The Iron Fist
For 12-year-old Dora, who lives in a rural town in Zimbabwe, the nightmare began when a Land Rover full of men pulled up to her house around 10 p.m. one night in June. Five “war veterans” and a local police constable jumped out of the vehicle and entered the house. For the next four hours, the men forced Dora’s mother and younger sisters to sing praises to their “leader”—Marxist President Robert Mugabe—as they took turns raping the preteen girl. Every time Dora’s mother or siblings stopped singing, the men beat them with sticks and heavy whips.
According to Dora, as the men defiled her they said, “This is the punishment for those of you who want to sell this country to Tony Blair and the whites.”
Dora’s horrifying ordeal actually began in March, when her village voted against Mugabe in the presidential elections. Unbeknownst to the townspeople, who at that time believed they lived in a country where they could support whichever political party they wanted and for that reason voted for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (mdc), rape had become the latest weapon of choice among radical supporters of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF political party.
Dora (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy) is one of hundreds of girls—some as young as 12 or 13—who are being violated in the fields and mountains of rural Zimbabwe every month as part of Mugabe’s war on his own people. Human rights workers call his latest actions a “systematic political cleansing of the population” (Sunday Times, Sept. 1).
Many of the abducted girls are taken to camps run by Mugabe’s youth militia, the Green Bombers. These camps were set up before the elections to train teenage boys to harass the mdc. With unemployment soaring and half the country facing starvation, increasing numbers of youths are being enticed to join the militia by false promises of large payments of money. (The food and beer they receive instead is incentive to stay.) At the camps, these girls are beaten and abused, sometimes mutilated, and often used as sex slaves.
The sex crimes committed against women in these militia camps are bad enough, but in Zimbabwe there is an additional, fatal side to the suffering of rape victims: With nearly 40 percent of the population being hiv positive, the molestation is often a death sentence.
Tragically, these atrocities don’t receive much attention. They go largely unreported in Africa because a daughter who has been violated is often thought to bring shame on the family and afterward is viewed as “damaged goods.” What’s more, the pressure to keep silent is especially intense in a tyrannical nation where the police are at times the ones carrying out the crimes.
Incensed that so many of “his” people voted for the mdc and against him in elections—which he well knows were fraudulent—and further agitated by the international community’s appeals for a re-run, 78-year-old Mugabe has sought revenge in the most horrendous way.
An Issue of Land
Following his re-election in March, the despot, who has controlled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980, warned the mdc, “We will make them run. If they haven’t run before, we will make them run now.” Mugabe has already used a myriad of tactics to do just that.
Why is Mugabe harming his own citizens? Why will he stop at nothing to remain in power?
During the recent Heroes’ Day celebrations commemorating the guerrilla war against white rule in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), Mugabe revealed part of the answer. He said, “We, the principled people of Zimbabwe, we, the true owners of this land, shall not budge. We shall not be deterred on this one vital issue—the land. The land is ours” (cnn, Aug. 12).
Mugabe is determined to remove white colonialists from “his” land. In his view, any vestige of colonialism, including any form of British rule or influence, must be eradicated. This objective can only be achieved by him maintaining absolute control of the country using whatever means necessary.
Mugabe has received some criticism from the international community and the United Nations, but so far no group or nation has been willing to effectively deal with the situation by taking strong action. Meanwhile, Mugabe continues to shake his iron fist defiantly against all who oppose him.
At the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, Mugabe blasted Britain and the U.S. for criticizing his regime and demanding that the rule of law should prevail. He told world leaders that Zimbabwe was ready to “shed blood” to defend its reforms.
Breaking the Agricultural Backbone
Over this past year Mugabe’s government has approved the seizure of at least 5,200 white-owned farms in an effort to undo what he termed the “damage” caused by British colonialism. While the decree was being challenged in court as being unconstitutional, Mugabe encouraged his self-styled “war veterans” to invade farms illegally, which resulted in violence and the deaths of a number of white farmers and landowners.
Since that time, another presidential election has come and gone, and Mugabe has moved his farm-seizure policy into high gear. This program, combined with prolonged drought in southern Africa, has devastated Zimbabwe’s once-thriving agricultural economy.
The October 23 edition of Business Day (Johannesburg) reported that approximately 94 percent of the black farmers who have settled on the seized white-owned farms do not yet have any maize seed for planting this spring; more than half of the farmers don’t know whether they will get any at all before the planting season comes to an end. Maize is the staple food of most Zimbabweans. The newspaper stated that this has happened “despite the fact that throughout the past two years the Zanu-PF government has promised the new ‘settlers’ on white-owned farms that they would ensure they got seeds, implements, training and even tractors.”
Months ago, the mdc and the white farmers warned Mugabe’s government that removing the highly mechanized, exporting farms would ruin the nation economically. These warnings went unheeded. Mugabe “redistributed” the white-owned farms without the economic means to subsidize black farmers in purchasing seed, fertilizer, machines and other equipment needed to sustain the country’s agricultural output.
This problem has resulted in massive societal breakdown. Because of Zimbabwe’s slide toward lawlessness, and the upsurge in political violence, on top of the decline in agricultural output, 99 percent of foreign investment has vanished. “Each time Mugabe opens his mouth, investor confidence in Zimbabwe nose-dives. … It is difficult to envisage how a country can ever win back investor confidence on the back of these endless land seizures and threats to nationalize firms,” said a Harare-based stockbroker (Business Report, Sept. 20).
As October ended, so did the tobacco season, making the situation even worse. Tobacco is Zimbabwe’s main foreign-currency earner, bringing in one third of the annual hard cash receipts which the economy relies upon. In 1999, Zimbabwe and Brazil were the largest tobacco exporters in the world. Today, of the 1,500 farmers growing the commodity in Zimbabwe a year ago, only about 350 or so remain.
The economy is being sucked into a black hole, with unemployment at 70 percent and inflation at a staggering 140 percent. Reminiscent of the collapse of the deutschmark in the 1920s, it requires ever-increasing amounts of Zimbabwean dollars to buy anything. The problem is being exacerbated as Zimbabwean bank notes are in increasingly shorter supply as black marketers and money launderers hoard the untraceable bank notes in order to buy hard currency. The currency shortage has also crippled the government’s ability to pay for fuel imports, leaving the vital transportation sector parked in fuel lines.
Any objective onlooker can clearly see that it is the political situation and the removal of the agricultural backbone of the Zimbabwean economy that has left Zimbabwe in ruins. Mugabe’s “land reform process,” which was touted as the riposte to “oppressive” British colonialism and which was promised to benefit the black majority greatly, is instead bringing much of the country to the brink of starvation.
David Cronin of the European Voice wrote, “The situation in Zimbabwe is especially desperate. Not long ago the country was regarded as the ‘grain store’ of Africa. Yet … projections for the 2001-02 seasons indicate that cereal production could decline by almost 70 percent and maize production by 77 percent, when compared to 1999-2000” (Oct. 17-23).
Though there is a pretense of normalcy in the capital city of Harare—a new airport terminal, working traffic signals, shiny new bmws cruising the boulevards, street cafes serving gourmet cappuccinos—the warning signs are seen in the long lines for bread, sugar and fuel, the absence of maize from food stores, and the number of people loitering around unemployed.
The New Holocaust
Already, some experts predict that drought, aids and famine—the latter two problems exacerbated by Mugabe’s “political cleansing” and land-reform policies—will eventually exact a death toll of 6 to 7 million Zimbabweans, or half the country’s total population. Because the number of expected deaths is even higher than the number of Jews killed by Hitler’s World War ii Nazi regime, some observers are calling the situation in Zimbabwe “the new Holocaust.”
Yet, no nation or international force will raise a hand to stop Mugabe. Food aid agencies from all over the globe are rushing to rescue the population only to be handcuffed by the Mugabe regime. Accusing the nongovernmental aid agencies (ngos) of supporting and promoting the mdc, Mugabe enforced the Private Voluntary Organizations Act of 1997, requiring all ngos to register with the government. He has also passed laws giving the Zanu-PF-run Grain Marketing Board a full monopoly on import of staple grains.
Those without Zanu-PF cards are not being permitted to purchase maize from the board, says the Observer of May 26. A report by the Danish group Physicians for Human Rights “accuses the president’s supporters of denying food to tens of thousands of people in drought-stricken areas, where millions are facing food shortages because they backed the mdc.” The doctors told of Zanu-PF headmen manning a food distribution point at one particular school who made it clear that the food was not for the mdc children, because it was Zanu food.
In another instance, food was promised as a reward for Zanu-PF votes. Many voted Zanu-PF; but since being voted in, the party has reneged on its election promise. A few received food, but most are starving as the situation deteriorates by the day.
The World Food Program halted food delivery of grain after Zanu-PF supporters raided a three-ton consignment for the Insiza region and quickly distributed it to their supporters as part of their political campaign. The Zimbabwean government turned on the aid agency in anger and accused them of being used by the West in a hate campaign against the nation.
Who’s to Blame?
Through tirades in his domestic and international speeches, Mugabe lashes out at Britain, blaming it for the current suffering of and injustice toward the people of Zimbabwe. However, many of Zimbabwe’s population cannot make that illogical connection. At no time during the rule of Ian Smith or Britain do they recall such high unemployment, starvation and political torture.
