Sleeping Like a Hare Millions Billions Trillions    
African Tears Beyond Tears Innocent Victims Imire Can you hear the drums, by Cathy Buckle

Propaganda of the very cheapest kind
August 13, 2011, 12:24 am

A friend phoned from Zimbabwe on Wednesday to enquire if I was OK. He had been listening to the news and heard that England was over-run by rioters. No doubt his anxiety on my behalf was influenced by Robert Mugabe’s references to the UK disturbances in his speeches over the two day public holiday in Zimbabwe. The Dear Leader can never resist the temptation to crow over the UK’s troubles, which were certainly very serious.

“Solve your own problems” Mugabe told the UK (and the USA) “and leave us alone.” Of course, he tied it all in with sanctions which he claims are the cause of all Zimbabwe’s problems. He has called for ‘peace and tolerance’ but has consistently refused to rein in the army which is terrorising villagers up and down the country. Neither do the Zanu PF thugs take any notice of his calls for peace as we see in the continuing attacks on MDC followers. The activities of the Chipangano gang in Mbare reached new levels of horror this week with hot oil being thrown into the face of an MDC member. The identity of some of the assailants is known to the police but no arrests have been made. That, it seems, is Zanu PF’s definition of tolerance.

On Defence Forces day Mugabe announced that Zimbabwe will have its first Military University, built and paid for by the Chinese. Just why Zimbabwe needs such an establishment is unclear. Mugabe would have us believe that Zimbabwe is under threat from ‘the western military alliance’ as he calls it. It’s the same old slogan, ‘Zimbabwe will never be a colony again’ that we heard back at the last election and the one before that. When parliament says it will debate the question of military intervention in politics, Mugabe declares that parliament has no business discussing the conduct of the security forces; what he means is that only HE as the Commander in Chief has the power to determine the actions of the military.

The BBC’s Panorama on Chiadzwa and the revelations about torture camps run by the military certainly hit a raw nerve in the Zanu PF hierarchy. “Cheap BBC propaganda” jeered Emmerson Mnangagwa; that from a regime which excels in propaganda of the very cheapest kind! I watched the programme and found it rather tame. What it did, however, was to raise questions about the EU.’s decision to allow some of the Chiadzwa diamonds to be sold on world markets. The ICC has since said that the evidence from Chiadzwa could be used to prosecute  Robert Mugabe, who is named along with Constantine Chiwenga and Perence Shiri as the three men ordering the murders at Chiadzwa. The likelihood of such prosecutions happening is very remote but together with Amnesty’s call for the UN to investigate human rights abuses by the security sector it serves to remind the Mugabe regime that the world is watching - even though it fails to act. As Moletsi Mbeki pointed out, SADC too, has so far failed to act on the deteriorating Zimbabwean situation. It’s been going on for such a long time. Apparently, no one inside or out of Africa is prepared to take on Mugabe. What they’re afraid of is not clear; perhaps it is the fact that he has the backing of the military.

For ordinary Zimbabweans, the sight of soldiers rampaging through villages and townships inspires very real fear, knowing as they do what the soldiers are capable of - but fear is not the same as respect. The army’s boasts that it has ‘Liberation credentials’ and I was struck by the relevance of an incident that took place in Masvingo on Heroes Day. MDC supporters wearing party regalia attended the ceremony and all of them were subjected to violence by Zanu PF thugs. In a particularly disgraceful display a woman was stripped naked and savagely beaten. And the reason for the beatings? A group of war veterans accused the MDC people of ‘showing disrespect’ to war veterans. Respect surely has to be earned; it’s hard to see how beating people senseless is likely to earn anything other than hatred and resentment.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.

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Maintaining power through force
August 5, 2011, 1:43 pm

The sight of the former president of Egypt being wheeled into court in Cairo made world headlines. Was it the same in Zimbabwe I wonder? Mubarak’s appearance in a court of law was a direct result not of foreign intervention but of the mass action of thousands of ordinary people demonstrating for justice and good governance. For Egyptians watching the proceedings on a giant screen outside the court it was, in the words of one Egyptian journalist and activist, “a moment they had never thought they would see… We thought we would just have to wait for him to die.” he added. That’s a very familiar sentiment for Zimbabweans ruled by an 87 year old dictator.

