|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
First a word of hearty congratulations to the MDC on winning so big in the parliamentary elections. 94 seats or thereabouts out of a possible 120 represents a huge victory, and we salute the leadership who ran an effective campaign against daunting odds. We also salute the people, the vast majority of the Zimbabwean electorate, who, despite the most brazen intimidation from ZANU-PF, had the courage to vote according to their consciences rather than as fear might have dictated. It was a spectacular victory.
Only as we all know, ZANU-PF, which was decisively rejected by the people, is claiming the victory as theirs. They claim 78 seats for themselves and have only conceded 41 for the opposition. Taking account of the appalling constitutional anomaly that gives Robert Mugabe 30 seats to dispense to his cronies, this gives ZANU-PF the two-thirds parliamentary majority they crave in order to amend the constitution and do exactly as they please, in order to maintain themselves in power forever.
Of course no one should have been surprised at the electoral fraud, least of all the MDC, who have suffered the same fate twice before, in 2000 and 2002. Perhaps some were shocked at ZANU-PF’s seemingly endless ability to conjure up new methods of rigging as they plumb the depths of desperation; others at the sheer scale of the theft – but that, come what may, ZANU-PF would award themselves the victory, was never in doubt.
Therefore we are entitled to ask, as most Zimbabweans are asking – what strategy has MDC devised to counter the theft ? Given that there is no prospect whatsoever of any opposition ever being permitted to win an election under this dispensation, what does the true winning party, the MDC, now propose ? Do they intend to note their protest and then get on with business as usual or do they have an alternative strategy ? And if they do have another plan we ask, when are they going to take the huge majority who voted for change into their confidence, and tell them what they have in mind ? Perhaps for security reasons not in detail, but an outline anyway of what to expect and where their help will be required. The MDC’s supporters who defied the intimidation and risked all manner of harm in voting, surely have a right to know. Indeed we are surprised the leadership have taken this long in communicating anything of their intentions to the nation. Time is not on their side. Every day that passes the dictatorship entrenches itself more deeply in power.
For our part we seriously question the wisdom of the decision of the MDC leadership that those MP’s who managed to overcome all the odds and secure their seats, should take their places in the new parliament. The spectacle of these MPs attending and participating in the opening of parliament has undoubtedly strengthened greatly Mugabe’s and his party’s pretensions to legitimacy; and what, we ask, has it done to advance the pro-democracy and pro-freedom cause? How do these MPs intend to use their position in parliament to challenge and confront ZANU-PF? How will their presence help to promote the kind of radical political, social and economic change the nation yearns for – and voted for on March 31? Indeed haven’t Mugabe’s massive and repeated electoral frauds demonstrated all too clearly that henceforth the nation’s destiny will be shaped more by what happens outside parliament than by what happens within parliament?
Nor are we advocating a violent solution – though we must take serious note that any delay in advancing a strong and realistic alternative will only make it more likely that sooner or later some desperate elements will resort to violence, possibly sparking off a major conflagration in our beloved country. No, there are other non-violent options, some of which have been tried before and others not, and we believe this is the time to deploy them. What is needed is a well-coordinated national campaign of civil disobedience. Such a campaign would surely make the point far more effectively than the most eloquent speeches in parliament, that those who rule Zimbabwe do so without the consent of the majority. It would amount to a total withdrawal of support from the structures that are perpetuating tyranny, and it would send a message to the world that Zimbabwe’s suffering people will no longer cooperate in their own oppression.
In an excellent article contributed to The Standard (*) that veteran writer Pius Wakatama, asks the fundamental question, who and what is the MDC? He answers his own question well:
“To the majority of suffering Zimbabweans it is just as its name says. It is a people’s movement whose aim is to bring about democratic change in Zimbabwe. It is not an ordinary political party, in the vein of many African opposition parties whose sole goal is to place as many of its members as possible into parliament with the hope that one day they can assume power and be able to enjoy the fruits of power as the incumbent rulers will be doing.”
That is well said, and we hope the entire MDC leadership is listening. Because from this premise it follows (again in Wakatama’s wise words) that “as a people’s movement, the MDC should forget the orthodox niceties of professional political conduct with its feigned diplomacy, tactics, gimmicks and meaningless political correctness. Its actions should only be shaped in response to the cries of those in bondage.”
The message was underlined by an editorial in the same paper in which, after arguing strongly for a policy of total non-engagement and non-cooperation with both ZANU-PF and the government, the editor concludes:
“It would be the greatest betrayal of modern times, if the MDC fails to find a way to claim what is rightly theirs and what the majority believe to be the mandate they were handed by the electorate on 31 March 2005. The most effective and non-violent confrontational approach the MDC can take is total refusal to engage or cooperate until its concerns are fully addressed. To play along as it did since 2005 … would be to sign its death warrant”.
And what might actions “shaped in response to the cries of those in bondage” look like? In our view they might include any of the following:
These are just a few examples of the direction that a bold and imaginative programme might take us. The first objective would be to empower the people, and to this end it would be necessary for those leading the action to be well grounded in the philosophy and principles of non-violent civil disobedience. However this need not imply a lengthy period of training or significant delays in getting the action out onto the streets. We believe the people are ready and waiting to follow bold leadership.
In any event Zimbabwe and the world are awaiting the MDC’s response. If the party leadership shows that it understands the dynamics of the situation and is willing to change tack in order effectively to challenge and confront the tyrannical regime at every twist and turn, it will deserve (and we believe will still receive) the solid support of the huge majority it now represents. If on the other hand it refuses to change its tactics or delays too long in effecting that change, it will risk seeing its support base melt away very quickly, and then the centre of resistance to the Mugabe regime will undoubtedly shift elsewhere. In short the party of change must now show itself flexible enough to change its own central strategy. If it fails to do so, and rapidly, we believe it will become irrelevant to the new form of political contest that is taking shape in Zimbabwe.
In other words, the MDC must adapt or die.
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"Two days to the elections. I wonder if I’m still on the
voters’ roll." Zimbabwean poet John Eppel queues up at the polling station, and
worries about cooking supper. "ZTV is full of smug, smirking ZANU PF faces,
interspersed with tossing tits and bouncing bums. When in doubt, dance. I wish
my video machine wasn’t broken."
Tuesday, March 29
I’ve given up on Green Valley wine, which should help cut down my aspirin intake. I said I’d stop when it passed the $20 000 mark, went without it for a day and then gave it another chance. I hesitated when it passed the $25 000 mark, but a habit is a habit, and Green Valley and I have been companions for many years; so I bought a bottle. It went down sweetly with the lamb stew I had prepared from the ribs of a communal goat. When it passed the $30 000 mark, I wrestled briefly with my conscience, defeated that wavering inward monitor, and bought a bottle. I drink it on the rocks.
Today, while visiting the local supermarket to purchase bread, milk, and meaty bones, I thought I’d take a little time to browse the liquor shelves. Why not? Ogling is free. My eyes happened to light on a bottle of Green Valley: price, $35 000! That’s it I said – out aloud – no more! Bottles to the left of me (Nikolai Vodka, only $28 000); bottles to the right of me (Chateau Brandy, only $20 000). No more, I hollered and blundered, until a pretty assistant with the name PRETTY attached to her green SPAR uniform, came to my assistance. She recommended the brandy since it was cheaper and since it produced less babbelaas than the vodka. So, as of today, my tipple is Chateau, extra fine (five golden stars), strong suggestion of vanilla essence, and a kick like a mule! I drink it with tap water.
Two days to the elections. I wonder if I’m still on the voters’ roll. Welshman Ncube and Joshua Malinga are representing our constituency. I guess I’ll vote for the better looking of the two. The nearest polling station is Hillside Primary School, just down the road from us, where children of my generation once learned all about eating cake, burning the toast, and singeing the King of Spain’s beard.
At last an excuse to get my record player repaired. My daughter, Ruth, is studying American History for her A-level exams, and she has become interested in the Civil Rights Movement. She ain’t heard nothin’ yet. Wait till I play her my Paul Robeson LP.
Darn it, I have to get to the bank tomorrow. My rates and water bill this
month is just under $1 000 000 (last month it was just over $1 500 000). The
city council won’t allow me to pay by cheque because, seventeen years ago, I
sent them one that bounced. They will not forgive me. They make no exception for
poets, lovers, and madmen. Consequently I have to join the Treasury queue (never
shorter than forty strong) with an enticingly bulging pocket of brownbacks.
Wednesday, March 30
What makes me fume, standing in the bank queue, is the way people keep places for each other. Today there were five or six slightly abashed looking youngsters bunched at the head of the queue, waiting for moms or dads or uncles or aunts or employers to relieve them. As soon as I joined the queue (the indoors queue, that is), the man in front of me muttered something about "being back", and off he went. He returned an hour later, when I was three from the head of the queue, gave me a brief look of recognition, and pushed in front of me. To make matters worse, the bank seems to be on a perpetual go-slow. I counted fifteen teller booths, yet only four at any given time were in operation. This ‘international’ bank is getting more and more like a government department! There, that’s off my chest!
While I was standing in the rates queue reading Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters (seeing how it pans out against Sylvia Plath’s Journals and secretly wanting it to pan out favourably) a security guard came over to me and said I could join the Senior Citizens’ queue. How mortifying! I am only 58 years old. Politely I declined, and waited my turn with the other youngsters.
Pishon’s Electrical phoned to say that my record player was ready. I set it up and called my children to listen to the massive bass voice of Paul Robeson, one of my very few icons (Billy Connolly is another). Before playing the record I read them an extract from the eulogy for Robeson, which appears on the record cover:
For more than 20 years, he was a famous international and American Celebrity, the most honoured black man in the country. Yet when he spoke out against racism and repression he became the most ostracized black man in America’s history. The door was shut on Robeson’s public career. "The persecution of Paul Robeson by the government and people of the United States has been one of the most contemptible happenings in modern history." [W.E.B. Du Bois]
After we had listened to several songs including ‘Deep River’, ‘Water Boy’, and ‘Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child’, my little boy, Joe said he thought that must be how God sounds, if God exists.
Why is there so much vanilla essence in this brandy? It makes me feel a little nauseous. Or is it the tap water?
Last week I put my neck out watching the ‘Mai Chisamba (eat your heart out Oprah Winfrey) Show’ on ZTV. I must make an appointment with the chiropractor – if there are any chiropractors left in Bulawayo. If not, I’ll lie down on the lounge floor and ask my children to walk – not jump! on me. It sometimes works.
Election day tomorrow. I must get there early. Bound to be long queues. I’ll take a hat, sun block ointment (it’s not all roses being a white man), and my shooting stick for umpiring cricket matches. I’ll also take something to read – not Ted Hughes – I’m tired of domestic squabbles.
Bed time, I guess. There’s a pot of soup on the stove, for the kids, in case
I have to queue all day.
Thursday, March 31
I arrived at the polling station a good hour before it was due to open. I took up my position in queue number one (A to L), which turned out to be queue number three (S to Z). There were no more than a dozen people ahead of me – the other queues were equally short – consisting mainly of elderly white pensioners and elderly black domestic workers. My own domestic worker, Soneni, gave me a cheerful wave. She and her husband Christopher, also a domestic worker, were in the very front of their queue. Soneni has been with our family for over twenty years. Her rural home is in Esigodeni.
I didn’t need my hat nor my sun block nor my shooting stick nor my The Falsification of Afrikan [sic] Consciousness: Eurocentric History, Psychiatry and the Politics of White Supremacy by Amos N. Wilson – the voting procedure was that quick and efficient. Once the doors opened, at ten past seven, the queue turned into a stream, and flowed. I voted for the more handsome of the two.
Not much white supremacy left in this gathering of the regularly burgled, regularly cheated, regularly excoriated makiwas. My people. The Rhodesian pout still lingers on the countenances of madams who have spent a lifetime scolding maids; the Rhodesian flout still lingers on the countenances of masters who have spent a working lifetime intimidating labourers. The pout and the flout. I’m a poet and didn’t know it! But, by and large, we are a broken people, staying on, for what? The static white community of Bulawayo can now be measured not in its thousands but it hundreds. And after this farcical election, within a very short while, they will be counted in their dozens, and I shall be there to witness it. The Last of the Rhodesians by John ‘Fennimor’ Eppel. A colleague of mine arrives, Tunie, the librarian at Christian Brothers College where I teach. Last Thursday her car was stolen at gunpoint, by three neatly dressed, well spoken young men. Tunie is in her sixties and lives alone because her husband has to work in Botswana in order for them to make ends meet. Her car was used in at least two heists – one at the home of Bucky Buchanan, erstwhile Rhodesian rugby star, who was severely beaten up, along with his guests, the Calders – and then was found abandoned on a quiet suburban road. So lucky Tunie got her car back! People break queue to listen to Tunie’s story. Who’s next? We hear about the armed robbery, which took place at Jaggers Wholesale, just down the road from where we now stand. A security guard was shot dead and one comma four billion dollars was stolen. Who’s next?
I got home so early that the children were still asleep – it’s school holidays. I checked my emails: one from Fred who now lives in New Zealand; one from Liz who now lives in England; one from my sister, Pat, who now lives in the United States; one from my oldest child, Ben who now lives in South Africa; and one from my nephew, John, who now lives in Poland.
