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

Images of Egypt
February 5, 2011, 1:58 am

Here in the UK diaspora we have seen little else on our tv screens but images of Egypt erupting into near anarchy over the past ten days. I wonder whether ZTV has carried similar images of the disturbances. It would hardly be in the interest of Zimbabwe’s propaganda media to show the near collapse of another dictatorial regime – and in Africa too – but urban Zimbabweans with their satellite dishes will I suspect be fully in the picture; whether they make the connection with their own situation is quite another matter.

The BBC has made much of the fact that this revolt is in the ‘Arab world’ as if Egypt is not also on the African continent. The demonstrators themselves have pointed out that this is not an Islamist revolt; it was not the Moslem Brotherhood who initiated or led the uprising, it was ordinary Egyptian citizens tired of thirty years of Mubarak’s dictatorial rule.

By Thursday, having announced on national television that he would stand down but not until September when the next elections are due, Mubarak unleashed his thugs: paid supporters and released prisoners onto the streets and the bloody battle for control of Cairo’s central Tahrir Square began in earnest. Mubarak is quoted as remarking that he has a Ph.D in obstinacy and I was reminded of Robert Mugabe’s comment that ‘he had degrees in violence’. Wherever they are in the world, dictators operate in the same way, through physical violence against their own people. By releasing his supporters onto the streets, Mubarak has succeeded in turning Egyptians against each other, another tactic that Zimbabweans will recognise from their own dictator’s behaviour. No one can predict how the situation in Egypt will be resolved. The problem is complicated by Mubarak’s alliance with Israel which is also supported by massive aid from the US. Earlier predictions that the whole Middle East might go up in flames might still become a dangerous reality.

While all of this may seem very far removed from the situation in Zimbabwe, it should be remembered that in both situations the core of the matter is the presence of a long-time dictator who no longer has the support of the people. In Zimbabwe, the ongoing violence against opposition supporters in Mbare and the continuing land seizures with white farmers locked out of their own homes tell us very clearly that Zanu PF is in election mode. The news this week of some 70.000 youths being trained at Inkomo army barracks outside Harare, specifically to fight the MDC in forthcoming elections further supports that view. Mugabe’s declaration that he is entitled under the constitution to hold elections any time he chooses shows his contempt for democracy and the GPA which he signed two years ago. Unfortunately, there appears to be no one to exert pressure on him as the US has on Mubarak; certainly not the South Africans or the Brits who are content to believe the lie that all is now well in Zimbabwe with its government of national unity.

Today, Friday is being called the Day of Departure by the demonstrators in Tahrir Square. Mubarak has apparently told Egyptian radio that he is ‘fed up’ but fears that if he goes Egypt will disintegrate and chaos will ensue. That’s a very familiar line from dictators: the argument that only they have brought stability and order to their countries and without them the whole structure will fall apart. Mugabe makes exactly the same point but after three decades in power, his own ‘day of departure’ might not be so far off. Whether the demonstrators in Egypt will succeed in ousting Mubarak is not clear but what is clear is that they have proved to the undemocratic ‘leaders’ of the world that people power cannot be ignored, the support of the masses can no longer be taken for granted. The message for oppressed people all over the world is that it is possible to overcome fear in pursuit of a greater goal than personal safety. Will Zimbabweans hear the message and will they understand its relevance for them?

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.

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Winds blow
January 29, 2011, 1:21 am

Rather like a desert wind, the unrest which began this week in Tunisia is rolling down North Africa. First it was Tunisia, then Egypt and now Yemen and Jordan. Today is Egypt’s fourth day of unrest; traditionally Friday is a day of prayer in the Moslem world but all the signs are that the protesters will be out on the streets again after they have fulfilled their religious obligations. Indeed the lunchtime BBC News reported just that, with furious worshippers erupting out of the mosques in at least four major cities to be met with baton charges and tear gas from the Egyptian police. Significantly, Internet access has been blocked and social networks closed down but it has not stopped the demonstrators.