Hosni Mubarak is charged with corruption and ordering the shooting of protesters in the recent uprisings. Up until the very last moment there had been doubts that the former president would appear. His defence counsel had claimed he was in a coma but there was no sign that Mubarak was anything but fully conscious as he lay there on a hospital stretcher behind the heavy wire screen. His eyes alert and fully comprehending he denied all the charges against him. The trial has been postponed to a later date in August but it will be difficult for the prosecution to prove that it was Mubarak himself who ordered the shooting of protesters. One of the problems of all-powerful dictatorships is that there is no shortage of willing stooges to carry out the master’s orders, spoken or unspoken.

In Zimbabwe, the fact that there has not been one single prosecution for the extra-judicial killings that have dominated Zimbabwe’s political landscape since 2000 is evidence that the police, the courts, the CIO and above all the military are all part of Zanu PF’s plan to eliminate all opposition to Mugabe’s rule. Speaking at an MDC rally in Kwekwe last weekend Morgan Tsvangirai restated his conviction that the army is the biggest obstacle to reform in Zimbabwe. “Zanu PF” he added “is only maintaining power through force.”  Unsuprisingly, Constantine Chiwenga, Commander General of the Zimbabwe Defence Force, retorted by telling Tsvangirai to ‘leave the military alone’. The problem, of course, is that the military will not leave politics alone; hence Tsvangirai’s insistence on Security Sector Reform.

More than anything else the uprisings in the Arab have demonstrated that wherever they are in the world, ordinary people are increasingly aware of their rights. The streets of Cairo may be quiet for now but as the death toll mounts in Syria and Asad’s troops fire live rounds at fellow citizens, there is little evidence that the Arab Spring is over. Despite the onslaught of violence against them, brave Syrians continue to shout their defiance at a regime which has been promising to institute reforms for over six months.     

The relevance of the North African uprisings to the situation in Zimbabwe is obvious but what is pretty certain is that there will be no ‘Arab Spring’ in Zimbabwe. The arrest and imprisonment in mid-February of a group of activists in Harare who were doing no more than watching a video of the North African uprisings does not suggest that the Mugabe regime is likely to tolerate dissent – the regime calls it treason - from any quarter. The trial of Hosni Mubarak, however, seems to me to be a reminder of two specific points. The first, and it cannot be over-emphasised, is that it was the power of the people, thousands of ordinary people demonstrating on the streets that forced Mubarak to surrender power. Second, Egypt like Zimbabwe, is  ruled by the military; yet it is the former Commander in Chief of the army, Mubarak, who is facing trial in Cairo, presumably with the approval of the top echelons of that same army. In Zimbabwe, Mugabe needs the army to keep him in power but there may soon come a point where the army, in spite of the much vaunted ‘Liberation credentials’ no longer needs an 87 year old man at the helm.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.

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Zimbabwe’s nightmare
July 29, 2011, 10:48 am

It’s sometimes hard to remember how long Zimbabwe’s nightmare has been going on. It wasn’t until I started research for a new book that the memories came back. I was researching 2008; the year in which Mugabe was widely condemned both for his delay in announcing the election results and for his brutality against the opposition MDC. That was the year when the economy was in freefall, the banks ran out of bank notes and people waited in endless queues for their own cash, for food and for fuel. By the middle of that year inflation had hit 42 million percent. Then Gideon Gono knocked 10 zeroes off the Zim dollar so that instead of 100 billion in the bank you had just $10. From billionaire, to pauper overnight! That was the year the ZRP spent 2 million US dollars on tear gas, water canons for use, not against a foreign enemy, but against Zimbabwean citizens. For the poorest of the poor, there was nothing for it but to endure but for anyone who could scrape the fare together, there was only one direction and that was out. Upwards of three million people have left the country.

The most striking feature about this foray into the past was that the principal players are still there today. Mugabe still calls himself president; Chihuri is still Police Commissioner and the Service chiefs are all still in place; still saying they will never salute the opposition. In 2008 paid war vets and youth militia roamed the countryside inflicting horror on innocent villagers, first to intimidate them into voting for Zanu PF and after the poll to punish them for voting against Zanu PF. Teachers were branded ‘enemies of the state’ on the grounds that they had rigged the vote in favour of the MDC. The education system collapsed as did health care with patients having to find their own food and pay upfront for everything from surgical gloves to operations. That was all just three years ago; the year diamonds began to make the chefs even richer.