The children thoroughly enjoyed the soup. I must get down the recipe before I forget it.
Vanilla essence is fine in ice cream and coconut ice, but it should have no
place in a five-star brandy!
Friday, April 1
I can be fooled any day of the year; why wait for today?
I took my stiff neck to the chiropractor and came home with a stiff back, so stiff, indeed, that I can hardly walk. I certainly can’t sit for very long, which makes for shorter paragraphs.
This is an ideal opportunity for me to re-read my very favourite novelist, Charles John Huffam Dickens. I’ll star with Little Dorrit, which, in the Penguin edition, is 900 pages long.
But before I begin, here is my soup recipe:
250g dhal (split pulses)
250g white beans
I packet mushroom soup powder
1 bay leaf
sprig of parsley
sprig of thyme
salt and pepper
6 strips of belly pork marinaded for a whole day in soy sauce, lemon juice, mustard seeds, rosemary, pepper, dry white wine (if you can afford it!)
I’ll continue after I’ve had a bit of a lie-down.
This Chateau brandy is a jolly good pain killer. Now where was I? Oh yes, Method:
Slow cook all ingredients except the pork until they homogenize. If you use a blender, remember to take out the bay leaf. Add the marinaded pork and cook until the meat falls away from any bone. Serve with lightly ‘buttered’ fingers of toast. For the real gourmet, who wishes to "Sharpen with cloyless sauce his appetite", I recommend liberal applications of Ranch House Curry Sauce, available at a supermarket near you.
The Pope is dying. I admire him for the concern he has always shown for those marginalised people Christ talks of in his Sermon on the Mount. I teach at a Catholic school and although I am not a believer, I respect and support the ethos that "Faith without works is dead". By contrast I have absolutely no respect for those Born Again Christians who preach the Doctrine of Prosperity. "Woe unto the rich, for they have had their consolation". Ouch, my back!
I don’t admire him, however, for his ultra-conservative stand against women priests, birth-control, and the use of condoms in an AIDS ravaged world.
Results of the polls started coming in early. My son decided to record them. At first it all went MDC’s way. They won about 25 of the first 30 results announced. Then the rural areas kicked in, and a slow reversal took place. Beautifully orchestrated. How is it, I ask, that such nasty people like Ignatius Chombo, Sydney Sekeramayi, Joseph Made, Jonathan Moyo, Didymus Mutasa, and Webster Shamu can be so popular as to win by such huge majorities?
I’ll just add a little more tap water to my drink, and then return to Little Dorrit. I’m on page 147 – ‘The Circumlocution Office’. Dickens is one of the few authors who makes me laugh out aloud.
My children are a little glum. I guess I am too.
Saturday, April 2
The children are with their mother for the weekend, so I’ve got the place to
myself . . . well, not quite. There’s Harriet our pet hen who bosses us all
around; Louis and Matilda, the dogs; and Puff, the cat. When I’m on my own they
all gather around me and watch me. Right now, for instance, Harriet is on my bed
laying her daily egg; Puff’s whiskers are pointing out from under the bed, and
the dogs are lying in the doorway of the adjacent room, with their muzzles
pointed at me.
Predictably, ZANU PF have won the results – with a large enough majority to change the constitution at will. A beautifully stage-managed affair.
The Pope is getting worse; so are Mrs Flintwinch’s dreams as the plot of Little Dorrit thickens. I am on page 387. My back is easing a little.
I hobbled out into the garden to check on my bulbs. Most of the freesias have germinated; and the ranunculi. No sign yet of the daffodils and the anemones, but two Cape hyacinths are peeping out of the ground. The garden is clamorous with birds, the most clamorous of all being the Heuglin’s robin, which shouts at me: "Can’t you read . . . can’t you read . . . can’t you read . . .". Of course I can, stupid, I’m a schoolteacher!
Ruth takes her driving test on Monday. I wonder how many times they’ll make her fail? My older son, Ben, failed six times. I remember when I took my test in Colleen Bawn. I knocked over one of the gate posts at the police station, yet the inspector passed me! There wasn’t much traffic to negotiate in those days: circa 1963.
Page 528 of Little Dorrit. This conversation tickles me. Mr Dorrit and Mrs General, typical Dickensian hypocrites, are trying to improve Little Dorrit’s ‘surface’, now that the Dorrit family have become nouveau riche:
"Amy," said Mr Dorrit, "you have just now been the subject of some conversation between myself and Mrs General. We agree that you scarcely seem at home here. Ha – how is this?"
"I think, father, I require a little time."
