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During our trip to Southern Africa, organised by ACTSA, we met youth leaders from Zimbabwe. At first sight, it was like being at a students conference talking about free education and student governance - wanting to be the vanguard of society, never again wanting to be in the same situation as now.

But when this was overshadowed by the arrests and torture that young activists face on an almost daily basis, I felt humbled by seeing their world through their eyes and gaining a much deeper insight into the issues surrounding Zimbabwe, such as when one comrade explained that after its independence, Zimbabwe failed to put any checks and balances on the power over its people.

Those that have been forced to flee the country travel crocodile-infested waters to cross the border to South Africa, and even when they find refuge in the countries they flee to - are exposed to destitution as they have lost everything.

While SADC and the international community's credibility, the youth organisers are organising "get out the vote" rallies, going individually to mobilise neighbours in local communities. Neighbours that are faced with famine as the ruling party ZANU-PF tell them that if they don't vote for them, they won't get any food. Neighbours who tell democracy activists that "whatever happens, we are dying", where a loaf of bread for voting for ZANU-PF is important to survive the day than voting for MDC under the threat of torture or death.
But the young people we met are going into the elections to give Zimbabweans another fighting chance. They warned that as important as showing international solidarity was, it was critical to listen to the Zimbabwean organisations working on the ground before taking action. Similarly, people considering military intervention would be well advised to learn from the mistakes of previous invasions of other countries. If there was a change of government, they argued that this should not be a transfer of power, but changing the role of the state and it's relationship with its people.

However, we do need to challenge the policy of conditionality of international aid by many governments and hold those companies still involved in the Zimbabwean economy, as by doing so, they are indirectly funding the guns and torture chambers used by Mugabe to oppress his people.

If there is one message that brings together the different stories throughout the day, from the journey through apartheid, the struggle for inequality in the new South African democracy to the fight against oppression and torture in Zimbabwe, it is that we can humbly follow the example of our comrades - "Young people are capable, when aroused of bringing down the towers of repression and raising the banners of freedom" (Nelson Mandela).

It may look like we're playing on different football fields in the struggle for freedom, democracy and equality, but what links us all together is that wherever we are, history is repeated, from the oppression in South Africa in the apartheid years to that of Zimbabwe and Swaziland today. So in our 24/7 lifestyle, it may seem like a struggle to think for a moment, let alone take action in solidarity with our friends in this region - but that struggle is nothing compared to the struggle that they endure on a daily basis.

Please act now by protesting to the Zimbabwean government to stop all violence and detention of trade unionists and for them to use their influence with the authorities to secure the immediate release of the ZCTU leadership.

In elections this March, the people of Zimbabwe sent a clear message: Morgan Tsvangirai, not Robert Mugabe, should lead their government.

Since then, through a campaign of violence, fraud, and intimidation, Mugabe's government has undermined any hope for a legitimate run-off on June 27. The MDC has, appropriately, withdrawn. But this is not a concession of victory -- it is an acknowledgment of reality.

Now, the world's eyes turn to the leaders of Southern Africa -- without whom even Mugabe cannot retain power. Please sign on to this message to Thabo Mbeki and other Southern African leaders, and Avaaz will deliver it this week in newspaper ads throughout the region (click the image on right to see a mock-up)!

Below is a short note you can send to tell people about this campaign. Please only send it to people you know personally. Spam won't help our cause!

Click here to open a new email and invite your friends, family and colleagues to get involved.


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