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Robert Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, shows his age at 86

February 22, 2010

Jan Raath, Harare

Robert Mugabe turned 86 yesterday — and after 30 years of his clinging to
power, doubts are being expressed about his ability to continue as President
of Zimbabwe.

Visitors who spoke to the world’s oldest head of state this month say that
he can no longer carry on a conversation without nodding off after a few
minutes, and has to be woken repeatedly.

Yet he remains a formidable adversary in his dealings with the Prime
Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, his partner in the year-old coalition
Government, and has given no intimation of retiring. Zanu (PF), his ruling
party, said at its congress last year that he was its only candidate for
elections due to be held once the coalition administration produces a new
democratic constitution.

Mr Mugabe’s apparent infirmity is expected to accelerate the already
ferocious conspiracies between rival factions in Zanu (PF), as they struggle
to position themselves to take over when he eventually goes.

The fortunes of the two main contenders, Emmerson Munangagwa, the Defence
Minister, and Solomon Mujuru, a wealthy former army commander, have veered
from one to the other at Mr Mugabe’s whim but Western diplomats remain
concerned about the apparent hold over the President by a coterie of
commanders of the army, air force, police and state security agency is cause
for alarm.

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Top Tsvangirai ally back in court

by Sebastian Nyamangambiri Monday 22 February 2010

HARARE - Zimbabwe's High Court resumes the treason trial of a top ally of
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai that was put on hold a fortnight ago
because of an ongoing strike by civil servants including court workers.

"We have been notified by High Court officials that the trial will now
resume on Monday," said Harrison Nkomo, one of the lawyers defending Roy
Bennett, the treasurer of Tsvangirai's MDC party who is accused of plotting
to murder President Robert Mugabe.

Bennett faces a possible death sentence if convicted in a case that has
worsened tensions in Mugabe and Tsvangirai's coalition government, amid
claims by the MDC that the charges are politically motivated to persecute
its treasurer and prevent him from taking up the job of deputy agriculture

Mugabe has refused to swear in Bennett into the agriculture post saying the
former white commercial farmer must first be cleared of treason by the
courts before he can be appointed to Cabinet.

Justice Chinembiri Bhunu, presiding over the case, is expected to rule today
whether fake emails produced by defence lawyers can be used to cross-examine
a state witness who claims to have printed emails from the laptop of
gun-dealer Peter Michael Hitschmann that implicate Bennett.

Lead defence lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa produced the fake emails in order to
prove to court that emails can be forged - a point that could cripple the
state's attempts to use the emails allegedly printed from Hitschmann's
computer as evidence against Bennett.

However Attorney General (AG) Johannes Tomana - who is leading the
prosecution - has asked Bhunu to bar Mtetwa from using her fake emails
because the originator of the fake emails is shown as a "Johannes Tomana"
which the AG says is tantamount to caricaturing and demeaning his office and

A ruling by Bhunu barring use of the fake emails could damage defence
efforts to disprove the authenticity of the state's own set of emails
implicating Bennett and which the judge has already ruled are admissible as

The state alleges that Hitschmann was given money by Bennett to buy weapons
for use to assassinate Mugabe.

Prosecutors say Hitschmann implicated Bennett in 2006 when he was arrested
after being found in possession of firearms, claims the gun dealer denies
saying he was tortured into making the confessions during interrogation at a
military barracks in March that year. - ZimOnline.

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Hwange Thermal suffers complete generation failure

Monday, February 22, 2010

Herald reporter

The country is likely to experience acute power deficits after complete loss
of power generation at Hwange Thermal Power Station.

In a statement yesterday, Zesa Holdings spokesperson Mr Fullard Gwasira said
the station experienced 25 instant shutdowns in the last 45 days resulting
in equipment damage that has led to complete loss of generation at the
country's second largest power plant.

Hwange Power Station has been producing about 200 megawatts of electricity
from two out of six working units.

Mr Gwasira said Hwange, with a design capacity to produce 750MW, had been
affected by a series of faults on the regional power grid leaving the plant
unable to produce any power.

"These forced outages caused complete loss of generation at Hwange and in
the process resulting in major equipment damage," he said.

He said they were making efforts to restore the generation units so that
output reaches 350MW within a week.

Mr Gwasira said the Southern African Power Pool was investigating the
situation and would soon make recommendations to address the system
challenges at regional level.

This means that the country's power supply has now dropped to the 750MW
produced at Kariba. Zimbabwe has a peak demand of 2 200MW of electricity.

Government and China are currently in negotiations in which the latter has
expressed interest in investing in the construction of new power plants and
refurbishment of existing infrastructure.

Wear and tear, vandalism and the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe have taken
their toll on Zimbabwe's electricity infrastructure.

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China will not lend Zimbabwe any more cash, minister says

Feb 21, 2010, 17:40 GMT

Harare - China has told the Zimbabwean coalition government not to expect
further loans from Beijing until it pays its existing debts, Deputy Prime
Minister Arthur Mutambara was quoted as saying Sunday.