"Papa is a preferable mode of address," observed Mrs General. "Father is rather vulgar, my dear. The word Papa, besides, gives a pretty form to the lips. Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism are all very good words for the lips: especially prunes and prism. You will find it serviceable, in the formation of a demeanour, if you sometimes say to yourself in company – on entering a room, for instance – Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism, prunes and prism."
"Pray, my child," said Mr Dorrit, "attend to the-hum-precepts of Mrs General"
My hot water bottle needs to be re-charged. So does my glass; but how I hate
Sunday, April 3
Pope John Paul died last night. Requiescat in pace. He was the only non-Italian Pope in 400 years. I wonder when the cardinals will choose an African Pope? We do religion a lot more successfully than we do commerce and industry.
ZTV is full of smug, smirking ZANU PF faces, interspersed with tossing tits and bouncing bums. When in doubt, dance. I wish my video machine wasn’t broken.
I listened to Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. It made me a bit weepy. Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. I’ve got the Von Karajan recording, with the Berlin Philharmonic. Gundula Janowitz is sublime.
Last night I carried my bed outside to sleep under the stars, but the weather turned, and I went back inside. Today is overcast and windy, the ‘objective correlative’ of my mood.
In a masochistic fit I bought a copy of the Bulawayo Sunday News. Under the headline, ‘ZANU-PF Garners Two Thirds Majority’, the acting News Editor, Herbert Zharare, has this to say:
Analysts argued that Zanu-PF’s victory has proved to the world that Zimbabwe’s electoral system has never been flawed and that the people have always been accorded the opportunity to choose their leaders without fear.
The ‘analysts’ are not named. Ho hum! I find the archaic metaphor ‘garners’ interesting, since it derives from the word ‘granary’. Will everybody get fed this winter?
At last I know how to make cooked cabbage palatable to my children. I got the idea from a very useful paperback, purchased at a flea market, entitled Penguin Cordon Bleu Cookery by Rosemary Hume and Muriel Downes.
Boil the shredded cabbage for only a minute! Dry it out and put it in a well-buttered casserole dish. Add freshly ground black pepper, salt, and a pinch of sugar. Add one small onion stuck with a clove! Cook with the lid on in the bottom of a moderate oven (180 C). The cabbage becomes tender and delicious after about one hour.
This book also gave me a very good tip on mashing potatoes. Never add cold milk: it makes the mash go tacky. Heat the milk, add a pinch of bicarb, and you’ll get a fluffy surprise!
My children are back, unexpectedly. Hooray! What shall we have for supper?
Omelettes! There are enough of Harriet’s fresh eggs in the fridge for a feast
Monday, April 4
Ruth failed her driving test. She hit the drum trying to reverse. She was going too fast because she was so nervous she couldn’t stop her foot jiggling the accelerator. The crowd of onlookers found it hilarious. Now we have to wait a week before she can apply for another test, which means returning to that dreadful Vehicle Inspection Department where you have to queue for an entire morning to make your booking. The last time Ruth booked, she paid her $16 000 and got a receipt for $700! O the mysteries of the clerical world.
The Pope’s illness and death has had unprecedented coverage on the BBC World Service. I’m starting to get listener burn-out. I’m convinced that England’s greatest poet, Shakespeare, like his contemporary, John Donne, was a Catholic at heart. He certainly didn’t like the Puritans, who threatened his livelihood by wanting to shut down public theatres. Puritans like Malvolio in Twelfth Night, who calls Feste (surely Shakespeare’s spokesperson?) a "barren rascal". This stings Feste, and he gets his revenge. But the reign of Oliver Cromwell was not that far off in English history. Off-stage Malvolio also gets his revenge. Indeed, his last words, before he exits for good, are "I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you".
Just completed a private lesson with some Convent students. A-Level Literature in English. We discussed the significance of the title of their poetry anthology: Touched with Fire, which is a quotation from Stephen Spender’s poem: ‘The Truly Great’. Spender’s icon in this poem is the British airforce pilot, barely out of his teens, who goes to his death heroically:
Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.
Fire is the creative imagination, which can so quickly become the inflamed imagination. The fire of St Augustine’s lust was purified by the fire of his faith. Fire is born on earth but its destiny is heavenwards. I like to think of myself, the poet in me, as being ‘touched’ (slightly penga) with fire.
I went to the supermarket to purchase bread, milk, and bony meat; and while I was there – you guessed it – I bought a bottle of Green Valley. No more vanilla essence for this Son of the Soiled.
Goodness, look at the time: 7:30. I’m off to bed.