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.

17 comment(s):

Anonymous said...

I'll be honest I'm far from up to date on the situation in Zimbabwe but this post was an eye openner. Thank you.

Lottie said...

It's such an awful state of affairs and I can only imagine the constant fear that the people of Zimbabwe live with every day.

I do not subscribe to the intervention concept that the US have employed in recent years and this current situation is truly proof that the invasion of Iraq was for purely capitalist motives.

Despite my views that each nation should be left to sort out their own political problems, this is surely a situation where the UN should be getting involved. Every day we hear of the gross atrocities going on in Zimbabwe and the nations people are continuously deprived of their most basic fundamental human rights.

Surely Mugabe should been seems as a war criminal and brought to answer and pay for his crimes.

From such noble beginnings to turn into a violent dictator -something needs to be done.

Anonymous said...

Hi Andrew,
Wow. That was a fantastic read. Thanks for writing that.

I went to a boarding school where almost half the students were white farmer kids. I had friends who had ridiculous amounts of land and it wasn't sustainable. Most Zimbabwean aknowledged the need for land redistribution. But there are very very few people who condone what is happening and what has happened to farmers. Violence is wrong and it doesn't matter who it is directed to. People like Mugabe dress their deeds in 'pan-Africanism' but it's just a facade.

Thanks again

Andrew said...

Little Miss - welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. i'm delighted if I've helped to make you more aware of what's going on there.

Lottie - I agree that the UN should get involved but ultimately it is a problem that needs an African solution. this is one of the few things i've agreed with Tony Blair on.
Mugabe should be treated as a war criminal but I'm not cetain if he could ever be tried as such because I don't think what's happening in Zimbabwe officially counts as a 'war'.

Bryan - I'm thrilled that you liked my piece, that means a lot to me.

Lottie said...

@Andrew - Maybe it isn't classed as a war. But no-one can deny that there are war crimes taking place. Just looking at the picture of that poor little boy is heartbreaking.

Anonymous said...

I think someone has got the ball rolling with the international criminal court, but the whole UN system is brocken. I agree with you guys that Mugabe is a war criminal, but I don't see him being tried as one. Look at the Junta in Burma. They're just as bad but they don't look like they're going anywhere soon.

Eimear said...

Oh God. His little legs. I wonder about Tsvangirai, though. Was it less than a week before the election he pulled out? And so many had already died. Though I guess it could only have escalated.

Great post, Andrew.

Anonymous said...

Realistically the best that can be hoped for is that Mugabe & his closest cronies go into exile with all their ill gotten gains intact & immunity from prosecution. Sickening but I dont think he will give up power for anything less.
i think there is going to be far less concern for freedom in Africa in future. Now that China's economic colonisation is hoovering up the vast amounts of natural resources, western countries are going to drop any pretense of caring about Africa in the battle for resources.

Darren said...

I can't add anything to this discussion. It's shocking and saddening. Well done for writing this, Andy.

Andrew said...

Sean - you're probably right on both points. Depressing as that is. The West only gives a shit about Africa when it suits them. And China couldn't give less of ashit about anyone but China.

eimear - i really don't know the ins and outs of it but my guess is that Tsvangirai hung in there for as long as possible, until he was absolutely certain there was no hope. Perhaps some very specific threats were made to him.It could be argued that much of this bloodshed could have been avoided if no-one had opposed Mugabe, but throughout hisory good people have always had to suffer and die for any situation to improve.

Anonymous said...

There is something wrong with the photo of the child. Those two casts on the legs look very similar and are deformed at the ankles and feet. A cast on an injured leg and ankle should look normal not bent as shown. It look smore like the kid is being casted for a condition called club feet not injuries.

Andrew said...

Anonymous, you can cast doubt on the legitimacy of the cast if you want but I don't see any reason to. Given the story was broken by hte BBC I'd like to believe it's based on more than hearsay. The Economist reported a story of a 5 year old being burnt alive, but perhaps that was just anti-Mugabe propaganda too? I've seen a thing or two of healthcare in Africa and I don't think I would cause much offence to any African by saying it often leaves a thing or two to be desired. In other words, the cast might not have been put on by someone particularly well-qualified.

Either way, that's not really the point of this post. Perhaps Mugabe and his chums are like lovable uncles when it comes to small children but there's still no denying the flagrant human rights abuses going on there.

Anonymous said...

It's not that Mbeki is spineless, it's because himself and Mugabe have been involved in some very shady deals from a couple of decades back.

Anonymous said...

Well, Times has a follow up story on this at Someone has fudged something. I wonder if the story itself is true.

Anonymous said...

No doubt Mugabe is presiding over flagrant human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. But it is poor journalism to fudge a story. A story in the Times or the BBC or the Newsweek is no gauarantee that enough checks have been done to get the story correctly.

Darren said...

@Anon Thanks for the link. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. Clearly Mugabe is at the root of many abuses in Zimbabwe, but shoddy journalism (if this turns out to be true) only helps to bolster him and his campaign.

Bob said...

The international community, most particularly the British government, had 18 years to solve the difficulties of creating a more egalitarian system of land distribution. When the time came the Blair government reneged on their commitments to compensate white farmers most famously through Clare Short's blunt disavowal of responsibilities in 1997. The story of baby Blessing is a fabrication