Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition to Zimbabwe's despotic President Robert Mugabe, had little choice but to withdraw from a presidential run-off scheduled for Friday. To contest an election Mugabe has said Tsvangirai would not be allowed to win would expose his followers to suffering, and even death, for no purpose.
Ever since Tsvangirai won the first round of voting March 29 - with a tally Mugabe's electoral commission claimed to be just short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off - Mugabe's thugs have killed more than 80 members of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change and chased thousands of supporters from their homes.
Lately, the violence turned yet more vicious; Mugabe's gangs began mutilating and burning alive the wives and children of Tsvangirai supporters. Viewed against this gruesome backdrop, Tsvangirai's announcement Sunday that he is withdrawing his candidacy was unfortunate but understandable.
Mugabe's campaign of intimidation was no doubt meant to frighten the opposition away from the voting booth and drive Tsvangirai out of the race. So It might be said that Tsvangirai capitulated to Mugabe when he withdrew his candidacy and then took shelter yesterday in the Dutch embassy.
But his refusal to place his own quest for power above the interests of the public demonstrated a quality of leadership that defines Tsvangirai as the antithesis of Mugabe.
Mugabe and his larcenous clique have transformed one of Africa's most promising economies into a disaster zone where the common people suffer from 80 percent unemployment, an inflation rate estimated to be 160,000 percent, and hopelessness that drives desperate migrants to South Africa in search of subsistence wages.
Several African leaders have denounced Mugabe's subverting of democratic legitimacy. The chairman of the Southern Africa Development Community, President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia, called the crisis Mugabe has created "a tremendous embarrassment to all of us."
Prime Minister Raila Odinga of Kenya said, "Zimbabwe remains an eyesore on the African continent."
Yet President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, head of the SADC mediator group for Zimbabwe, continues to make excuses for Mugabe and to call for a power-sharing arrangement that would circumvent the verdict of the voters.
Mbeki ought to be leading an African campaign to deny recognition to Mugabe until he permits a free and fair election. He should be in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe, not with the despot who has impoverished and brutalized them.