So what is it apart from their African identity and their religious beliefs that these countries have in common? What is it that has brought thousands of young people out on the streets in angry demonstrations? It appears that the one common factor is the presence of ageing leaders who hold onto power too long and whose misgovernance causes endless suffering for ordinary people. President Hosni Mubarak, for example, is 82 years old and has ruled Egypt for close on thirty years. In all that time he has had the support of the west and the US in particular because they saw him as a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism. This consideration became even more pressing after 9/11 and now the Americans and the west generally find themselves between a rock and a hard place. If they continue to support the ageing leader then the perception is that they are against democratic reform and the will of the people. Reporting on the demonstrations, Robert Fisk writes in today’s UK Independent, “But you don’t need to read the papers to see what has gone wrong, The filth and the slums, the open sewers and the corruption of every government official, the bulging prisons, the laughable elections, the whole vast sclerotic edifice of power has at last brought Egyptians on to their streets.” A Cairo daily reports that one of Mubarak’s top advisers has fled to London with 97 suitcases of cash; true or not, the report sounds very familiar to Zimbabweans accustomed to similar stories about our own diamond-smuggling kleptocracy.

So, what is there for Zimbabwe to learn from all this unrest in the north of the continent? Coincidentally, a retired Zimbabwean airforce officer reminded the people that for change to come about mass-mobilisation is required, it just needs the people to get angry enough to take to the streets and demand their rights to a better life under a democratically elected government. I cannot believe that Zimbabweans are any less courageous than other people anywhere in the world or that the obstacles facing them are any bigger. Despite the presence of marauding ‘war veterans’ in the rural areas and at tourist resorts, partisan police and soldiers beating up innocents citizens and a repressive regime led by an ageing and autocratic ruler determined to hold onto power, I continue to believe that ordinary Zimbabweans will find the courage one day soon to stand up and say Enough is Enough. Robert Mugabe and his cronies may for now be totally unconcerned about events in the north, so arrogant are they in their belief that they have a god-given right to rule Zimbabwe in perpetuity but the sound of thousands of feet pounding down Samora Machel Avenue and thousands of voices raised in anger will awaken the ‘whole sclerotic edifice of power’ to the reality of democracy in Africa.

And in another part of Africa, Zimbabweans are entitled to wonder why the international community has rightly recognised Alassane Ouattara as the winner of presidential elections in Ivory Coast while doing nothing about the illegitimate presidency of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Only by taking to the streets in their thousands will Zimbabweans demonstrate to the rest of Africa and the world that Mugabe, after thirty one years in power, is no longer their democratic choice.  

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.

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A new year and new hope for Zimbabwe?
January 22, 2011, 1:00 am

A new year and new hope for Zimbabwe? Having  been on the ‘Inside’ for the past few weeks I have to admit that I saw very few signs that Zimbabwe is about to make the great leap forward to a functioning democratic society. Three weeks is too short a time to do more than gain a brief impression but, after six years away on the ‘Outside’ I saw little to justify the hope that a new year promises.

From the moment our plane touched down at Harare Airport and I had paid the $53 US for a visa I was aware that I was a foreigner in the country that I had once called home. I lost my ‘Permanent Resident’ status when I left six years ago and now I was no more than a tourist, a foreigner in the land where I had raised my family and helped educate hundreds of young Zimbabweans. A smiling airport worker wished me a happy holiday in Zimbabwe. I told him, “But I am a Zimbabwean, even if some people deny my identity, and I’m coming home.” After joyful reunions and tearful embraces we drove along well-remembered roads and my tour of rediscovery began. I noticed how much more land was being built on as we drove out of the city. What had once been farmland was growing nothing more than thatching grass and the first signs of life were the mombes, peacefully grazing as they awaited slaughter at the abattoir. If the Land Reform Programme has indeed been the success some people claim I saw no evidence of it on the hundreds of kms we drove in the eastern area of the country.

But I had forgotten how beautiful Zimbabwe is; the trees and birds and the intensity of the silence broken by African voices calling as the day ended with sunsets of such beauty that only a painter could do them justice. The beauty of the landscape could not make up for the daily inconveniences of life in today’s Zimbabwe. My abiding memory is of the hundreds of people waiting for transport at the roadside. It seems the country bus is a thing of the past, its place taken by commuter taxis, hence the endless lines of desperate passengers everywhere you look. The main roads were in pretty good shape, it wasn’t until you got onto the minor roads – maintained by local councils - that you saw how council services have crumbled, resulting in massive potholes and treacherous verges. Street lights are a thing of the past and the endless unscheduled power cuts make life an absolute misery as one tries to plan meals and the daily chores of washing and ironing. Even worse are the water cuts which may go on for as long as three days at a time. The local supermarket I visited was, not surprisingly, very smelly and with food being endlessly frozen, thawing and then re-frozen the health hazard must be huge. Yes, the shelves were all absolutely loaded with goods but from what I could see they were all imported from South Africa, even matches and mealie meal! I sauntered into the local Kingstons, the government owned bookshop, and was shocked to see almost bare shelves. Food for the mind is obviously not high on the government’s agenda!

