14 Mar 2007
The brutal suppression of a peaceful march in Harare by the Zimbabwean police a few days ago has sent shock waves around the world. On Sunday police shot and killed one protester and physically inflicted injury on many opposition leaders during and after their arrest. Morgan Tsvangerai (leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change MDC) and 49 others were arrested and tortured because they “instigated people to come out and commit acts of violence”, according to police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena.
Innocent Chagonda, lawyer to the opposition said Wednesday that the 50 detainees had been released because neither judge, nor prosecutors showed up in court. Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu was, however still threatening that they “will pay a heavy price”, indicating that the government was still preparing charges. Sikhanyiso accused Tsvangerai and others of trying to overthrow the Mugabe government and employing “killer” weapons in their scuffle with the police. Tsvangerai whose injuries were quite visible returned to the hospital to treat his broken hand and the laceration on his head.
A spate of condemnations of the heavy-handed methods employed by the Mugabe regime came from all over the world. The UN Secretary General, The EU, The US, Britain, New Zealand and a host of other countries and organizations added their voices to the chorus of denunciations of the 83 years old Mugabe and his regime. Hundreds of Zimbabweans and sympathizers demonstrated in front of the Zimbabwean embassy in London. There are calls for more sanctions against Mugabe’s regime. The sanctions currently in force include a travel ban and a freeze on the assets of Mugabe’s senior officials.
Some deputies from Botswana and labor leaders from South Africa are becoming more vocal in questioning the policy of silent diplomacy adopted by some prominent African leaders. The South African government of Thabo Mbeki (that is believed to have considerable leverage over Mugabe) expressed “extreme concern” while the African Union chairman, Ghana’s president John Kufuor said the AU was “very concerned” about the worsening political situation in Zimbabwe.
From Nationalist To Despot
In their fight against colonialism and white minority rule, Mugabe and the late Zimbabwean nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo spent about ten years in prison (imprisonment became a sort of university for future African leaders). Liberation movements headed by this duo fought a bitter war for about 16 years before forcing Ian Smith, the then leader of the ruling white minority to come to the negotiating table at the Lancaster House Conference in 1979. The issue of land ownership is at the center of Zimbabwe’s past wars and current crisis. Prior to independence in 1980, the whites that constituted less than 5% of the population controlled most of the arable land. During the negotiations at the Lancaster house, it was understood that some land will gradually be taken from whites after fair compensation and distributed to the landless blacks. Britain did offer to assist the Zimbabwean government to implement this policy and she did actually provide some money for land reform. There was a land conference held in Harare in 1998 and in 2001, participants at the Commonwealth conference in Abuja Nigeria agreed that land reform in Zimbabwe “must be implemented in a fair, just and sustainable manner, in the interest of all the people of Zimbabwe”. It is the failure of practically implementing this policy that has brought many problems to Zimbabwe. Impatient landless blacks started agitating and that agitation scared many whites. Some whites migrated with their skills and Mugabe’s government was reportedly distributing land to his political cronies. Productivity on the land started falling and drought that affected the Southern African region a couple of years back compounded the problems.
As Zimbabwe’s economy started falling apart, more and more Zimbabweans started clamoring for political changes to the one party state in their country. When Morgan Tsvangerai decided to challenge Mugabe’s rule, many whites decided to throw their weight behind him. Tsvangerai lost the 2002 presidential elections to Mugabe and a bruised Mugabe intensified the policy of ‘seizing’ farmland from the whites. He became more autocratic and inflexible. Robert Mugabe is very talented when it comes to manipulating public opinion in his favor. Knowing that land is a very emotional issue in Zimbabwe, Mugabe will like to portray himself to the black majority as someone that is fighting to regain their ‘stolen land’. He knows that by playing the ‘land card’ during the past decade he has survived politically. As hyperinflation (highest in the world) hits his country and 80% of his people live below the poverty line, Mugabe knows he has nothing concrete to offer to his hungry subjects. He can at least buy time by distracting their attention to land and accusing “colonialists” and “imperialists” for trying to bring Zimbabwe backward.
Mugabe was the nationalist that was admired yesterday who has transformed himself into an embarrassing African despot today just because he wants to die as ‘Mr President’.
Njei Moses Timah