HARARE, Zimbabwe — Desmond Tutu threw the moral weight of his Nobel Peace Prize and war on apartheid into the Zimbabwe struggle Wednesday, suggesting it was time to threaten President Robert Mugabe’s ouster by force. The retired South African archbishop also criticized his own government’s handling of the crisis.
The comments came as the government of President Robert Mugabe brought a missing Zimbabwean human rights activist to court Wednesday, accusing her and at least six others of plotting to overthrow the 84-year-old leader. The activist, Jestina Mukoko, disappeared on Dec. 3 following nationwide protests against the country’s deepening economic and health crises.
Charging Mukoko, the respected head of a group known as the Zimbabwe Peace Project, in a plot already widely dismissed as a fabrication is seen as a sign Mugabe is not prepared to back down.
In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. aired Wednesday, Tutu called on Mugabe to relinquish power and said he was ashamed of his own country, South Africa, for its handling of the issue.
“We have betrayed our legacy, how much more suffering is going to make us say, ‘No, we have given Mr. Mugabe enough time,’ ” said Tutu, retired archbishop of Cape Town who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki mediated the power-sharing deal between Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, and South Africa reiterated this week it saw the deal as the only way forward, despite new U.S. and British opposition to it.
Mugabe has ruled the country since its 1980 independence from Britain and refused to leave office after disputed elections in March.
Asked during the interview if Mugabe should be removed by force, Tutu said there should “certainly be the threat of it.” And he added that the president should be warned that he could face prosecution at the International Criminal Court for his violent suppression of opponents.
Mukoko’s court appearance came days after Tsvangirai threatened to withdraw from talks on implementing the power-sharing deal unless at least 42 missing activists and opposition officials were released or charged.