What to do about Mugabe

What to do about MugabeTowering rage is the only legitimate reaction to the latest outrage in the benighted, despoiled, corrupted, starving, bankrupt nation known as Zimbabwe. The cold blooded killing of an opposition activist, in Highfields, a high density suburb in Harare, and the shooting of mourners at his wake was merely the latest excess of an evil dictatorship.

A similar tale is told by the arrest and bashing to the point of death of opposition leaders at a prayer meeting organised by the Save Zimbabwe Coalition, a group of patriots committed to old fashioned causes such as justice, democracy and the rule of law. Meanwhile, the half-witted talk about such sops as cricket boycotts, and the puffy-chested pursue democracy by landing bombs upon civilians.

Matters came to a head in Zimbabwe on Sunday. Alas, Mugabe and his Mercedes-driving apologists have more heads than hydra. Political gatherings have long since been banned by the dictatorship. Mugabe's crazed isolation has become more marked in recent weeks as doctors and teachers downed tools to protest about low pay. Inflation had passed 1,000% and rifts were reported in Zanu PF, a party consisting of lame ducks whose strength nowadays lies in the rural areas where elections are easier to fix. To retain power and live longer, Mugabe has transformed his supposedly beloved country into a peasant society ruled by a rich elite. Sales of luxury cars are booming even as the economy collapses.

Despite the dictator's control of the airwaves, newspapers, courts and food distribution, and the best efforts of the dreaded, ubiquitous and brutal secret police ( CIO), the struggle for democracy has continued unabated. Although the opposition party split into two factions over the issue of taking part in rigged senate elections, the desire to be rid of the tyrant has not wavered. Human rights lawyers, civil action groups, church leaders, and women's groups have carried on the fight. It has not been easy. Mugabe and his soldiers will stop at nothing to retain power. The snouts are deep in the trough.

Accordingly, the Save Zimbabwe Coalition decided to hold not a political meeting but a prayer meeting in Highfields. Zimbabwe is a religious country full of churches and outstanding schools. Even some Zanu PF leaders feign allegiance to christian ideals. Mugabe has managed to secure the appointment of some tame and bribeable Bishops. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church especially has joined the women and labour unions in their defiance. Indeed the opposition has much in common with Solidarity in Poland, except that it lacks a focal point and a charismatic leader.

Of course the State was not prepared at this dangerous hour to allow a meeting of any sort to take place, least of all a gathering to be attended by struggle luminaries such as the leaders of the two MDC factions, Morgan Tsvangiri, Arthur Mutambara, and the Chairperson of the NCA, Dr. Lovemore Madhuku. Therefore they broke up the meeting with bullets and beatings, killing Gift Tandari, arresting 30-40 activists, hauling them off to various police stations and torture chambers, thrashing them till they could scarcely breathe and then denying them access to doctors or lawyers.

What to do about MugabeMeanwhile a democratically elected South African government supposedly concerned about the lot of the common man continues to twiddle its thumbs. Meanwhile, food supplied by charities is used as a political tool, with sacks of rice sent to Zanu PF areas and the rest left to fend for themselves. Meanwhile the population dwindles as the desperate seek opportunities elsewhere, many taking the risk of crossing the Limpopo River that forms the border with South Africa, a stretch of water infested with crocodiles and ruthlessly guarded by soldiers. Meanwhile Mugabe's cricketing representatives stay in posh hotels in the Caribbean, paying their young players a pittance and shamelessly taking care of themselves.

Of course the West had it coming. Hardly a harsh word has heard in the mid 1980's when Mugabe's fifth brigade crushed an imagined uprising in Matabeleland, slaughtering tens of thousands of mostly Ndebeles, stuffing their corpses down disused gold mines. At around the same time the Sinhalese were murdering the Tamils in Colombo as the government turned a blind eye. No-one said much about that either.

Zimbabwe is a wonderful country blessed with a multitude of outstanding people. The same can be said of other African countries. What can be done? Mugabe has been hailed a hero and draws attention away from his infamy with anti-colonial sloganeering. Moreover he has been close with Gaddafi, whose influence on the continent President Mbeki feared above all else.

Ultimately Africa must take care of its own. What else has worked? Mbeki must stop backing a wicked regime (but he also faces losing votes at home, and leaving the ANC in the hands of populists) Everyone must pray for Mugabe's death (but his mother reached three figures). At present the best response is to help those seeking justice and to assist those promoting education, thereby sustaining hope for a better tomorrow.

Along with a few friends, I have formed a charity called the LBW Trust which gives needy and deserving youngsters a chance to pursue tertiary studies. Already we are paying college fees for thirty impoverished Zimbabweans and we plan to uplift Sudanese, Somalian and other settlers in Melbourne and elsewhere. Everyone deserves a chance. The warlords must not be allowed to cripple the young. Educate the child and the adult will take care of himself.

Peter RoebuckPeter Roebuck is a writer for the The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, amongst other publications, and a commentator on the ABC. He also helped found the the LBW Trust, which helps young Zimbabweans attend university.




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