Last month I received a letter from a constituent lamenting the "tragic situation" in Zimbabwe.

I have met Zimbabwean expatriates who now live in West Sussex to discuss their despair about what is happening to their country.

Robert Mugabe's victory in the 1980 elections seemed to represent the beginning of a brighter future for the Zimbabwean people. Thirty years on, we know that the reality of his rule has been drastically different.

His promise that his Party would "not seize land from anyone who has a use for it", has been broken.   Zimbabwe, once the "bread basket" of Africa, is now completely dependent upon external food programmes.  Inflation has spiralled to 355,000 per cent, and eight out of ten people in the country are out of work.

Faced with brutal intimidation, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has pulled out of the run-off contest for the Presidency, despite the fact that he won the first round in March.  He said that he felt as though he was not fighting an election, but rather a war.

Perhaps we do not appreciate how the politics of race still play on the Continent, but for many in the West, the reluctance of South Africa's leaders to confront this issue is extraordinary.

At last Nelson Mandela has spoken out, but elliptically, merely referring to a "tragic failure of political leadership."  President Mbeki remains silent, just as he is in denial about the tragedy of AIDS.

But the international community cannot be silent.  Sanctions should be enforced.  There must be a UN commission of inquiry into the horrific abuses of human rights.  And we must end the shameful spectacle of Mugabe attending EU summits.

This week the Queen stripped Mugabe of his knighthood.  The time when British Ministers could shake hands with this despot is over.  He is no longer a legitimate leader, and the sooner he goes the better.

Michelle Taylor