And that brings me to the nightly ZTV broadcasts. Of course, I was expecting massive state propaganda but what I had not expected was the appalling lack of professionalism of the presenters and programme content. It was a nightly diet of mindless coverage of well-fed Zanu PF politicians attending so-called workshops and conferences, with po-faced commentators solemnly lulling the audience to sleep with puerile remarks about the earth-shattering importance of the proceedings. ZTV may be the national broadcaster but it is an insult to the intelligence of Zimbabweans.

It was a trip into the beautiful Nyanga mountains that ironically brought us face to face with the reality of war vet violence. We were staying in a stone cottage in an area where older white farmers who had been kicked off their farms had retired to live out their days in peace as they hoped. The local war vets, loyal to Mugabe and Zanu PF, had very different ideas, demanding keys, looting property (reported in The Zimbabwean January 13th 2011) and ordering the elderly residents to vacate their homes. It was that experience more than anything else that convinced me that there is very little hope for Zimbabwe. The total inhumanity of these thugs who act with impunity, knowing that they are beyond the law, is a painful reminder of the ethnic hatred espoused by the Nazi regime against the Jews in Hitler’s Germany. Unless and until the government can bring these roaming gangs of warlords under control, there is very little hope for a peaceful future in Zimbabwe.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.

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An old man's grip
December 18, 2010, 2:24 am


“What sort of grip does the old man hold over his country…they just cannot conceive of life without him.”  My attention was immediately caught; how often we have asked that question about our own Old Man but it was not Robert Mugabe who was the subject of this article in the UK Independent but Sylvio Berlusconi, the 74 year old Prime Minister of Italy. Despite the many scandals surrounding him, Berlusconi had just narrowly won a vote of confidence in the lower house of the Italian parliament.   

The comparison between Robert Mugabe and the flamboyant Sylvio Berlusconi seems on the face of it totally inappropriate. It is the comment that “they just cannot conceive of life without him” that got me thinking. Having known no other ruler for over thirty years, it could be argued that, despite all the suffering he has imposed on Zimbabweans, Robert Mugabe is ‘the devil we know’ and, as such, is preferable to ‘the devil we don’t know’. Zimbabweans are by nature conservative; Mugabe knows that very well and he has cleverly exploited it to his advantage. By constantly repeating the mantra that Zanu PF won the Liberation struggle and as such are the only party fit to rule the country and profit from its huge natural resources, he has enabled his supporters, including the traditional chiefs, to acquire wealth beyond their wildest dreams and now there are diamonds.

It was diamonds that were the subject of the latest WikiLeak as reported in the Standard. WikiLeaks reported that Grace Mugabe and Gideon Gono had ‘reaped tremendous profits from Chiadzwa diamonds.’ Grace Mugabe is now suing the Standard for $15 million for defamation. She is claiming that the story has “lowered the respect in which she is held as the mother of the nation” – a claim which might cause a few wry smiles in Zimbabwe! No doubt her husband had more than a little to do with her decision to sue. He is, or so he told the South African President, a lawyer, though he has never practised law. Possession of a law degree does not make one a lawyer and it will not be easy as any lawyer would know to fight a charge of defamation based on an unsubstantiated ‘leak’ which was after all no more than the cabled opinion of the US Ambassador to Zimbabwe back in 2008. Threats to prosecute Morgan Tsvangirai for treason on the basis of a WikiLeak are on similarly doubtful legal grounds, much as Jonathan Moyo may rant and rave.

Perhaps what the WikiLeaks issue has revealed above all is that whatever opinions governments may express in public, their   interactions with other states are often in direct contrast. Vociferous condemnation of a country’s human rights record, for example, is not necessarily accompanied by cutting off trade relations with that country; commercial self-interest is the real determinant of morality when it comes to international relations. One example proves the point: on the very day Oslo was awarding the Nobel Prize to the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo,  leading the Chinese authorities to describe the Nobel Committee as ‘clowns’, Norway was awarding the Chinese a contract to drill for oil in the North Sea. The message here is very clear: nothing should be taken at face value and that includes even the wild utterances of Zanu PF ministers. While they take every opportunity to hurl abuse at the British and the Americans, who knows what’s going on behind the scenes and who is talking to who?  The truth is that governments the world over are unwilling to let the general public to know what’s really going on; that’s why the British, possibly under pressure from the US, locked Julian Assange up for nine days in solitary confinement. But the Leaks went on! The likes of Grace Mugabe may sue for all she’s worth but the truth will out and she won’t be a First Lady forever! Even if Robert Mugabe succeeds- as he certainly will having ensured that only his supporters are allowed to attend the Congress – and all the delegates back him to stand again as the party’s candidate, he will still be 92 when his term expires in 2016. Who knows where information technology will be by then!

