S. Africans Weigh Role as Zimbabwe Simmers

Police in Zimbabwe this week attacked members of the opposition group Movement for Democratic Change. In neighboring South Africa, response has been muted to brutality attributed to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

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The governor of Zimbabwe faced more international condemnation this week for brutally intimidating political opponents. Police attacked members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, or MDS, at a prayer meeting, even though the gathering had been approved by a court. Others who went to the police station looking for their friends were beaten as well.

Two of those attacked managed to get to South Africa for treatment. NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault visited them there in the hospital.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: I find 33-year-old Grace Cringe(ph), a top MDC official, lying in a Johannesburg hospital bed waiting for more X-rays of her head. Battered, she said, by Zimbabwe police while she was in custody.

Ms. GRACE CRINGE (MDC Official): There was one woman in particular who then went and took an army belt, a thick army belt. She came back and she hit me on the head continuously until I was, I started to bleed. And then a guy came with baton sticks and they continued to beat me up, concentrating on my head, until I fainted. I didn't realize that he had actually - you know, a piece of my ear had come off in the beating with the iron bar.

HUNTER-GAULT: Sichai Holland(ph), also a top MDC official, is lying in another bed waiting for surgery on her arm and enlarged left foot. The 64-year-old grandmother said she was repeatedly beaten by several groups of five policemen.

Ms. SICHAI HOLLAND (MDC Official): When I thought they had finished, a younger man was called in to hit me on two of my knees. And somebody shouted you haven't finished. And he came and hit my arm, hit my ankles and my ribs. And that's where I think the fracture is located. I think I went out, because I don't really remember much after that.

HUNTER-GAULT: Zimbabwean Archbishop Pius Ncube traveled to South Africa this week to make the case that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was responsible for such brutality.

Mr. PIUS NCUBE (Zimbabwean Archbishop): Unquestionably, Mugabe is responsible. He's the chief culprit in this whole mess.

HUNTER-GAULT: The archbishop brought a video featuring Robert Mugabe's threats.

President ROBERT MUGABE (Zimbabwe): The police have the right and the right to bash, to bash them. They will get arrested and get bashed by the police.

HUNTER-GAULT: There's been wide-spread criticism of the mostly muted response of African leaders to the brutality, especially neighboring South Africa. Its government has insisted it will continue to follow a path of what it calls constructive diplomacy. But South Africa's Bishop Kevin Dowling, insisted the South African government's policy has failed.

Bishop KEVIN DOWLING: Not only has it failed, but as Archbishop Tutu said, they have actually gone back on the - on our own history, the great history of the past where we stood for human rights, for the little person, for the one who is crushed. Now we are closing our eyes to our sisters and brothers who are suffering the same over there, all in the name of African leadership solidarity. I think it's a shame. It's shameful and sinful.

HUNTER-GAULT: Archbishop Ncube says he's ready to lead Zimbabweans into the streets to bring down the Mugabe government.

Mr. NCUBE: I am prepared to lead the people of Zimbabwe, even if it means being shot down because I believe that the people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough and this dictator must now go. It's worth sacrificing ourselves for the good of the future generation.

HUNTER-GAULT: And the video the archbishop brought showed Zimbabweans singing defiantly despite the threat of more broken bones.

(Soundbite of singing)

HUNTER-GAULT: Charlayne Hunter-Gault, NPR News, Johannesburg, South Africa.

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