Mutambara, who heads his own faction of the junior coalition partner, the
Movement for Democratic Change, told a local newspaper that Chinese
President Hu Jintao considers Beijing and Zimbabwe as 'business partners'
and not 'friends'.

Mutambara said in The Zimbabwean that he had met Hu on the fringes of the
World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier in February.

The paper said that Harare owes Beijing an undisclosed amount in unpaid
loans given to the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority and the Zimbabwe
Iron and Steel Company.

'The Chinese have said 'We'll not condemn you publicly but we'll not give
you cash'. Unless we do the right thing the Chinese will not work with us,'
Mutambara said.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has hailed relations with Beijing as a
foil to Harare's poor links with most Western nations.


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Sanctions hurt Zuma plan for Zim

by Simplicious Chirinda Monday 22 February 2010

JOHANNESBURG -- South African President Jacob Zuma says he is working to
create conditions for a free and fair election in Zimbabwe but the decision
by Western powers to maintain sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and
his allies was hurting his efforts.

The European Union (EU) last week extended the visa and financial sanctions
on Mugabe and his inner circle by a further 11 months citing lack of
progress in democratic reforms in Zimbabwe. The United States has also
imposed similar sanctions on the Zimbabwean leader and top allies in his
ZANU PF party and the military.

But Zuma, the Southern African Development Community (SADC)'s mediator in
Zimbabwe, said the sanctions were undermining his efforts to push his
northern neighbours to agree an electoral framework that could guarantee a
free and fair vote.

"We want to create a conducive environment so that they can have elections
to choose their own government but the continuation of sanctions is
undermining the agreement," Zuma told South African media.

Zuma, who has toned down his criticism of Mugabe's controversial rule since
his election as South Africa's President, said the Zimbabwean crisis was a
complex issue that was negatively "impacting on South Africa".

However, he said the only solution lay in free and fair elections to choose
a new government in Harare.

The South African leader's comments come less than a week after the MDC
party of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said talks to resolve a
power-sharing dispute with Mugabe's ZANU PF have reached deadlock and that
it was time for SADC and its chief mediator to intervene.

However Zuma can only intervene if Tsvangirai's MDC, ZANU PF and the smaller
MDC party of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara together formally
declare a deadlock in talks and request outside help.

Zuma's team of facilitators who have frequently visited Harare to try and
push talks forward say the negotiations are still on and it is not yet time
for their boss to get involved.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai are engaged in a bitter dispute over how to share
executive power, the appointment of senior government officials and the
removal of Western sanctions.

Tsvangirai accuses Mugabe of refusing to swear-in MDC treasurer Roy Bennett
as deputy agriculture minister, appoint five provincial governors from the
party and end the tenure of the attorney general and the Reserve Bank of
Zimbabwe governor.

Mugabe in turn says Bennett will be sworn in only if he is acquitted of
terrorism and banditry charges he is facing and that the MDC should lobby
its allies in the West for the removal of sanctions imposed on the veteran
leader and his inner circle.

He also says Tsvangirai should convince what he says are pirate radio
stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe from outside the country to stop
disseminating "propaganda" messages into Zimbabwe.

While analysts are confident the unity government will not collapse, they
say unending bickering among coalition partners could cripple the
administration and render it ineffective. - ZimOnline

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Broke RBZ fails to pay US$7 million

21/02/2010 00:00:00

THE Registrar General (RG) Tobaiwa Mudede has closed a foreign currency
account held with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) after failing to
recover US$7 million deposited with the central bank.

A recent parliamentary report said following the closure of the RBZ account,
the registrar's general resorted to keeping revenues collected at its
offices in violation of the country's banking requirements.

At one stage during a visit by members of Parliament (MPs) the money kept at
the offices amounted to nearly US$253 000 and 88 000 Rand.

The RG's Office is said to have since opened accounts with various other
banking institutions.

"Regarding the violation of banking requirements, the registrar general's
office used to bank all its money with the RBZ. However, the department
could at one point not get the money.

"A total of US$7 million could to date not be recovered," the parliamentary
report said.

The report added that MPs had quarried why the RG's Office was retaining 100
percent of all revenue collected, when the law authorized it to keep 10
percent only.

"The department is authorized to retain 10 percent of all revenue collected
for purposes of financing its operations.

"The department was however retaining 100 percent apparently on the basis of
a variation minute issued by treasury dated 5 September 2002 and expired on
31 December 2003.

"It is considered that the variation is invalid as it cannot override a
determination which was passed by Parliament," the report added.

Meanwhile the RG's department is just but one of several institutions and
companies that have failed to recover money deposited with the country's
undercapitalised central bank.

The RBZ recently extended for another six months special bonds issued to
gold miners in lieu of deliveries after failing to honour them when the
matured at the beginning of the month.

The country's biggest platinum miner Zimplats is also owed US$34 million.

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Mugabe celebrates 86th birthday

Sun Feb 21, 2010 12:35pm GMT

Feb 21 (Reuters) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe marked his 86th
birthday on Sunday, still in office after 30 years and still haggling with
his Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

The bitter rivals, who formed a unity administration in February last year
to end a long political crisis, have yet to implement reforms that would
clear the way for free and fair elections.

