Finally, the truth is out; Zimbabwe, until recently a self-sufficient country whose agriculture has traditionally more than satisfied the country's needs, is facing a food shortage. Simba Makoni, the Finance Minister co-opted from the private sector after last year's general election to salvage the ailing economy, made the disclosure in Harare last week, saying that Zimbabwe would soon be contacting "key members of the international community" to ask for assistance.
It cannot have been easy for Mr Makoni to make that announcement, and he would not have made it without the approval of President Mugabe. The last thing Mr Mugabe would have wanted to do, after repeatedly warning the international community not to meddle in Zimbabwean affairs, is to turn to that same community for assistance.
That Zimbabwe will soon be running out of food is not at all surprising. Indeed, in the last two years the country has run out of numerous other resources, including fuel, and it has been left to South Africa to bail its neighbour out quietly.
In the 21 years in which he has been in power, the haughty and increasingly out of touch President Mugabe has systematically ruined the economy, with the result that a country that once held so much promise now stands on the brink of collapse. As his unpopularity grew, he took to casting around for scapegoats, finding them in Britain, whites, white farmers, the fledgling opposition Movement for Democratic Change, the media, the judiciary and any Zimbabwean disillusioned with his leadership and eager for change.
The temptation is great for some in the international community, acting out of understandable concern for Zimbabwe's citizens, who will be hit much harder than Mr Mugabe and his fellow fat cats in government, to bail Zimbabwe out. They should resist that temptation. Even South Africa, a country whose president has had the courage in recent weeks to criticise publicly the political madness in Harare and which has itself dealt admirably with land invasions orchestrated by the populist but minuscule Pan African Congress, should not rush to Zimbabwe's aid yet again.
Zimbabwe's biggest problem is one man, the septuagenarian Mr Mugabe, who believes himself to be indispensable to his country. Repeatedly he has cocked a snook at both his country's citizens as well as the international community, behaving as though Zimbabwe were his private fiefdom. The international community should watch as food and fuel run out, so that more and more ordinary Zimbabweans – including those who still stand by him – will recognise that their country's problems will not be solved as long as Mr Mugabe remains in power. Once that realisation has dawned, they will most likely take to the streets to demonstrate their disapproval of the road along which he has taken them.
Only when Mr Mugabe is out of office should the international community move in to assist the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, it would appear that some African leaders are still not prepared to condemn or ostracise one of their own, however deserving he might be of censure. Instead, their natural instinct seems to be to jump to the defence of a fellow African leader, especially if that leader is perceived to have fallen out with the West or a Western country.
That should explain the mood of the African foreign affairs ministers who gathered for a summit in Lusaka, the Zambia capital, at the weekend. They rallied behind Zimbabwe's controversial land-grab programme and accused Britain of seeking to isolate and to vilify Zimbabwe in Europe and in the United States. The ministers deputed six countries, South Africa and Nigeria among them, to form a committee to support Zimbabwe in future talks with the European Union and with other parties on land reform, and their resolution was forwarded to the coming Organisation of African Unity summit, where African heads of states will meet.
I would not be surprised if the heads of states decided to endorse the ministers' resolution. After all, one of the most serious problems the African continent has faced in the past has been the reluctance by its leaders to express public disapproval of one of their own.
Mr Mugabe is an embarrassment to Africa, and nobody will take seriously the commendable initiatives of some African leaders to improve the continent's image as long as the continent's leaders fail to call somebody like Mr Mugabe to order. The land problem that has dogged Zimbabwe cannot explain the president's eagerness to harass anybody who dares to disagree with him. He belongs to the kind of Africa that we need to move away from, and the internatinal community should not bail him out by providing food for his country.
The writer is an associate editor of 'The Independent' and a former editor of the Daily News in Durban, South AfricaReuse content