|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
A DOZEN soldiers, in uniform, came to Renford Mudzi's home after midnight. They held and tortured him for three days, beating his feet, face and buttocks, and running electric shocks through his toes, tongue and penis at such voltage that it sent him into convulsions. They accused him of having burned a bus during Zimbabwe's recent general strike, which he denies. His real crime may have been that he is an activist for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the country's main opposition party.
From his hospital bed, where he is recovering from head injuries and two cracked vertebrae, Mr Mudzi laments that his family has had to hide in four different homes in six weeks. For their sake, he asks that his real name not be published. But he insists that he will never quit the MDC, nor rest until democracy returns to Zimbabwe. His wife, he says, backs him, despite the suffering his stance has brought the family.
In recent weeks, the Zimbabwean opposition has found a new energy, and the government has grown jittery. On March 18th and 19th, an MDC-organised general strike brought most of the country's surviving businesses to a halt. This week, despite spirited rigging by the ruling party, ZANU-PF, the MDC won two parliamentary by-elections. And March 31st marked a deadline that the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, gave to Mr Mugabe's regime to restore some basic aspects of democracy or “face a popular mass action to regain the people's liberties, freedoms and dignity.”
He has yet to give any details, but Mr Tsvangirai apparently hopes to lead a series of big demonstrations as a “final push” to send Mr Mugabe's regime the way of Nicolae Ceausescu's. In the past, the party has hesitated to take to the streets, for fear that Mr Mugabe would roll armoured cars over the protesters. As a result, the government has been able to pick them off one by one.
Mr Tsvangirai, for example, is currently on trial for alleged treason, with two colleagues. His deputy, Gibson Sibanda, was arrested this week for allegedly breaking Mr Mugabe's security laws by helping to organise the strike. And in the past two weeks, hundreds of MDC supporters have been picked up and tortured, like Mr Mudzi, by special army units, the police, or by Mr Mugabe's youth militia. Harare's casualty wards groan with the victims, some with broken bones, others with burns. One grandmother told this correspondent how a soldier raped her with the barrel of his rifle. Remarkably, few injured activists show any sign of giving up.
Expecting trouble, the government is taking precautions. Armed police are out in force, throwing up roadblocks and patrolling Harare's streets. Army units guard Mr Mugabe's splendid residence and offices. Shiny new armoured personnel carriers, complete with turret-mounted machineguns, rumble vigilantly around potential trouble-spots.
Against such firepower, the unarmed opposition would seem to stand little chance. Few imagine that Mr Mugabe would hesitate to give the order to open fire. But his footsoldiers' morale is open to question. In private, some police say they are appalled at their masters' systematic use of torture. Some ZANU members of parliament admit that their party has lost popular support.
The main reason is not the government's brutality; it is the desperate state of the economy, which is thought to have contracted by 30% in the past three years. Inflation has hit 220%, and unemployment is perhaps 70%. Worst of all, thanks in large measure to Mr Mugabe's policy of seizing white-owned commercial farms, two-thirds of the country's 12m people are either subsisting on food aid or going hungry. Price controls have caused staples such as maize meal, sugar and cooking oil to vanish from the shops, to the delight of black-marketeers, who are often ruling-party hacks or army officers.
Last month, the Commonwealth announced an extension to Zimbabwe's suspension, imposed after Mr Mugabe stole a presidential election last year, and some western countries have imposed an asset freeze and a travel ban on Mr Mugabe's closest cronies. But with all attention on Iraq, it seems unlikely that outsiders will exert serious pressure on the regime. South Africa, Zimbabwe's most influential neighbour, is actively seeking to end its isolation. So Zimbabweans will have to help themselves. Mr Tsvangirai predicts that they may have to make “extreme sacrifices...even the supreme sacrifice, to get rid of Mugabe.”
Let history record that
when we saw injustice, tyranny and oppression we were brave enough to speak
against them-lest our children and their children shame us for our cowardice.
May the Lord bless Zimbabwe- Henry Olonga