Here are some details about Mugabe's life and career:


-- Once hailed as a model African democrat, Mugabe has remained in power for
years despite a huge economic and health crisis.

-- Critics have accused Mugabe of destroying one of Africa's most promising
economies with disputed policies, such his seizures of white-owned farms for
redistribution to inexperienced blacks, and they see no hope for the country
without a complete change of government.

-- Mugabe last week defended his government's drive to transfer majority
control of foreign-owned firms to local blacks, saying wise investors would
continue to put money into the country and rejecting suggestions that
implementation of the indigenisation law passed in 2007 would frighten off
foreign investors.

-- Tsvangirai said a week earlier that the regulations were null and void
because they had been published without being reviewed by him or the

-- Political analysts say the dispute shows rising tension in the year-old
coalition, which has failed to attract much-needed foreign aid and
investment because of frequent arguments over reforms.

-- Just last month Zimbabwe suspended moves to draw up a new constitution as
a result of political bickering over funding, dealing a blow to hopes for
free and fair elections after the adoption of the charter. The form of the
new constitution is a point of contention between the rival parties in the
unity government: Mugabe's ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change
led by Tsvangirai.


-- Mugabe's party lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in the
March 2008 election and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe
in the presidential vote but by too few votes to avoid a run-off.

-- Mugabe was sworn in on June 29, 2008, for another five-year term after
the widely condemned run-off ballot from which opposition leader Morgan
Tsvangirai withdrew because of attacks on his supporters.

-- Mugabe and Tsvangirai finally agreed to a power-sharing deal in Sept.
2008. However it took about five months for deadlock to be broken over the
makeup of the new government and Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister
on Feb. 11, 2009.

-- One year on, the power-sharing government counts a more stable economy,
reform plans and its mere survival as achievements but the political
marriage of Mugabe and Tsvangirai is in trouble, with tension simmering over
how to share executive power and the pace of democratic reforms.


* Mugabe was born in February 1924 on the Kutama Mission, northwest of
Harare, and educated by Jesuits. He earned seven university degrees, three
while in prison.

* Mugabe was jailed for 10 years in 1964 for opposing white minority rule. A
guerrilla war began in 1972 against Ian Smith's white government of

* Mugabe became leader of the ZANU liberation movement in the mid-1970s
after his release from jail.

* The renamed ZANU-PF won independence elections in 1980 and Mugabe became
prime minister. He took office as president in 1987 after a change to the

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Another year older...but none the wiser

Fred Bridgland

Published on 21 Feb 2010

The 86 candles on Robert Mugabe's giant cake would take some blowing out
even for a man half his age when the Zimbabwe head of state's lavish
birthday celebrations begin this evening.

In a country where the year-old so-called government of national unity is on
the verge of collapse, where rampant looting of the state's remaining assets
by Mugabe's top aides continues unabated, where unemployment is running at
90%, and where ordinary Zimbabwean women cannot expect to live beyond 34,
there is anger and cynicism about the aging oligarch's birthday bash. Many
believe no real change is possible until he dies.

Last year, the organisers of Mugabe's 85th birthday party - top officials of
his ZANU-PF party - demanded contributions from businessmen to pay for the
2000 bottles of champagne, 8000 lobsters, 100kgs of prawns, 4000 portions of
caviar, 3000 ducks, 8000 packs of Ferrero Rocher chocolates and much more
that were consumed at the feast. Similar demands,

topping more than US$300,000, have been made this time from businessmen who
want to be favoured by ZANU-PF. Top bands from South Africa and the
Democratic Republic of the Congo will serenade the guests. It all resembles
a celebration of continuing good times aboard the Titanic.

Among the other current "Zim birthdays" is the 10th of the implementation of
President Mugabe's so-called "land reform" programme, in which 4000 white
commercial farmers were expelled from their land and their properties taken
by top Mugabe supporters, including judges, ministers, senior civil servants
and military officers. Mugabe and his wife Grace have occupied 12 of the
most productive farms.

The land reform programme plunged the country into economic crisis and
poverty for the overwhelming majority of Zimbabwe's people. The farms, which
before 2000 were the main foreign exchange earner, have largely become idle,
reverting to bush, and acting as weekend barbecue retreats for the new
owners who sold the farm equipment.

In the 10 years of "farm reform", some one million black workers have been
evicted from the farms by the new owners, according to a new report by the
United Nations-backed Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the leading
international body monitoring conflict-induced internal refugee movements.

On paper the future looked bright for black farm workers in 2000.

"They [Mugabe and ZANU-PF officials] were promising to give us labourers
good wages after removing these white farmers," said Ms Rufaro, a former
farm labourer.

