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Zimbabwe needs the ballot, not the bullet


'Zimbabwe', by Chris JohnstonGangs of party youth, drunk and high on marijuana, rampaged at night through blocks of flats in Mbare, an old and very much neglected working class area of Zimbabwe's capital Harare. Anyone suspected of having voted for the opposition, opting against the 'ruling party' of Robert Mugabe was assaulted.

The chairman of our parish council had all his furniture thrown out of his tiny flat. He was beaten and left out in the cold with his wife and small children. Anyone who gives him shelter must be prepared to suffer the same fate.

An elderly parishioner, mother of a candidate for the opposition party, is now in hospital with serious injuries. Night after night gangs of fanaticised party youth knock at people's doors and force them to attend all-night brainwashing sessions where they must sing 'revolutionary' songs and shout party slogans.

The 'ruling party' which came to power after a long, bitter and bloody 'war of liberation' is re-living those glorious days when they were fighting the racist Rhodesian regime under Ian Smith. The same tactics then and now. Power comes though the bullet, not the ballot, through force and violence, not through free debate and the democratic vote.

Mugabe is still fighting the 'whites', the British and the former colonial powers in general. 'Britain wants to recolonise Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's 'sovereignty' is at stake,' he screams at party rallies which people are forced to attend at gunpoint. 'Anyone voting for the opposition is voting for Rhodesia, colonialism and imperialism.'

Party youth, uneducated, unemployed, frustrated, ignorant and unable to see that their plight is precisely the result of Mugabe's failed policies of patronage and self-enrichment, are high on this ideology of hatred and resentment. When they are killing an opposition member, they think they are destroying an enemy who has committed treason, a traitor, and defending Zimbabwe's 'sovereignty'.

This 'sovereignty' thing justifies the horror of cutting off a woman's feet and a hand, before killing her, as they did recently. The official count is 86 people killed, but a group of independent doctors, worked off their feet treating about 2000 seriously injured victims of violence, think the true figure is more likely to be 500.

The Bishops of Zimbabwe, in their April 2007 pastoral letter 'God hears the cry of the oppressed', said they were aware that 'there are Christians on all sides of the conflict; and there are many Christians sitting on the fence'.

A young father of a family came to me asking for help. A candidate for the opposition party, his house had been burnt down. He was concerned that his party colleagues were tempted to take revenge and burn down the houses of their enemies in the 'ruling party'.

Among those who put fire to his house was a fellow Catholic and parish leader. In the meantime some priests had to go into hiding, some were assaulted, one priest's house was burnt down.

How is all this possible? According to the Bishops of Zimbabwe: 'After Independence [1980], the power and wealth of the tiny white Rhodesian elite was appropriated by an equally exclusive black elite, some of whom have governed the country for the past 27 years through political patronage. Black Zimbabweans today fight for the same basic rights they fought for during the liberation struggle.'

The Bishops wrote in their pre-election pastoral, 'Losing candidates and parties in a free and fair election do not find it difficult to accept defeat'. The same can not be said for Zimbabwe, though. Politics in this country means self-enrichment, and defeat economic ruin. Therefore leaders fight to the death to stayin power.

The ideology of national sovereignty and freedom is only a disguise. Mugabe's claim that 'only God can remove me from power' is blasphemy and expression of his hubris.

'The tyrant seems to imply that he has been put into his position of power by God and that he rules with divine support,' the Jesuit e-newsletter In Touch said. 'It is time for Zimbabwe's ruler to accept the will of the people who must be respected as God's sons and daughters.'

The Bishops of Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia have all demanded an immediate end to violence.

'God hears the cry of the oppressed' (pastoral letter by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, Easter 2007)

Oskar WermterFr Oskar Wermter SJ is Parish Priest of Mbare, Harare, and Director of Jesuit Communications in Zimbabwe.

Topic tags: Oskar Wermter, robert mugabe, zimbabwe election fallout, Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference



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Existing comments

Terrible as it is, just over 100 years ago these people, Mashona and Matebele were killing each other off. Whilst the African has the ability to be educated when taught the basics of literacy and numeracy, civilisation takes a few hundred years of education.

The African is eons away from a civilised society.

philip herringer | 30 June 2008  

When I read this article it also rang true of life in Germany in the 1930s or China in the 1960s. This behaviour is not specifically African, but rather an unfortunate possibility to occur in any country.

joe annetts | 30 June 2008  

Nazi history is repeating itself. We are living in a moral vacuum as there are few alarm bells ringing in Australia and other democracies. Even cricketing organisations are silenced. Australians and others, why don't you get off your bums and act? I was challenged by someone. Please look at this.

ecopaul | 02 July 2008  

How long is the free world going to allow this disgraceful situation to go on?

John Tobin | 19 December 2008  

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