Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Politicide of Zimbabwe

The Big Men of Africa know no shame, care nothing for their countries and their people, and continue to assert their control with the most draconian methods, “ruling” by an unarticulated but obvious assumption, lated but obvious assumption, “It’s all mine.” Meaning, the country is all mine. Laurent Koudou Gbagbo—the questionable president of Ivory Coast—certainly made this conclusion. Losing the last election didn’t matter. Take it all. Nationalize the banks, the cocoa crop. Anything to stay in power. In the past few weeks there have been rumors that Robert Mugabe and Muammar Qaddafi have a secret arrangement that if things get too hot, they can flee to the other’s country. Fortunately, as I write this, it looks as if two of these Big Men are about to become small men.

Conversely, it appears as if Mugabe will remain in power forever. This is certainly the implication of Peter Godwin’s Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe, a chilling account of how the dictator has stayed in power after losing the most recent election in 2008. Godwin knows the country as well as anyone else. He was born and grew up in what was then Rhodesia and has published two earlier books about his experiences in the country: Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa (1996) and When a Crocodile Eats the Sun (2006), the former, focused on his own life; and the latter, on his father’s. Since Godwin is persona non grata in the country, in order to gather material for his latest book, he had to enter the country illegally, disguising his identity and his profession as a journalist.

When Godwin returns to Zimbabwe, it’s early April of 2008, and the results of the recent election—two weeks earlier—have not been announced because Mugabe has clearly lost. Mugabe is 84 year old; six percent of the workers in the country have jobs; and it’s already clear that although Mugabe himself may be willing to admit that he’s lost the election, his henchmen around him—particularly the important people in his ZANU-PF political party—will not let him go. They’re fully aware that if he leaves, their own lives will be in jeopardy. They’ve been watching rather carefully the trial of Charles Taylor, in the Hague. In short—and this is clearly what we are currently observing in some of the countries in the Middle East—it’s not just the Big Man himself who has to be unseated but all the thugs around him.

Godwin’s observations are profound. He describes the jealousy that Mugabe has always had of Nelson Mandela. In the years since independence (1980), the old man has managed to develop a messianic reputation, based on his years as a liberation leader. With considerable wit, Godwin describes Mugabe’s second (much younger) wife, Grace, as “a woman of prodigious retail appetite,” as the country’s “first shopper”—those excesses amidst all the poverty and one of the highest inflation rates the world has ever known. Yet, juxtaposed to Mugabe, the sycophants around him—even his wife—the evidence of a parallel reality is everywhere in the country: torture victims in the rural areas, who can hardly walk; ZANU youths beating up anyone suspected of voting for Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC party and the winner of the recent election.

The fear in the country is palpable. Godwin calls it “politicide,” the equivalent of genocide to wipe out an ethnic group, “the practice of wiping out an entire political movement.” “And now the murders here are accompanied by torture and rape on an industrial scale, committed on a catch-and-release basis. When those who survive, terribly injured, limp home, or are carried or pushed in wheelbarrows, or on the backs of pickup trucks, they act like human billboards, advertising the appalling consequences of opposition to the tyranny, bearing their gruesome political stigmata. And in their home communities, their return causes ripples of anxiety to spread. The people have given this time of violence and suffering its own name, which I hear for the first time tonight. They are calling it chidudu. It means, simply, “The Fear.”

In the cities, Godwin observes, “Bed after bed, in ward after ward, on floor after floor is filled with Mugabe’s victims. A hospital full of those he has injured, tortured, and burned out of their homes.” And then he adds, “With no foreign journalists allowed here [in the country], most of the opposition leadership having fled, and NGOs hamstrung by restrictions, there is a vacuum in which Mugabe can conduct his campaign of violence.” Late in May, Morgan Tsvangirai returns from exile, six weeks after the election he won. A sham agreement of power-sharing is worked out between the two of them, with ZANU continuing its reign of terror and incarcerating Roy Bennett (also of the opposition) after agreeing with that he will remain free.

But Mugabe and his thugs stay in control. First, the Zim dollar is put out of circulation, replaced by the US dollar, and that helps stabilize things, especially when some foreign governments and NGOs start funding development. More importantly, diamonds are discovered in the eastern part of the country—so plentiful you can literally scoop them up—and Mugabe and friends seize control of the enormous profits from this unexpected windfall. Mugabe continues to pass “contentious laws by emergency decree.” And then the coup de grace, delivered by the international community: loss of interest in Mugabe’s collapsed country.

Peter Godwin’s The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe makes Heart of Darkness and Leopold’s Congo look like child play, reminding me of a remark that a white Zimbabwean (of several generations) said to me in 2001, the last time I was in the country: “Western governments don’t know how to deal with African Big Men.”

The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe
By Peter Godwin
Little Brown, 371 pages, $26.99

CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?
Brian Saady
How the “Cocaine Mitch” Saga Deflected the Spotlight on Corruption
David Swanson
Tim Kaine’s War Scam Hits a Speed Bump
Norah Vawter
Pipeline Outrage is a Human Issue, Not a Political Issue
Mel Gurtov
Who’s to Blame If the US-North Korea Summit Isn’t Held?
Patrick Bobilin
When Outrage is Capital
Jessicah Pierre
The Moral Revolution America Needs
Binoy Kampmark
Big Dead Place: Remembering Antarctica
John Carroll Md
What Does It Mean to be a Physician Advocate in Haiti?
George Ochenski
Saving Sage Grouse: Another Collaborative Failure
Sam Husseini
To the US Government, Israel is, Again, Totally Off The Hook
Brian Wakamo
Sick of Shady Banks? Get a Loan from the Post Office!
Colin Todhunter
Dangerous Liaison: Industrial Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset
Ralph Nader
Trump: Making America Dread Again
George Capaccio
Bloody Monday, Every Day of the Week
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Swing Status, Be Gone
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail