The amnesty of Mugabe and Grace is a blight on the whole regions reputation – Zimbabweans deserve better.
by Jacques Du Preez
So it actually happened. The Zimbabwean leader who swore he’d rule until the day he died was quietly shunted out of the Zanu-PF’s pole position barely a few weeks ago. To many observers on both sides of the border and around the world, the change was almost anticlimactic. No chaos, no prolonged power struggle, the most noteworthy emotional response evoked by the entire affair was probably a mild annoyance felt by the crew of one of the Zimbabwean Defence Forces armoured personnel carriers when it lost its tracks somewhere in the suburbs of Harare.
The real reaction came 3 days later, when a mostly unshaken Zimbabwean government helped clear the fog of uncertainty surrounding the ruling parties’high seat and put its official writ behind the rumour that Emmerson Mnagagwa, not Robert Mugabe, would henceforth be the official leader of the ZANU-PF party and thus for all intents and purposes, the country. Calling the mass outpour of jubilation and feeling “rapturous” would scarcely be an understatement. The crowds of Zimbabweans who gathered to celebrate in their home country and across the region could only be matched in size by the crowds which had originally greeted Mugabe’s ascension almost forty decades ago.
But make no mistake, this was no people’s revolution, it pales in comparison to the bitter cup many in our country (South Africa) considered the 1994 compromise to be. True, Chatunga’s Mugabe’s daddy might not be running the country anymore, but if the details surrounding the deal which saw his successor rise to power are true, then he and his relatives will barely be swapping the Breitlings for brown bread any time soon. Indeed, it has come to light that, far from being reprimanded for his numerous abuses and indignitiestowards his own countrymen over the course of his thirty year rule, “mad bob”and Gucci grace both will quietly step out of the limelight, nestled comfortably in the lap of the luxury afforded to them by a ten million rand pay-out and a host of properties they own both locally and internationally. Stalwart defenders of the man (and there remain many of them) might argue that this is only what such a great figure deserves, being an opponent as he is of stature no less honourable than that of Nkrumah, Nyere, Sankara and the other great African statesmen of the 20th century. Naysayers will insist that his only crime was that of anti–colonial resistance, that his pariah status was thanks to nothing more than the fractured egoism of foreign,(white), western pundits and policymakers who felt their sense of superiority challenged by an African leader with the courage to put his own people first.
Nothing could be further than the truth.
Robert Mugabe deserves no praise, preciously little acclaim, and appreciation for little else than the decency to hobble off into an ample obscurity without having his countrymen come to blows and bullets over the future of the decrepit state which he so long presided over. Much has been said about Mugabe’sregime, particularly its most memorable act, the land seizures of the early 2000’s which are frequently cited as cause for either commendation or concern depending on which side of our own land question you sit. Less has been said about the relationship between the regime and its key constituency, that impoverished African underclass whose aspirations, one is made to believe, here exists, contrary to what his supporters would have one believe, a relationship every bit as abusive, exploitative and unequal as that which his party fought so hard to unseat. For evidence of what I’m saying, one need only take a short drive, barely forty minutes north of the Zimbabwean capital, deep in the ZANU-PF’s Shona speaking heartland, where, among forested foothills and a pristine freshwater lake, you’ll come across the picturesque little town ofMazowe.
Around 2011 the area came under the interest of none other than Grace Mugabe,who needs no introduction. The nation’s then first lady had big plans for the district, including the construction of a luxury hotel in the area, which she would naturally own. Owning to her high position in the country, few stopped her, not even when she deployed Zimbabwean security forces to begin a campaign of terror against the approximately 400 local black African residents who occupied the area she wished to build on. When a team from Al Jazeeravisited the site not long after Mugabe’s exit, they found scarcely 100 stubborn souls remaining, many of whom had bitter stories to tell about beatings and vandalised property from none other than the security police of the state which had sung so many praises to itself for rewarding those same residents that same land in the first place. If Grace and her husband are granted full immunity and the right to maintain their property, then the abuses of local residents will only continue.
This is only a small anecdote, but it is one which is very indicative of the Mugabe government’s overall attitude towards those who got in its way. All those who would be keen to doubt this would do well to cast their memoriesback to 1983, scarcely two years after Mugabe’s unrivalled ascent to what in retrospect could be seen as little more than a throne. Keen to ensure that his position would remain unchallenged, Mugabe, then still lauded around the world as a champion of democracy set to work removing any potential rivals. His first target was ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo, and the large support base he had among the Matabele speakers of the countries rural far west. These had been rivals of Mugabe’s ever since the armed struggle, going as far as to stage a brief uprising against the central government authority in the town of Entambane in 1981. The reprisal against this region went well beyond the realm of justification however. Publically describing Nkomo and those who supported as cobras, Mugabe gave a specially trained army unit known as the fifth brigade carte blanche to brutalise the inhabitants of Matabeleland at will. By the time Nkomo relented and fled the country, tens of thousands (we may never know how many) lay dead. Up till today the people of this region are woefully neglected by the national administration, and are lekas(?) favoured in terms of development and access to tertiary education. No one has ever been prosecuted for these killings. And if the amnesty holds, then no one ever will.
Such tenderness wasn’t simply reserved for those black African groups the regime saw fit to deem pests. Yet, in the last two decades of Mugabe’s rule, especially from the mid-2000’s onward, the Zimbabwean state dropped all internal pretentions towards democracy as it sought to quell the increasing tide of resentment created by the states own mismanagement of the country’seconomic fortunes. In 2005 came the “Murambatsvina”, an operation that saw over 70, 000 made homeless in the greatest mass eviction in the region’s history since the apartheid era. The government’s justification was that it was a move against the country’s criminal elements, though the true motive, retribution for failure to support Mugabe in the 2005 elections, is a far more the likely motive. Many of these people have still not received any form of compensation or proper resettlement. Yet their fate, horrible as it is, still pales when compared to those whose anti-government stance saw them hauled off to the Marangediamond fields, a vlakplaas-esque outpost near the country’s eastern border with Mozambique where countless anti-government activists have been sent to face torture and worse, and we may never know how many victims it claimed.
Incidents such as these help paint a picture of a very different Zimbabwe from the one the ZANU-PF, and its many supporters would have us believe, one where common people’s lives are cheap and their dignity cheaper still, one where the one only true equality can be one’s expectations of abuse and injustice should you have the audacity to accuse one’s lavishly rich rulers of the same. And one where the legacy of Robert Mugabe will be counted in scars.
What shall be done about this? One shouldn’t expect too much from Zimbabwe’s new establishment, which save a few shakeups, remains a practicalmirror image of the old, (and in any case “the crocodile reportedly Mnagwa’smoniker, is scarcely nickname granted to somehow for their compassion and kindness (?). It all comes down to us then, though Zimbabwe’s ruling elite has long ago abandoned the case of justice for Mugabe’s victims, the same need not be said for us, If the ideal of an African state which puts its people first is ever to be achieved, then it simply cannot stand that torture, terror, bruises and bulldozing, which are simply shrugged off as the collateral damage of some noble creative destruction. If we, leaders as we are of the Southern African Development Community, are to make even the most passable overtures towards the respect for human rights and dignity which our government so readily insists it has always fought for, then it should be the names of the victims, not those of their tormentors, whom we should commit to memory. Zimbabweans deserve better.
Image from http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/11/21/mugabe-is-a-goner-but-his-looting-machine-is-here-to-stay/
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