This is my last Letter for 2010. I will be away for the next three weeks. If you need something to read over the long break, may I recommend my latest book, Sami’s Story available on  It’s the story of one young boy caught up in Murambatsvina, hardly a cheerful Christmas story but one that all Zimbabweans will recognise.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.

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Expecting the unexpected
December 11, 2010, 12:25 am

On this Friday morning there are enough Wikileaks to sink the already listing Zimbabwean ship of state. Revelations that the US has been funding the MDC have apparently caused Robert Mugabe to ‘breathe fire’. There are rumours that the MDC is about to be banned and Morgan Tsvangirai thrown into gaol ‘for a very long time’ as one unnamed Zanu PF official commented before rushing to an urgent meeting of top Zanu PF men and Security chiefs to discuss the matter. Morgan Tsvangirai will apparently be charged with using foreign funds in contravention of Zimbabwean law to support his party’s attempts to overthrow the regime. Robert Mugabe is under pressure from ‘hardliners’ within his party, we are told, to take these drastic measures.

   What the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo today demonstrates very dramatically is that locking up so-called dissidents only serves to draw the world’s attention to undemocratic regimes and their abuse of citizens’ rights. Liu Xiabo should have been there in Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize; instead he is serving an eleven year sentence for ‘subversion’. His empty chair at the ceremony was a potent reminder to the world of China’s failure to match its rapid economic growth with a similar increase in human rights. Not only is Liu Xiabo in prison, his wife Liu Xia is under house arrest and other less well-known dissidents are prevented from leaving China. The result of all this was that no one from China was present in Oslo to witness their countryman receive this prestigious award. As well as stopping their own people travelling to the ceremony the Chinese authorities have exerted maximum pressure on governments not to attend the ceremony. They have condemned the award to Liu Xiabo as ‘interference in their affairs’ and described Xiabo as a ‘criminal’.

   No doubt the Mugabe regime will follow much the same propaganda line if they do go ahead and arrest Tsvangirai and ban the MDC. Mugabe’s oft repeated ‘sovereignty’ argument will be heard again with even more vehemence. Translated, it means “We will do what the hell we like and no one will stop us.”  Zimbabwe, however, hardly has the economic clout of China to silence western critics afraid of losing business opportunities to conduct lucrative trade deals with the ‘Asian Tiger’. Imprisoning Tsvangirai will only serve to re-focus the world’s attention on Mugabe’s thirty years of despotic rule, not to mention the slaughter of 20.000 Ndebele people in the Gukuruhundi massacres, the inhuman Murambatsvina campaign of 2005, the violence of the 2008 elections and present violent attacks on opposition activists, journalists and teachers.

   While earlier Wikileaks revealed the irritation of diplomats with the Zimbabwean opposition’s failure to unite and bring about change, there is little doubt that locking up Tsvangirai will create another martyr to join the ranks of Aung San Su Kyi, Liu Xiabo and imprisoned activists all over the world. It could be argued that Mugabe does not give a damn for world opinion as long as he remains in power but saner voices may persuade him that further international isolation will do little to ensure his chances of survival as a part of the Government of National Unity. Robert Mugabe was quick to congratulate Laurent Gbagbo on his so-called election victory in the Ivory Coast. The ECOWAS acting president, the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was more forthright, “We’ve seen these governments of national unity, it(sic) doesn’t really work. Elections have been declared, somebody has won so he (Gbagbo) has to hand over.” Interestingly, Ivory Coast has been suspended from the regional bloc; if the ‘hardliners’ get their way in Harare and we  see a violent clampdown on all opposition in the country, with the army out on the streets doing openly what they are now doing covertly, will Mugabe still be able to count on the continuing support of SADC?  What the Wikileaks have revealed is that governments rarely express openly their true opinions of errant leaders of rogue states but if the ‘little leaks’ are to be believed more than a few African leaders are getting very fed up with Robert Mugabe’s leadership.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH. aka Pauline Henson.   

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