there have been calls for increased sanctions and other punitive measures. But the South African government has opposed these. Instead it is promoting a dialogue. Both sides are being encouraged to sit down and talk. They site the South African experience as a precident. But has Mugabe given up the right to a negotiated solution?

But can there be hope for a solution through dialogue when one side wants to hold all the cards? Many attempts at dialogue have failed. But there have been successes. Could the crisis in Zimbabwe be solved by talking, and when does talking become appeasement?

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