Zimbabwe - A letter from the diaspora (March 2009)
GOING HOME: The year is 2004 and Caleb Dube, the former detective with the Zimbabwe Republic Police has been in exile in the United Kingdom for two years. A letter arrives from his old friend and colleague, Moses Musindo, alerting Dube to the fact that his former teacher and friend, Father Hugh Malloy, is in great danger. Friendship demands no less and Caleb Dube goes home to his native land. With no help from a partisan police force, Dube and Musindo set out to investigate. In the course of their enquiries deep in the rural areas, the two men meet a host of unforgettable characters, including Sami the AIDS orphan and Sami's friend, Tatenda, the hunter. The two boys are an indispensable part of the investigation and the search leads them to an old adversary of Dube's who holds the key to the mystery of the missing priest.
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Countdown is a political detective story. It is fiction but the background is accurate and verifiable. Set in 2001/2 and the start of the land invasions, the book shows how the politicisation of the police force has led directly to the breakdown of law and order. In this hostile environment, two honest cops attempt to investigate a murder. Click here to find out more or buy online
Admittedly, he is not the brightest or most astute political observer there is, but what worried me was the fact that he seemed to have been completely hoodwinked by the sugar, cooking oil and other goodies that he can now buy over the counter. I assume that my friend is now paid in foreign currency so he can find the necessary rands or dollars. "But what about Baba?" I asked, "How is he getting on down there in Mount Darwin? He hasn't got US dollars, how is he managing?" There was no real answer to that question but he did admit that 'Nzara' was still the problem down there in the rurals. 'Nzara' means only one thing, of course, no mealie meal for sadza, that's the only food that really counts for rural Zimbabweans, unlike their urban brothers and sisters who can fill their empty stomachs with western take-away food. In the rural areas, food relief is controlled by the chiefs and they are not known for their even-handed approach to members of the opposition. What opposition you may ask? According to Robert Mugabe's comments to the Norwegian envoy this week, "We no longer have an opposition and we are working together towards the same goals we have set as government." Ah, so now, it all becomes very clear! This is what Robert Mugabe and his party mean by 'A unity government' The MDC cannot claim that they were not warned; if you join this sham of a Unity government, you will be swallowed up by Zanu PF. Already after just 44 days Zanu PF chefs are telling people out in the rurals that there is no longer any opposition party, they have merged with Zanu PF and all those people who had deserted the ruling party must now come back to the one true party, Zanu PF, that won them their liberation from the hated British imperialists. Will the people swallow that lie? The answer, sadly, is that they may very well do just that. After the long years of suffering and hardship under Mugabe's disastrous misrule, people are only too ready to believe that Zanu PF have had a change of heart and now want a genuine power-sharing government. The sight of old enemies hand in hand, like the Deputy Prime Minister and the Vice President at the recent Women's Day celebrations, seems to suggest that all is indeed sweetness and light but fine words and hand clasps are not enough to convince me that this is genuine unity. We should not forget that Zanu PF as a political party is always in election mode and even now their collective minds are concentrated on the next election in two years time.
If this is a true 'transition' government than 2010 will be the year when Zimbabweans go to the polls again. We are told that the process of constitutional reform is about to begin in accordance with the Agreement signed between the parties. Let's hope that Zimbabweans have not forgotten the deluge of violence that followed after the last Constitutional Referendum when the people voted NO in February 2000. That defeat as I remember was blamed on the whites, though even then they were less than 1% of the population. And if Mugabe has his way there will be no white farmers left at all in Zimbabwe by 2010. Fewer than 100 of them now remain apparently and violent farm invasions have gone on all week. The MDC appears powerless, or unwilling, to stop them for fear, perhaps, that such a move will wreck the so-called Unity Government. The Finance Minister, Tendai Biti, says that if Zimbabwe does not get financial assistance from the west very soon the Unity Government will collapse and complete anarchy will ensue. Perhaps the Honourable Bits needs to be reminded that the rest of the world is watching events in Zimbabwe very closely and have made it absolutely clear that there will be no budgetary assistance until human rights, including property rights, are restored and all political prisoners released. Robert Mugabe and his Foreign Minister Samuel Mumbengegwe both deny that Zimbabwe has any political prisoners in its lice infested stinking gaols but at the same time the MDC releases the names of abducted activists whom they want released. Meanwhile, Mugabe refuses to swear in the MDC's Deputy Agriculture Minister on the grounds that he is facing a serious criminal charge.