But things quickly soured. Ms Rufaro, using an assumed name because she
fears persecution by Mugabe's draconian Central Intelligence Organisation,
said ZANU-PF youths began mass assaults on farm labourers, raping women and
beating men to death. They were thrown off the farms together with the white

Farm workers such as Ms Rufaro and their representatives interviewed by IPS
said takeovers of the remaining 300 downsized white farms have continued by
ZANU-PF leaders since the government of national unity was formed with
Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) a year ago. The MDC
had won a general election, but Mugabe refused to accept the result and
unleashed his followers against MDC supporters. After more than 200 MDC
followers had been murdered, Mr Tsvangirai agreed to enter a unity
government to prevent further killings. Mr Tsvangirai became prime minister
in a power-sharing deal that is meant to lead to constitutional changes and
new elections.

Tens of thousands of former farm workers now live in makeshift camps, often
on the roadside beyond the farms from which they were evicted, eking out
existence with emergency food handouts from foreign donors. "It is a shame
for us," said Ms Rufaro. "Most of our kids did not go to school for two
years or more after we were evicted. We women ended up having kids at home
without food, because we had no money."

It was hoped by the unity government's local and international supporters
that the kind of disastrous consequences of Mugabe's land reforms would be
avoided by the new administration. But, after the relative optimism of the
past year, the situation in Zimbabwe is deteriorating badly. Talks between
ZANU-PF and the MDC have broken down, leaving the government of national
unity as good as dead on its first birthday.

Many had wondered what Mugabe would turn to when there were few productive
farms left to give to the small band of already rich people who maintain him
in power. Some were convinced it would be the rich Marange diamond field in
southeast Zimbabwe, from which small diggers have been expelled - many dying
in hails of bullets or from torture - by the military. But the Marange
diamonds are destined only for the real bigwigs. Something else needed to be
found to keep the next layer of top officials on board.

After a year of MDC appeals, conferences and international seminars to try
to attract investors back to Zimbabwe, everything was wasted in a single
stroke last week that symbolises the breakdown of the unity government.

Without consulting the MDC coalition partner, Mugabe and his Indigenisation
and Empowerment Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, promulgated a new law obliging
private companies to give black Zimbabweans 51% stakes in their companies -
or face five years in jail. Critics say it is like a suicide pill being fed
to the economy; it is economic empowerment for the already rich while the
massed poor get poorer.

The local labour movement, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU),
which has seen jobs haemorrhage throughout the past decade, said the move
plunged businesses that endured the lean years and potential new foreign
investors into panic.

Daniel Ndlela, Zimbabwe's most eminent regional economist, based in South
Africa, said: "Why would anyone come into Zimbabwe with US$100 and be left
with US$49? Those who might have invested in Zimbabwe will now never come."

The ZCTU said in a statement: "There will be no creation of new wealth since
the government will simply help itself to other people's sweat and efforts.
This could plunge the struggling industrial sector into chaos similar to
that triggered by Robert Mugabe's chaotic agrarian reforms in 2000."

Mr Tsvangirai, commenting through his official spokesman, said the move will
plunge the country back into the kind of decline and job losses "we saw as a
result of the corrupt farm acquisition programme. And all for the sake of
further enriching the political elite who have already acquired millions at
the expense of the rest of the population".

Tendai Biti, appointed finance minister by Mr Tsvangirai as part of the
power-sharing deal, is internationally the most respected of the MDC
leaders. He is widely seen as the successor, to Mr Tsvangirai. Speaking last
week in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, Mr Biti said negotiators had failed
"irredeemably" to resolve differences. "We are going nowhere on the
dialogue. It is important for President Jacob Zuma and South Africa to step
in and step in quickly.

"We as negotiators are wasting time because we have tried. We have been
negotiating since May 14 2007 [before the unity government was formed on
February 13 2009]. It should be taken out of our hands."

Mr Biti, who is pressing for new elections, went on: "ZANU-PF cannot
continue to urinate on us. They have no right to continue abusing the people
of Zimbabwe. If there is an irretrievable breakdown then one must accept the
reality of divorce." Mr Biti said that the people of Zimbabwe want real
change, not the cosmetic change offered by the government of national unity,
with real power resting with Mugabe who controls the military and security
services, the top law appointments and the Central Bank.

Mr Biti has been credited with the most concrete achievement of the
government of national unity, boosting the economy 4% from a very low base
by ditching the Zimbabwe dollar, which for 10 years had been printed at will
by Mugabe's corrupt Central Bank governor, Gideon Gono, triggering world
record inflation that ran into trillions of percent.

The Biti faction in the MDC wants new elections, but hangs on in the unity
government in an attempt to see through the year-old mandate of drafting a
new constitution ahead of fresh elections. Few analysts doubt the MDC would
win a fair election, putting support for ZANU-PF down to 20%.

Mr Biti restarted the economy by introducing the US dollar as the interim
national currency and by arranging for teachers, doctors, nurses, soldiers
and government officials to be paid monthly salaries of up to US$250.
However, the dire situation of the rural and urban poor has not changed. And
the lucky few are growing impatient with their meagre US dollar salaries.
Civil servants and teachers are on strike saying they need US$700 a month
for mere survival.

