2 January 2014

Zimbabwe: The Fear - New Book Tears Into Robert Mugabe

"On my flights to get here, I have reread Gabriel Garcia Marquez's The Autumn of the Patriarch, and relished the scene in which sharp-beaked vultures, maddened by the stink of human carrion, tear their way through the mosquito screens of the imperial palace, alerting the citizens in the city below to the death of the dictator," writes Zimbabwean author Peter Godwin in his highly indicting novel The Fear: The Last Days of Robert Mugabe.

As the title suggests, political pundits, not least Western observers saw in the election of 2008 a despotic President Robert Mugabe meet his waterloo in the hands of charismatic opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Godwin, a celebrated, scintillating, but scurrilous journalist, returned to Zimbabwe where he was born and bred, but from where he has been exiled, five days after the election to write an invariable newspaper article, 'farewell to President Mugabe.'

Robert Mugabe, an admired liberation hero among Southern Africans, came to power against the backdrop of a bloody guerilla war. His comrades, Herbert Chitepo, ZANU National Chairman, had been assassinated, so was Josiah Tongogara, Chief Military Commander. David Martin and Phyllis Johnson writes in The Struggle for Zimbabwe: The Chimurenga War, that Mugabe was a principal architect of the armed struggle.

"Our primary task was to recruit," Mugabe observes "as I have often put it, to preach nothing else but war" against the colonial regime. However, after independence, fighting seemed remote; Mugabe was gentle, and was knighted by the Queen (the knighthood has since been striped-off). On arrival in Zimbabwe, Godwin smells Africa's electoral droll; the winner has not been declared; the incumbent meets party top brass to decide the country's fate; hawks subdue doves; the President will not concede defeat; Mugabe has 43.2 per cent votes; Tsvangirai has 47.9 per cent ; both are below the 50 per cent threshold; it's a second run-off. It's what awaits Zimbabweans in the second run-off that lends itself to the title's The Fear. After all, President Mugabe is not going anywhere, and so, "The Last Days of Mugabe" must give way to "The Martyrdom of Zimbabwe."

Godwin's eyewitness-accounts are heartrending. In the run-up to the repeat election, ruling party, Zanu-PF's brutish marquises orchestrate a "terror campaign of an industrial scale" to intimidate and vanquish the opposition. Here is a grim case: "Just after leaving the police station where they had tried to report the brutal assault of their colleague, their vehicle was blocked by a twin-cab truck with Zanu-PF logos, driven by a notorious security officer. The officer with his goons leaped out, smashed the windscreen and windows of the MDC (opposition party) pick-up, beat the two campaigners and poured paraffin over them.

The officer lit a newspaper, threw it onto the paraffin-soaked election workers, and drove off. They staggered out of the vehicle, running across the fields burning like balls of flame." They burned to death as a complacent police watched. This incident preceded the 2008 terror campaign called "Operation Mavhoterapapi? - Who Did You Vote For?"

Although MDC luminaries (Morgan Tsvangirai, Tendai Biti, Roy Bennett) have been arrested, and jailed before, 'Operation Mavhoterapapi?' targeted mostly junior party cadres, and rural folks who voted for MDC. Zanu-PF invaded homes of MDC supporters, and set houses ablaze. Those who ended in police cells died several times over from torture. Torture victims were ferried on wheelbarrows to hospital. "As they beat him," writes Godwin, "his assailants made him shout, 'Pamberi na (up with) Robert Mugabe,' 'Pamberi ne Zanu-PF.'" When they left, Denias Dombo "tried to stand up, teetered, and fell down, tried to stand up once more and fell again." Sadly, "his leg was broken, he could see the jagged shard of his left shin bone, and one arm hung limp and shattered."

Hobbling torture victims were then released back into the villages and townships as scarecrows to frighten would-be anti-Mugabe voters. Meanwhile, ZANU-PF war veterans continued to evict White Zimbabweans from fecund farms, chanting "you stole our land," and dish them to Blacks in a skewed manner. Seeing the torture victims, Tsvangirai decided to boycott the election if that could halt the victimisation of Zimbabweans. South Africa would broker a power-sharing deal between Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

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