Saturday, July 5, 2008
After mentioning Bryan Mukandi's new blog Outside In the other day I also said that I imagined he would post something about Zimbabwe soon. It turned out that he hadn't been planning to do so but he obliged me anyway with this post. He then challenged me to write a post of my own about it in the comments on my post. So, hesitant as I am to do so, here's my post.
In his piece, Bryan talks about how 'abstract suffering', such as seeing footage of things like the earthquake in China, are painful but bearable, because they do not really impinge on our lives in any way. Bryan is Zimbabwean, so the situation there is very different for him. I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like having friends and relations stuck in a country ruled by a despot who refuses to give his people any choice whatsoever and brings violence and misery to those who stand up to him. Then, while doing a little research into this topic (I never thought I'd find myself doing research for this blog!) I came across this picture at the top of the article. You would have to made of stone not to be deeply upset by this image. This is Blessing Mabhena, an 11 month old boy, whose legs were deliberately broken by Robert Mugabe's thugs in order to punish his father for being an opposition councillor in Zimbabwe. You can read the full story here. I found myself just staring blankly at the computer screen for about ten minutes after reading this story, unsure of what to do next.
Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg; one of thousands of horror stories of atrocities committed by the followers of Mugabe in order to intimidate and terrify anyone who dares oppose him. What can anyone do in the face of such actions? It was a sad day when Morgan Tsvangirai announced he was stepping down as the opposition candidate to Mugabe but entirely understandable. The man knew that he was placing the lives of thousands of his followers as well as his family and loved ones into jeopardy. He was fighting a battle he could not possibly win.
For footage of just how ludicrously easy it was for Mugabe to rig the vote in Zimbabwe check out this incredible video clip from The Guardian.
I know a few people from Zimbabwe. They are mostly, but not solely, white. Whatever you feel about the way land was divided up in Zimbabwe before and after the break up of Rhodesia, there is nothing that can excuse what many white farmers and landowners have had to go through in the past few years. People who have never lived anywhere else have had their life's possession taken away from them and been forced into exile. I have genuine sympathy for those who resent the long history of white supremacy in their country but looting and random beatings are no way of resolving a long and complicated issue. Good people have had absolutely everything taken from them and will never get it back.
As a child I lived for three years in Tanzania in east Africa. I attended a local school in the city of Dodoma, which was nominally the capital although in reality all power at the time resided in Dar Es Salaam. When the Tanzanian president at the time Ali Hassan Mwinyi and his Kenyan equivalent, the monstrously corrupt Daniel Arap Moi visited the city all local schoolchildren were required to stand on the roadside waving flags and cheering on these great leaders, blissfully unaware of just how rich these men were becoming, as thousands of their nations' children slept on pavements and foraged in rubbish dumps for food.
Africa has long had to endure the spectre of the 'untouchable' leader, who cannot be publicly criticised without reprisal. This is where things really need to change, and hopefully they might just be starting to. South Africa's spineless president Thabo Mbeki has been notoriously reluctant to speak out against the Zimbabwean administration in any way. Thankfully, his infinitely wiser and braver predecessor Nelson Mandela has not, criticising Mugabe for his 'tragic failure of leadership'. And I'm delighted to see my old home country refuse to recognise Mugabe's win in the recent election, along with many other countries in the African Union.
Much more of this kind of leadership will be required if Zimbabwe is ever to climb out of the pit Mugabe and his cronies have brought it to. Thankfully, it appears that the hope, the brains and the bravery to do so still exist. Enough is enough.
To follow the Zimbabwean story carefully check out the superb This Is Zimbabwe Blog.