Mugabe is adamant he will not implement more of the unity government's
proposed measures until the European Union and the United States repeal
"targeted economic measures" against him and some 200 of his top supporters.
These restrictions prevent Mugabe and the other individuals from remitting
their money into Western accounts or accessing money and other assets
already lodged in those banks.

Many analysts believe Mugabe only entered the government of national unity
in the hope that Mr Tsvangirai would be able to persuade the EU and US to
retract the measures to encourage further reforms. But last week both the EU
and the US renewed the measures for a further year, saying Mugabe and
ZANU-PF had not engaged in real political transition.

But, in a signal that Western governments remain willing to reward the
members of the government of national unity if it achieves real progress,
the US, Britain and other International Monetary Fund member countries
agreed unanimously last Friday in Washington DC to restore Zimbabwe's voting
rights after a seven-year suspension.

The IMF said, however, that Zimbabwe was not eligible for financial aid
until it clears its arrears to the Fund and shows it has a plan to pay off
arrears to the World Bank and African Development Bank. The arrears total
about $1.3 billion.

Mr Biti, who was invited to the IMF meeting, said the US and Britain, key
donors to the Fund, made strong statements of support for Zimbabwe but want
to see more political and economic reforms. "It's a major indicator that if
we continue on the path of reform, we can achieve full reintegration and
full support," he said.

Mr Biti added that an IMF team will visit Zimbabwe early next month.

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Zimbabwe Vigil Diary: Mugabe Birthday Protest – 20th February 2010


                   Wrestling with Mugabe                                            Swaggering to the Vigil                                     Receiving presents from the devils



               Swigging from the Methuselah                                Sampling the birthday cake                                                Mugabe go now!


Swigging appropriately from a Methuselah of champagne, a swaggering (or was it swaying) Robert Mugabe, accompanied by Amazing Grace, celebrated his 86th birthday at the Zimbabwe Embassy in London, receiving presents and birthday cards.


Among the gifts presented by Vigil supporters wearing devil masks (including June Pedzeni, Francesca Toft and Siza Ndebele) were parcels labeled ‘Looted Diamonds’ and ‘Sanctions Eased’. Vigil supporters were puzzled why the EU should remove sanctions against the police officer in charge of beating up Tsvangirai in 2007. The EU spoke of economic reforms in Zimbabwe. What are they . . . looted diamond fields, farm invasions, the threatened takeover of private companies?


Other presents for Mugabe were labeled Giles Mutsekwa (Co-Minister of Home Affairs), Elias Mudzuri (Minister of Energy and Power Development) and Murisi Zwizwai (Deputy Minister of Mines) – the MDC ministers being investigated by the party on allegations of joining the corrupt Zanu(PF) gravy train.


Mugabe, played by management team member Fungayi Mabhunu (in our Mugabe death mask), and Amazing Grace, played by Josephine Zhuga, cut a birthday cake and looked at the birthday messages. Here is a sample: ‘We have suffered too long!’, ‘Enough is enough – go to the Hague’, ‘We hate you. Wish you the worst for the rest of your life’, ‘You let us down – betrayed all the liberation ideals’, ‘Enough is enough – don’t you have a heart?’, ‘To hell with you’.


Earlier in the day Mugabe visited the nearby South African High Commission to pay his disrespects ahead of President Zuma’s visit to London.  Displaying a sign reading ‘No Zumabwe’ he gave a V sign before being wrestled away by Vigil Co-ordinator Dumi Tutani.


We were glad to have ZBN News with us again and we will continue to link to their broadcasts:


For latest Vigil pictures check:


FOR THE RECORD:  189 signed the register.



·       ROHR Hayes fundraising party. Saturday 27th February from 3 pm till late. Venue: Coronation Hall, Stoke Road, Water Eaton, Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK2 3AB. Admission £7.50 including food (lots of traditional food: mazondo, maguru mubhoora and all). Fashion show. Zim Music. Raffle: tickets £10. Prizes include: computer, printer, mobile handset, DVD player. To be drawn at 10.30 pm. Nearest station: Bletchley. Bus number 5 from central Milton Keynes or Bletchley. For more info contact Rodah Kuhlengisa 07958205544, Charity Nyamuzuwe 07898765091, Snodia Chihowa 07852921523, Martha Jiya 07727016098 or P Mapfumo 07915926323/07932216070.

·       The Role of the Media in Zimbabwe's Transition. Thursday 4th March from 6-8 pm. Venue: Royal Commonwealth Society, 25 Northumberland Avenue, London WC2N 5AP. Chair: Xan Smiley, Middle East and Africa Editor, Economist. Speakers: Tabani Moyo, Advocacy Officer, MISA, Zimbabwe, Sue Lloyd Roberts, BBC  journalist, Innocent Chofamba Sithole, Zimbabwean political journalist, Richard Bourne, Associate Fellow, Commonwealth Foundation.