What the scenes inside parliament did this week was to remind us that Mugabe’s violent followers respect no one - and certainly not the rule of law. Under the very noses of the police, mobs of Zanu PF supporters burst into parliament and beat up parliamentarians, journalists and innocent bystanders while the guardians of law and order stood by and did nothing. Contrast that with police behaviour later in the week when 13 ROHR activists were arrested for peacefully demonstrating outside the High Court in Harare. The 13 are charged with ‘public nuisance’ and nothing better illustrates the police’s selective use of the law. That disgraceful incident in parliament shows us how important it is to learn the lessons of the past and never to forget the true nature of Zanu PF. Violence is their modus operandi and always has been. Has Robert Mugabe condemned the action of his followers? Has he, the ‘Father of the Nation’ reprimanded these unruly thugs, visibly drunk according to observers, that this is no way to behave? It was a public meeting that was so violently disrupted; ironically, the subject under discussion was a Zimbabwe Human Rights Bill and the question of a Commission of Enquiry into the 2008 elections and all the violence that took place then.

How much has really changed since 2008? True, there is a GNU with the MDC ostensibly sharing political power but in reality Mugabe still controls the levers of power; the police and army continue to do his bidding; the state-controlled media tells people only what he wants them to hear and the courts of law  have been compromised by their acceptance of Zanu PF ‘gifts’. Economists tell us that the introduction of the US$ has led to great improvements and certainly life is easier on a day-to-day basis for non-political Zimbabweans. For politically active citizens it’s quite another matter especially if they belong to the MDC. Now in 2011 as Zimbabwe faces another election there is once again evidence of violence by Zanu PF against MDC supporters. Tobaiwa Mudede is still Registrar General and his ‘perfect’ Electoral Roll has still not been revised. An estimated 3-4 million people in the diaspora still have no vote and this week Morgan Tsvangirai has threatened to boycott the poll. It’s hard to see how that would help the country out of the stalemate in which it has been for so long.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.

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The nature of the power they wield
July 23, 2011, 1:01 am

Watching Rupert Murdoch give evidence before a parliamentary committee in London this week reminded me of Robert Mugabe and it was not just because of the similarity in their ages. It was more to do with the nature of the power they wield. Both men have been at the head of their respective ‘empires’ for a very long time. One of the problems of being at the top of a powerful organization is that your underlings have their own reasons for not telling you what’s going on. For the long-time boss too, a kind of selective blindness sets in. He chooses not to see or not to ask questions while those lower down are either too afraid or too reverential to reveal what is really happening. That is the reality of how power works.

If anyone should know about that, it is Robert Mugabe. After thirty years in power, there are some in his party who are even prepared to deify him. “The second son of God” one over-enthusiastic Zanu PF loyalist declared not so long ago. The result of this idolization is that Mugabe can say just about anything, however illogical or factually incorrect, and his followers will cheer him to the rafters. This is particularly true when he talks about the Liberation Struggle. Thirty years on and Mugabe still relies on the Liberation Struggle to ignite the spark of pro-Zanu PF enthusiasm in his audience. Speaking at a Zanu PF Central committee meeting last Saturday he attacked the MDC for advocating reform of the security sector. A brave MDC MP had introduced the motion in the Lower House and Mugabe’s response was a predictable rant. “Parliament cannot be the commander in chief of the security forces. Never.” he fumed, having first reminded everyone – as if we needed reminding - that he, Mugabe, is the Commander in Chief. No one could teach these “fine” war veterans anything about freedom and democracy, he maintained. “They fought for it. It is their product. Teach the lesson of freedom and democracy to persons who liberated them when they were on the other side, even refusing to participate in the struggle.”  As always it’s the same old argument: if you aren’t with us (Zanu PF) then you must be against us and if you are against Zanu PF then it follows according to Zanu PF thinking that you are unpatriotic. It’s a strangely twisted argument at a time when Zanu PF operatives are attacking the MDC on every side. They are being arrested and charged with everything from treason to public order offences. Journalists are arrested for daring to take photographs of things that the police don’t want the public to see. A policeman is dismissed from the Force for having an MDC ring tone on his mobile phone. And, at the same time, these ‘fine’ war veterans are terrorising villagers who dare to wear MDC regalia and threatening them with death if they vote – or ever have voted- for MDC.  Freedom and democracy: Zanu PF style!  

As Ibbo Mandaza pointed out this week Zanu PF has lost sight of the ideals of the Liberation Struggle: “He (Mugabe) killed the principles of Zanu PF. There is no relationship with the Zanu PF of the Liberation Struggle and the current Zanu PF.” Mugabe’s lecture to the MDC on freedom and democracy was nothing but rank hypocrisy, when we recall how his party has rigged elections. Unlike his fellow octogenarian, Rupert Murdoch at least apologised publicly for criminal acts committed by journalists at his newspapers. Crocodile tears they may have been but compare that to Robert Mugabe’s silence for past crimes. Neither he nor his party have apologised for the estimated 20.000 deaths of Ndebele people in the Gukuruhundi massacres. Only this week Emmerson Mnangagwa, long believed to be the master-mind behind Gukuruhundi, described it as “a closed chapter…a healed wound. If we try to open it we will be undermining the Unity Accord.” (signed in 1987) The brutal insensitivity of that remark is a clear reminder to Zimbabweans that Mugabe and his party are ready to turn a blind eye to any misdeeds committed by Zanu PF. By not ‘opening healed wounds’ we leave them to fester and infect all our futures.  

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.

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The question
July 15, 2011, 10:36 am

An article in the UK Independent on 13th July titled “France claims Gadaffi is prepared to sacrifice his grip on power”  caught my eye this week. Rumours are that Zimbabwe might be his destination of choice if – and it’s a big if - he decides to leave Libya. Gadaffi is on record as saying “I am not going to leave this land. I will die here as a martyr” but things have changed quite a lot since he said that. Nato forces began their bombardment in mid-March and they have inflicted considerable damage on Gadaffi’s forces. He is under increasing pressure from his own ministers and soldiers as well as the ‘rebels’ to leave the country. “The question,” says the French Foreign Minister, “is no longer whether Gadaffi is going to leave power, but when and how.”

So where would he go and, more to the point, who would have him?  His relationship with Robert Mugabe goes back a long way. The news that there were African mercenaries fighting on Gadaffi’s behalf in the present conflict came as no surprise.  Rumours that Mugabe had dispatched Commando troops to Libya to protect Gadaffi tied in neatly with reports that Zanu PF was being funded by the Libyan leader who has fiercely defended Robert Mugabe’s regime at the AU.

It would not be the first time Mugabe had intervened militarily in another African country. Zimbabwe sent 11.000 troops to the Congo back in 1999 in defence of Laurent Kabila. That war lasted four years and led directly to the start of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse. The rewards for the army’s top brass however were lucrative deals in Congolese diamonds. Would it suit the military to have Gadaffi as an exile in Zimbabwe bearing in mind the security considerations that would be involved?

And now, twelve years later, is Mugabe about to give refuge to his friend Gadaffi, a man who, like Mugabe, has used violence against his own people to retain power. The fact that it would alienate Zimbabwe from the rest of the world is hardly likely to trouble Mugabe. When asked in parliament about Zimbabwean involvement in Libya, the Minister of Defence, Emmerson Mnangagwa, replied, “I have no mandate to investigate activities happening in another African country.” Such a bland non-answer did little to quieten the rumour mill. It was reported that in early March the US identified Zimbabwe as a possible exile venue for Gadaffi and the Russian envoy on the Libyan crisis met with Mugabe as recently as July 5th.

How will ordinary Zimbabweans react to having the Libyan dictator in their midst? Neither civic society nor the MDC have reacted so far. Rumour has it that Gadaffi’s family already owns several properties, including farms, businesses and residential stands. Gadaffi himself purchased a house once owned by Grace Mugabe in one of Harare’s ‘leafy suburbs’.

Mugabe will be the one to make the decision about whether to give Gadaffi asylum and moral considerations are not likely to carry much weight. Mugabe has already given refuge to Mengistu Haile Mariam the former Ethipian dictator and the Ruandan genocidaire Protais Mpiranya. The Zimbabwean people have been silent on that issue too. Mugabe will perhaps be encouraged by stories that Gadaffi has a plane loaded with gold bullion and thousands, if not millions, of US dollars ready for a quick getaway. Gadaffi is apparently demanding absolute guarantees of his personal safety. That might be difficult in a country where greed and envy appear to be the over-riding motives for the diamond-rich military elite. How other African leaders would view such a development is another consideration. While Mugabe professes not to care what the west thinks of him, he is anxious not to offend his African brothers. Having a man like Gadaffi in the country would surely make Zimbabwe a target for all sorts of extremist groups and that would not play well with Zimbabwe’s neighbours, including South Africa, whose President Zuma is the facilitator for the troubled negotiations between the political parties.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.

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