March 28, 2005


Staying On, Amid Zimbabwe's Madness: My parents cling to their home in the face of Mugabe's hostility (Douglas Rogers, March 28, 2005, LA Times)

This is Zimbabwe 25 years after Robert Mugabe came to power. Initially he was seen as a unifier, and my parents, longtime liberals, chose to stay on, even as 150,000 of the 250,000 whites fled, unwilling to live under black rule. Despite a decade of relative prosperity, the last four years have seen the country descend into political turmoil and economic ruin. After losing a referendum in 2000, Mugabe accused whites of being racist colonialists and began violently seizing their farms. Blacks who opposed the regime suffered even more.

The government has become increasingly corrupt, violence is endemic, human rights violations are among the worst in the world. Despite all this, race relations are surprisingly good. Most whites and blacks tend to see the wild rantings of the regime for the cheap opportunism they are.

My parents' farm is in the Eastern Highlands, four hours east of Harare, close to the Mozambique border. It was early evening, under a blood-red sunset, when I arrived, and my parents were locking their front gate. There were uniformed guards on the perimeter, and I saw the fence around their house had been electrified. "We've just been to a farewell," my mother laughed. "Soon we'll be the only ones left!" Today, 3 million of us live outside the country. In Harare, they call London "Harare North."

My parents refuse to leave. "We are Zimbabweans, this is our country," they say. My mother was born in Zimbabwe and my father, a South African, moved there in the 1960s. But they no longer rail against those whites who do leave. "We can't blame anyone for going," said my mother.

My parents' rental cottages are routinely burgled, entire living room sets and fridges dragged away through the bush. When my mother phoned the police about one robbery, the officer in charge barely stirred: "I have no car," he said. "Can you pick me up?" That's Zimbabwe: Just when you think it's Orwellian nightmare, it turns into Evelyn Waugh farce.

It is hard to imagine that just a few years ago Zimbabweans, black and white, stood strong in the face of the political corruption of Mugabe's government. Even during the height of the 2001-2003 violence, the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, was ascendant; people really believed change was coming. The 2002 presidential elections felt as momentous as South Africa's in 1994. Despite threats and intimidation, people lined up in the millions to vote, and for the first time in 22 years whites — my father included — moved out from behind their high walls and sports clubs and got involved in the campaign.

But the election was stolen by Mugabe through widespread vote-rigging and intimidation — and the backlash was swift and brutal. The opposition has been virtually silent since, its leaders beaten and jailed. Four newspapers have been closed since 2002, a dozen journalists expelled. And there's no reason to expect this week's parliamentary elections to be any less corrupt than those that have gone before.

Zimbabwe archbishop calls for peaceful ouster of Mugabe (MICHAEL HARTNACK, March 28, 2005, Chicago Sun-Times)
One of Zimbabwe's most outspoken church leaders Sunday called for a peaceful uprising against President Robert Mugabe's autocratic rule, days before a parliamentary election that rights groups say is tainted by years of violence and intimidation.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube of Zimbabwe's second-largest city, Bulawayo, said he was willing to put on his vestments and lead a march to Mugabe's residence himself, but feared: ''If I do it, I do it alone.''

''The people are so scared,'' he said. ''You are not going to get that where people are so cowardly.''

Police arrested about 200 opposition supporters after a rally Sunday in the capital, Harare, the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change said in a statement.

Mugabe, a former guerrilla leader, has led Zimbabwe since the end of white rule in 1980. Ncube thinks Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front Party will easily win Thursday's poll, which he said is sure to be rigged.

''I hope that people get so disillusioned that they really organize against the government and kick him out by a nonviolent, popular, mass uprising,'' Ncube said in an interview with the the Sunday Independent.

Mugabe's misrule (Financial Times, March 28 2005)
Anybody looking to Thursday's parliamentary poll for a way out of Zimbabwe's political impasse and economic disaster is likely to be disappointed. The vote is widely expected to consolidate the hold of Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF. Even if the opposition Movement for Democratic Change makes a decent showing, the wily Mr Mugabe may turn that to his advantage and say it was given its chance.

In a crucial year for Africa's relations with the developed world, the election will be judged differently by Zimbabwe's neighbours and by the rich nations on which any recovery will eventually depend. At least for the English-speaking rich countries, including the US, which has lumped the Mugabe regime together with Cuba's and North Korea's as an "outpost of tyranny", Zimbabwe is a test of Africa's seriousness in its willingness to confront misgovernance. But the leadership role that Zimbabwe's powerful neighbour South Africa could have exerted - and has done on other African issues - has been sadly missing.

'This time Mugabe is going for sure. The world is watching us': Zimbabweans are openly challenging the President, believing that his days are now numbered (Xan Rice and Jan Raath, 3/28/05, Times of London)
AS THE drums sound at the Chimanimani Golf Club, a shy-looking white woman appears before several thousand jubilant supporters. Her husband is in jail. Her farm has been seized. She has no record as a politician, and President Mugabe wants her out of the country.

Yet the overwhelmingly black population of this rural constituency has insisted that she stand as their candidate in Thursday’s election. And Heather Bennett, 42, whose campaign has become a symbol of the defiance and optimism that has swept through Zimbabwe over the past week, has an excellent chance of winning.

A few weeks ago, eager to confer legitimacy on the parliamentary election, Mr Mugabe ordered his youth militia to curb their violence and permit at least the semblance of democracy. The strange new atmosphere of calm — unseen for five years — has breathed unexpected life into a contest that had seemed certain to end in crushing victory for the ruling party.

If it's possible to understand the deadly cravenness with which the Left opposes the use of American force to liberalize the Third World, it's impossible to put a charitable spin on their silence when people have a chance to forward democracy peacefully if only they had some outside help.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 28, 2005 7:07 AM

Zimbabwe is the Left's ideal: everyone is equally unemployed; there is no gap between the rich and the poor.

Posted by: Randall Voth at March 28, 2005 10:34 AM

Jimmy Carter for President of Zimbabwe; it's a perfect match!

Posted by: Dave W. at March 28, 2005 11:57 AM

"Where is the left?"

Holding workshops on why, while the situation in Zimbabwe is certainly unpleasant, Bush is being hypocritical in not addressing Myanmar.

Posted by: Peter B at March 28, 2005 8:02 PM
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