l THERE are still independent–minded MPs who aren't content to sit comfortably in the Palace of Westminster and accept whatever complacent answers ministers give to parliamentary questions. One of these is the Labour MP Kate Hoey who recently smuggled herself into Zimbabwe to report for BBC Newsnight on the deteriorating situation there. Yesterday she drew on her experiences to question Tony Blair about Robert Mugabe and his increasingly oppressive rule. She suggested that until the problem of Zimbabwe is dealt with other action on Africa, such as that under way on debt relief and increased development aid, should be postponed. Mr Blair said he didn't agree with that: “We should actually do both,” he said, predictably. Also yesterday, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw spoke about Zimbabwe, and rather more pertinently than his prime minister: “Bluntly, unless and until Africa's leaders, as a whole, recognise what is going on and take action, not just to condemn it but to deal with it, we are likely to be in for many more months of this kind of tyranny, until President Mugabe stands aside.” The key to the Zimbabwe problem is in the hands of President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa; if he were to move against Mugabe, either politically or economically, the tyrant would quickly be undermined. Mr Mbeki is known for his preference for quiet diplomacy but in this case, if it has been attempted, it has failed. On another matter, however, he has recently shown an unsuspected firmness in deposing his Deputy President, Jacob Zuma, who faces corruption charges. And an equally bold move was to appoint yesterday Ms Miambo–Ngouka as Deputy President, the first woman to hold such high office in South Africa; she has been minister for minerals and energy since 1999 and could now be in line for the presidency when Mr Mbeki stands down in 2009. Is there any possibility that President Mbeki will apply his new–found toughness to the problem of Robert Mugabe and the effect that his ruthless dictatorship is having on the reputation of all Africa?

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