A recently released report by Human Rights Watch about the situation in Zimbabwe before the second round of a presidential election makes for grim reading. The eyewitness reports of brutal beatings, torture and mutilations of suspected supporters of the oppositional Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) show in sickening detail how president Robert Mugabe is unleashing a campaign of terror on his own people to scare them into re-electing him, especially in rural areas that used to be bastions of support for the ruling ZANU-PF party.
28 years after Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain under black majority rule, Mugabe has squandered the respect and admiration that he had earned as a fighter against Apartheid during the 1960s and 70s. Now he is only fighting to preserve power and privileges for himself and his cronies in the army and police. His wife is known as “Gucci Grace” or the “First Shopper”. Many farms taken from commercial farmers were distributed to senior members of ZANU-PF.
It all could have been so different. At Independence, Zimbabwe had one of the best infrastructures in the region and had a well-developed agricultural and mining industry. There was racial reconciliation and many whites stayed on after Apartheid ended. Now one quarter of the population has fled abroad (mostly to South Africa), inflation is sky-high and people are starving.
Already a few years after Independence a brutal counter-insurrection campaign in the southern region of Matabeleland known as Gukurahundi was a first ominous sign how unscrupulous Mugabe could act if he saw a challenge to his power. At least ten thousand people were killed when former members of the ZIPRA guerilla force of rival nationalist party ZAPU and other members of the southern Ndebele tribe were hunted down by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade of the Zimbabwe Army, given carte blanche to violate human rights on a massive scale with impunity. The campaign ended in 1987, when ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo agreed to his party effectively being swallowed up by ZANU.
What I find most disheartening about the situation in Southern Africa is the hands-off attitude of fellow African leaders such as South African president Thabo Mbeki. When black democracy activists were persecuted by the white Apartheid regime in South Africa, all of Africa provided support to their brothers and sisters in need, often at great cost to themselves (such as in Angola and Mozambique, where South Africa supported rebel groups to destabilize these countries). Now that Africans are being tortured, beaten and killed by fellow Africans, many of these African leaders are turning a blind eye.
The victims of torture and violence at the hand of Mugabe’s gangs of thugs deserve solidarity every bit as much as the victims of the South African police and army did before Liberation. By betraying powerless Zimbabwean victims, the current leadership in South Africa and other nations in the region is betraying the ideals of the generations who fought and eventually brought down Apartheid.
What you can do: Find the address of the embassy of the Republic of South Africa in your country and write a letter or a fax to the Ambassador to urge President Thabo Mbeki to use his influence with the government of Zimbabwe to get them to halt the violence now!