·       ROHR Stevenage & Hatfield (Hertfordshire) general meeting. Saturday 6th March from 1.30 – 6 pm. Venue: Poplars Bandley Hill Community Centre, Magpie Crescent, Stevenage SG2 9RZ. ROHR executive present and respected guests. Contact: Kennedy Mashonganyika 079623838720, Jemtiasi Mare 07909338769, Bertha Mwatse 07404112684, Clarkson Shumbanhete 07958550506 or P Mapfumo 07915926323 / 07932216070.

·       ROHR Sheffield launch meeting. Saturday 13th March. Venue: Ruby Lounge, 35 Carver Street, Sheffield S1 4FS. Come and share ideas on how we can tackle the human rights abuses of our fellow countrymen. ROHR President & Executive present together with some VIPs. Contact: Prosper Mudamvanji 07846621050, Raymond B Jonga 07729472879 or P Mapfumo 7915926323 / 07932216070.

·       Zimbabwe Association’s Women’s Weekly Drop-in Centre. Fridays 10.30 am – 4 pm. Venue: The Fire Station Community and ICT Centre, 84 Mayton Street, London N7 6QT, Tel: 020 7607 9764. Nearest underground: Finsbury Park. For more information contact the Zimbabwe Association 020 7549 0355 (open Tuesdays and Thursdays).

·       Strategic Internship for Zimbabweans organised by Citizens for Sanctuary which is trying to secure work placements for qualified Zimbabweans with refugee status or asylum seekers. For information: or contact:

·       For Motherland ENT’s videos of the Vigil on 30/01/2010: and the Vigil on 26/12/2009: and


Vigil Co-ordinators

The Vigil, outside the Zimbabwe Embassy, 429 Strand, London, takes place every Saturday from 14.00 to 18.00 to protest against gross violations of human rights in Zimbabwe. The Vigil which started in October 2002 will continue until internationally-monitored, free and fair elections are held in Zimbabwe.


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Funeral insurance

Dear Family and Friends,

We have been plunged back into a dramatic, gruelling electricity
crisis for the last ten days which has left most areas receiving
electricity for 5 hours a day. When electricity is restored it is
only in the middle of the night between 11.30 pm and 4 am. Normal
functioning has become almost impossible and no electricity means no
water can be pumped and many days communication also collapses as
mobile phones are unable to pick up a signal. In private homes water
supply has dwindled to 2 or less hours a day, geysers are cold,
fridges and deep freezers have defrosted and their contents gone bad.

I paid a visit to the main ZESA (electricity supplier) offices and
asked the lady at the enquiries desk how many more days or weeks of
this we might be facing. "I don't know," she replied. Is the problem
at Hwange or Kariba, I asked. "I don't know," she replied. Is it
maintenance or faults, I asked but again she said: "I don't know." I
left shaking my head and muttering, exasperated that such a bored and
uninterested person was keeping her job with this attitude in a
country where 9 out of 10 people are unemployed.

Unemployment is huge in Zimbabwe. Everywhere you go there are groups
of young men standing around doing nothing. Youngsters that have been
to school and are strong, willing and able but just can't find jobs.
Young women are in equally dire straits: they come out of senior
school and are keen, fresh and eager to work but there are no jobs.
University graduates, new degrees in hand, are no better off, unable
to find places to put their new skills and talents to work.

When you talk to employers about the unemployment problem you see the
other side of the coin but its just as gloomy. Business is very slow
as most people are on survival budgets and nothing is left at the end
of the month after food, utilities, rent and transport have been paid
for. Businesses can't afford to update equipment and machines and
there is nothing left to put aside for expansion or improvement. For
most small companies, all the income that is generated is keeping ten
or twenty employees paid and settling bills and nothing is left over.

One businesswoman explained that when we changed to trading in US
dollars a year ago, most companies started with literally zero
capital; everything they had was in Zimbabwe dollars and this was
rendered useless overnight. Coming after 10 years of hyperinflation,
repeated devaluations and government imposed price controls, it is
nothing short of miraculous that any local businesses survived at

A year into our so called unity government, things are just as
difficult for employers. Imagine trying to run a business without
electricity: computers, tools, engines, machines that cannot be used.
Workers stand around idle, unable to work and yet you still have to
pay them. Employees can be sent home until the electricity comes back
on, but that could be any time as power cuts are erratic and
unexpected and schedules non existent or not adhered to. Many
businesses have had no option but to buy generators but every litre
of diesel used eats away at income and profits dwindle. Then there
are the never ending calls for increases in wages and threats of
strikes and when employers try and retrench some staff to save
others, they are hit with massive "packages" which leave their
companies in debt and close to bankruptcy.

Then there's the minefield of things that you only find out by
mistake. One small businessman told me how he'd been investigating
the status of his bank account this week. The amount he had left in
the bank had dwindled to a negative balance and when he queried where
his money had gone he was shown the list of fees, charges and
commissions the bank had taken. Then the businessman noticed a
regular amount being deducted that didn't fall into any of the other
categories. He queried it and was directed to the bank accountant.
"Ah, she said, that's funeral insurance. If you die we'll pay towards
your funeral." Funeral insurance that the man hadn't asked for, hadn't
been consulted about but that the bank was just deducting! Can you
believe it?

This is the reality of running a business in Zimbabwe and until
politics stops interfering, there's not much light at the end of the
tunnel. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy. � Copyright
cathy buckle 21st February 2010.

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A coup in Zimbabwe? Never!
By Haru Mutasa 
 February 20th, 2010
Picture from AFP

What is 86 year old President Mugabe doing "right" to ensure he stays in power?

Here's a conversation that occurred Saturday morning at a coffee shop in Johannesburg South Africa.

Person A: "What is it about West Africa and coups?"


Person B: "Yeah, Niger is the latest I read. Another African leader bites the dust."


Person A: "I don't know much about that part of the continent but isn't he meant to be some kind of dictator - who only wanted to hang onto power and didn't believe in democracy and freedom of speech?"


Person B: "Well the guys who've taken over say they are going to restore democratic processes. Last I read ordinary citizens were celebrating, glad the coup happened."


Person A: "Interesting. So - why aren't our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe like that? They complain about Robert Mugabe and yet they seem to put up with the old man."


Person B: "Fear they'll be killed for even thinking along those lines. Maybe it's because they are such a passive lot - weak perhaps? All I know is if it were Jacob Zuma behaving like that for thirty years we South Africans would have dealt with him a long time ago!"

The two gentlemen are allowed to express their views - even if one disagrees with some of their deductions. At least freedom of speech in South Africa is still encouraged - unlike some parts of the continent.

But it got me thinking - what is the difference between the Niger coup plotters in West Africa and the allegedly "passive" Zimbabweans down in southern Africa?

I've heard the theory that Zimbabweans are too passive a people and so afraid to speak out against President Mugabe because they will be killed.  But is this true? And if it is, is it the main reason?

They did fight a liberation war that ended 30 years ago - and they won their freedom from white colonial rule. That took blood, sweat, courage and guts. It was no small feat. Zimbabweans are a tough people.

But if you believe the media reports, then Zimbabwe's poor majority have been to hell and back. Close to three million Zimbabweans will need food aid this year, civil servants are on strike over pay again, opposition supporters have endured years of oppression allegedly perpetrated by members of Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, and the last election was anything but free and fair.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change and current prime minister, was badly beaten in 2007 by the police for speaking out against Mugabe and calling for democratic change in the country.

Surely people's patience must be wearing thin by now. If Tsvangirai is right - and an overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans are simply fed up with how Mugabe continues to run the country as president, then why do they continue to put up with the state of affairs?

Why hasn't a Niger happened in Zimbabwe?

Perhaps President Mugabe still enjoys a fair amount of support - more than the Movement for Democratic Change or Tsvangirai thinks?

Maybe Zimbabweans, those who agree with Tsvangirai, are just tired, worn into submission after years of repression. They feel fighting for democratic freedom is just not worth losing their lives over.

There are countless stories of people who have mysteriously died in dubious car accidents over the years. Some dismiss these rumours as urban legends, but others say, "where there is smoke, there is fire".

My humble opinion is that I think the military is still firmly behind Mugabe - at least things appear to be that way. They have nothing to gain yet from upsetting the apple cart. It's clear they don't support Tsvangirai - some of them even refused at one time to salute him as the prime minister of the country.

Mugabe's critics say he is keeping senior generals happy by rewarding them with farms, businesses, diamond mines you name it - anything to sweeten the deal and keep them on his side.

But surely Mamadou Tandja, the ousted leader of Niger had done the same? Let's face it, every leader finds a way to reward his or her loyalists - and Africa is no exception.

Maybe Niger's coup leaders, who are calling themselves the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy wanted more and Tandja failed to see that? They say they plan to turn Niger into "an example of democracy and of good governance".

I have my doubts. How long will it take before they start plundering the countries resources?

But back to my question - why has a Niger not happened in Zimbabwe yet?

Are an overwhelming majority, including those from Mugabe's own party, terrifyingly afraid of him as some analysts have suggested? What is 86 year old President Mugabe doing "right" to ensure he stays in power?

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So who is best African president, so far?

21st Feb 2010 01:30 GMT

By Chenjerai Chitsaru

HABIB Bourguiba would not have won the prize as the best African president.
The prize was inaugurated by a wealthy African - thank God, it wasn't one of
those paternalistic things of which most Africans have accused the West of
doing to them.

This was a prize inaugurated by an African. The motive, apart from enhancing
the man's reputation, was to encourage African leaders to compete in the
running of their countries.

Many analysts saw the idea is wildly unrealistic. There is no such prize in
the other continents. But most people appreciated why it might have been
initiated.  Since 1957, after Ghana 's independence from the British, there
have been many presidents on the continent - most of them have performed so
miserably the only prize they could have won is for being the cruelest, the
most selfish and the most uncaring leaders on earth. At the same time, there
have been examples of great leadership: Julius Nyerere of Tanzania stands
out, as does Leopold Seddar Senghor of Senegal .