The fact is, the population as a whole enjoyed greater blessings under the rule of the “oppressive” British.
Nearly 60 percent of the Zimbabwe population are under age 30 and have no recollection of life under British rule. Most of those who have not been indoctrinated with the Zanu-PF hatred of colonialism, and particularly those who live in urban centers, cannot relate to evils of “white imperialism.” While watching Mugabe’s government officials parade around in new Mercedes-Benz automobiles, they struggle to afford or even find food. One youth said, “[It’s] not British imperialism that’s doing that to us. That’s our own government. For the young people in this country, Robert Mugabe stands accused” (Washington Post, March 1).
Those who oppose Mugabe find themselves in the same category as the white farmers who opposed the land seizures: “enemies of the state,” or “pawns for the white man.” Or, as Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the mdc, has been labeled, “a white man masquerading as a black,” or a “tea boy for his white boss” (ibid.).
Unwilling to bow to a people that opposes his goals, Mugabe has had to show his true colors—a dictator in the guise of a “democratically” elected communist/socialist. He took drastic action and began “systematic political cleansing of the population.” To heighten his chances of winning the presidential election, Mugabe had the voting laws altered. Only those who could prove they rented or owned their own home or could present a utility bill in their own name could vote. With 70 percent unemployment, most young people are forced to live at home, thus disqualifying them from voting.
Mugabe also unleashed bands of “war veterans,” many of whom are too young to have fought in the 1970s independence war, along with gangs of youth trained to be more “patriotic” in Mugabe’s youth camps, to roam areas of known mdc support terrorizing, raping, maiming and in some cases killing mdc supporters. Between February 2001 and February 2002, approximately 125 Zimbabweans were killed in political violence.
Laws were enacted to restrict freedom of expression, association and assembly. Journalists, foreign and domestic, are now required to obtain accreditation from the government. Over the past year, a large number of journalists were refused accreditation because they were perceived as tools of the “Western imperialists” and as being responsible for Robert Mugabe’s negative international image.
Early in Mugabe’s land-reform process, some turned to the justice system. Shortly thereafter, the world witnessed the forced resignation of the country’s white chief justice, Anthony Gubbay, along with four other justices.
In February, the Daily News, Zimbabwe’s sole independent daily newspaper, was damaged in a bomb attack along with a private printing firm, the Daily Press, which had been producing flyers for the mdc. In 2001, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo had vowed that the government would silence the newspaper once and for all for its carrying of opposition political advertising material. In August this year, the private radio station Voice of the People was silenced by a bomb blast that completely incinerated its offices in Harare.
At what point will Mugabe halt this madness? The fact is, he and his cronies are willing to take the country to rock bottom. They speak of “taking the system back to zero” and of drastically reducing the 12 million population. Last August, the Zanu-PF organization secretary, Didymus Mutasa, said, “We would be better off with only 6 million people, with our own people who support the liberation struggle” (Sunday Times, op. cit.).
Is there any hope? After Mugabe, then what?
When Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, many thought self-government would be the solution to the country’s perceived woes. Instead, Zimbabwe has deteriorated dramatically to where it is today: a sickly country teetering on the brink of collapse, economically and financially, politically and socially. Tyranny, disease, starvation and exploitation is the story of the nation.
One man’s rule over the past two decades has largely destroyed Zimbabwe. Horrifyingly administered, the leadership which at first embodied the hope of the country has itself destroyed hope.
But would the mdc provide the answer? Indeed, can any human government solve such acute problems? “What experience and history teach is that people and governments never have learned anything from history or acted on principles from it” (Hegel, Biography of History). Throughout history, the rule of mankind has time and time again tended to tyranny.
Why have human beings proven incapable of righteous leadership? “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good” (Ps. 53:1). Refusal to acknowledge the government of God is why human leadership ultimately fails.
But, God is not unaware of mankind’s incapability to rule: “If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be a higher than they” (Eccl. 5:8).
And this power “higher than they” will come to the rescue of mankind’s inept rulership (Isa. 35:3-4). Christ will return to this Earth to implement the only form of government that will provide national solutions. Then, the corrupt, sick, starving nations of Africa such as Zimbabwe will blossom abundantly (vv. 1, 6).
These nations will learn the right way to live, “for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:3). There will be no more civil war, no more tribal violence. Rather, the people will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks … neither shall they learn war any more” (v. 4).
Then, no government will take advantage of its own peoples (Isa. 9:6-7). There will be no more political cleansing, intimidation, torture, rapes or discrimination. Never again will a power-hungry, inhumane dictator be able to hold to ransom his own land.
• With reporting by eric anderson