My 'unpatriotic' question is what is really going on in Zimbabwe? Jan Raath, a respected journalist wrote this week that it brought a lump into his throat when he saw for the first time in ages municipal workers in his hometown of Harare clearing away piles of stinking, rat-infested garbage from the city streets. On the face of it, that certainly seems a sign that things are changing for the better but set that beside eye witness accounts of the conditions in Zimbabwe's gaols where men and women are dying on a daily basis of starvation, reduced, said Roy Bennett, to emaciated skeletons that he likened to Holocaust victims. And this is happening under a 'Unity' government! The truth is that 'Unity' is a meaningless concept unless it is a true partnership of equals. Looking in from the outside, I see very few signs that Mugabe and Zanu PF are really committed to equal partnership and true change in the country. It is much more than 'changing Zimbabwe's image' as Professor Mutambara would have us believe; it's about changing the reality of life for all Zimbabweans.
According to a Zimbabwean journalist whose comments I read this week, it is now considered to be 'unpatriotic' in some circles to criticise the Government of National Unity - or Inclusive Government. Neither label precisely describes the strange hybrid that now purports to run the country but many Zimbabweans both in and outside the country must be finding it hard to come to terms with the notion of sharing power with the very same people who were intent on beating your brains out yesterday. Indeed, it’s pretty difficult to be whole-heartedly in favour of this arranged marriage when one considers the very mixed messages coming out from the country and if that comment can be regarded as 'unpatriotic' then I'm happy to plead guilty.
It's a world away from the poverty we know in Africa and Zimbabwe in particular but the recession that is being experienced in the developed world has direct relevance to Africa and the developing world. African leaders met with Gordon Brown in London this week ahead of the G20 summit next month. The BBC's International Development correspondent reports that Brown was warned that the possibility of conflict and unrest breaking out all over the continent was a very real one if the African economic downturn continues. (No one mentioned Zimbabwe of course, that's a basket case in a class of its own.) In Zambia half a million have lost their jobs in the copper mines; the halving of the cotton prices have resulted in farmers losing their livelihoods in Tanzania and the drastic reduction of receipts from tourism has led to a severe drop in foreign revenues across Africa. As the recession bites in the west, African migrants have less disposable income to remit to their families at home. The point was repeatedly made by the African leaders that it is in the west's own interest to ensure that Africa does not descend into conflict; as Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said, it makes sense for the richer countries in the world to fund the poorest since it would cost much less now than paying for peacekeeping operations later. It is not going to be easy to persuade the west of the force of President Johnson Sirleaf's argument. The commitments made to Africa at the Gleneagles summit in 2005 have still not been fulfilled so it seems unlikely that western financial institutions and banks will be willing to honour their pledges now.
The 'reality' of Biti's revised emergency budget is that Zimbabwe is broke, there is no money and little prospect of western donors bailing out the government. The Education Minister admitted as much when he told the teachers that he cannot even guarantee their March salaries. "We'll give you fourteen days to increase our pay
The sight of the 'First Couple' at Morgan's hospital bedside, accompanied by a whole posse of top chefs from Zanu PF including, unbelievably, the boss of the notorious CIO, did little to persuade me that there was a genuine change of heart on the part of the Mugabe regime. It was not hard to understand the cynicism of most Zimbabweans when they heard of the accident that had deprived Morgan Tsvangirai of his beloved wife. Was it an accident? And, more to the point, was Morgan himself the intended target? Thousands of miles away, here in the UK, people who have never even been to Zimbabwe shared the same doubts. I walked into my newsagent the day after the accident to be greeted by my friendly Indian shopkeeper with the words, "So, the old bastard's done it again. Who will it be next time?" The plumber who came to fix the central heating said much the same, "Car crash, yeah, best way to get rid of your enemies isn't it?"
Such is Mugabe's reputation at home and abroad, for duplicity and double-dealing, that no matter how often he declares his grief and offers his 'sincere' condolences, no one quite believes him. It is all a matter of perception; the facts on the ground scarcely matter. Nothing will dispel the people's doubts. There have been too many unexplained car accidents, too many mysterious deaths: Border Gezi in 1999, Moven Mahachi in 2001, Eliot Manyika in 2008 and the army general whose car was hit by an oncoming train, not to mention Peter Pasipamire killed in a road accident on the Borrowdale Road. None of these so-called 'accidents' was ever adequately explained. There were never any inquests or forensics to prove otherwise. With a politically compliant police force and a hopelessly compromised judiciary, it is no wonder the general public have become totally cynical about explanations coming from government mouthpieces.
"Grace said Susan would never get into State House and look – now she won't." an MDC official is said to have whispered, pointing to Amai Susan's coffin at the service in Harare. In London, a man stood up at one of the weekly discussion meetings held by MDC Central London branch and declared, "Even if Morgan Tsvangirai was struck by lightning, the first person I would blame is Robert Mugabe." Everyone laughed, apparently, but the 'joke' perfectly illustrates the pent-up anger people feel about the years of suffering under Mugabe's misrule. It is, as I said, all a matter of perception. Mugabe's 'Hand of God' explanation for the crash that killed Amai Tsvangirai and injured her husband, his apparently humble and sincere demeanour, the heartfelt words of regret for the violence and all the harsh words exchanged in the past, none of it really changes the people's perception. They have heard it all before and know that too often the humility and remorse are followed by harsh retribution as the war vets or Youth Militia are unleashed against innocent people. Even now, at this time of national mourning, the violence continues against white farmers and their workers. Thankfully, Roy Bennett has been released at last but he still faces nonsensical charges of terrorism and dozens of other MDC activists remain in stinking gaol cells. Teachers who have returned to their schools in the rural areas are still being 'accused' by war vets of belonging to the MDC whose homes are still being burnt down by Mugabe loyalists.
"The violence must stop" Mugabe declared at the church service to commemorate Amai Tsvangirai but he cannot escape his own responsibility for instigating it when he unleashed his war vets on the country back in 2000. If Robert Mugabe now feels genuine remorse and regret for what he has done then there is no better time than now to admit his fault but it will take more than mere words to heal the scars he and his men of violence have inflicted. It will take action. Robert Mugabe must disband the Youth Militia and call off the war veterans who have caused so much suffering and death. He must cleanse the army and police of greedy and corrupt officers, he must free up the media, stop political interference with the courts and, above all, he must allow free and fair elections with international observers. There is little evidence that Mugabe has either the authority or the will to control his followers on the ground but only when he does, will Zimbabweans begin to believe his remorse is genuine.
The death of Amai Tsvangirai has released a torrent of grief and anger in the country, we saw that at her funeral in Buhera yesterday. No wonder Robert Mugabe did not attend; the sight and sound of that national outpouring of love for Susan and her husband, our Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, might have shocked him into understanding at last, that he and his party are no longer the people's choice. Mugabe and Zanu PF must finally accept that there is only one option left for them: a genuine sharing of power with the MDC. That will be the ultimate test of Mugabe's sincerity and trustworthiness.
Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH. aka Pauline Henson author of Countdown a political detective story based in Zimbabwe and available on lulu.com. Watch out also for Going Home, the sequel, to be published shortly on lulu.com