But, in all fairness, Nelson Mandela must rate as one person every African
would love to lead their country. It could be argued that the 27 years he
spent as a captive of the apartheid regime taught him the virtue of
tolerance more than it did all those people who led armed struggles against
the colonialists. But it certainly is more than that. Mandela learnt to
forgive his enemies - without conditions.

Robert Mugabe, with his policy of reconciliation, seemed to be on the right
track at the beginning. If he had remained faithful to that ideal, he might
have won the Nobel Prize for Peace before Mandela and F.W. de Klerk. What
went wrong in Zimbabwe will be debated for decades. The fashionable excuses
are that the whites did not reciprocate as warmly as they might or ought to
have. But there are those who argue that, even if they had, Mugabe would not
have accommodated them. His project of a one-party state did not include the
absorption of a political system in which a multiparty dispensation would
have been tolerated.

It's unfortunate that most people, sheltering in a self-imposed type of
amnesia, forget that Zanu PF began its reign with the aim of turning this
country into a Marxist-Leninist state. What foiled the plan had nothing to
do with whites, who we too few to have mounted such a campaign on their own.
In the end, the people of Zimbabwe themselves decided one-man, one-party
rule was not for them.

But to return to the quality of African leadership, one focuses on Bourguiba
for the reason that he was not the victim of your conventional coup. His
country had not broken up into factions, neither had poverty become so
widespread people were literally picking food from the dustbins of the
affluent. No. Tunisia under Bourguiba was progressive.

Culturally, Bourguiba gave women so many privileged he is credited with
setting an example for the rest of the Muslim world. That he was removed
because he had become unhinged is a controversial assertion. His then prime
minister seemed to convince the other leaders that the president, was indeed
no longer fit to govern. Obviously, his state was believed to be worse than
that of the present Nigerian leader, who has now been replaced by his
vice-president, Mr Goodluck Jonathan. The head of state, Mr Y'radua, was not
mentally infirm: he had what they call a 'bum ticker'. His heart was and is
still giving him problems.

But because this happened in Nigeria , the incident was highly newsworthy.
Nigeria is a country of many military coups. It is also a country of
presidents whose personal styles have given their country the reputation of
being run by people obsessed with very personal aggrandizement.

Olusegun Obasanjo might have been included among African leaders who left
office gracefully. But he didn't; his attempt at a third term of office was
messy and cost him much of the glory he would have garnered had he just left
at the right time - as Nyerere and Senghor did.

In southern Africa , Quett Msire and Festus Mogae stand out as perfect
examples of leaders who made little fuss when their time came to exit.
Botswana may be accused of running a virtual one-party dictatorship. But it
seems to work relatively well. No doubt there is room for much improvement,

It would be a historic occasion if the current president, the son of the
founding president, Seretse Khama, did inaugurate a political system in
which the opposition parties had a clear-cut chance of winning a majority in
Parliament. As it is, this is believed to be out of the question. The ruling
party is not without its faults, but its grip on power is said to be based,
not on wise policies, but on something else - something quite scary: you
oppose the ruling party at your own peril.

For a while, that was the scenario in many other countries, among them
Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe . All these countries
have been transformed into what some would call semi-democracies - at least,
opposition parties do exist, even if, in many cases, their chances of
gaining power are negligible.

Apart from the leaders who aimed at running their countries as virtual
fiefdoms, there are those who want to perpetuate their style of rule by
ensuring only their parties can win an election - Zimbabwe has been cited as
an example. The day Zanu PF and Mugabe lose an election and actually give up
power is the day a real revolution will be visited upon the country.

African political leadership owes part of its pedigree to how the earliest
leaders conducted their affairs. Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmed Sekou Toure, even
Emperor Haile Selassie were not men in love with democracy. Ye there were
many others who admired them and wished to take their cue from them.

In general, African leaders believed it was "unAfrican" to follow the
Western trend of giving everybody a political voice in government. The
people had to be "led" all the time. What they had to guard against was the
country's independence falling into  foreign and even local elements which
were keen to "to try experiments" with alien systems, systems which called
for an elected  group of people - not just one person - to make decisions on
behalf of the majority.

In many countries, the fear was that any widespread system of handing power
to ordinary people could lead to their infiltration by foreign forces -
particularly forces keen to disrupt their stability for their own benefit.

As far as I know, that was not the Tunisian situation when Bourguiba was
removed. If he had really lost his marbles, then we are in real trouble.
Some of the people who have been in power for a long time seem to have lost
their marbles a long time ago. No wonder we remain the poorest continent on
the globe.

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Mugabe and reconciliation: The genesis and meaning of `We Are All Zimbabweans Now'

By James Kilgore

[This paper was presented to the Center of African Studies, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, on February 3, 2010. It is posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with James Kilgore's permission.]

Good afternoon. I'd like to thank the Center for African studies for inviting me here this afternoon and particularly Merle Bowen for organising this session. This is the first time that I've spoken publicly to a group about my book and I'm quite excited about it. I'll try to keep my excitement in check. I had in mind to do three things. First, I'd like to talk a little bit about the background of the writing of the book. It's somewhat unusual as I wrote it during my period of incarceration from 2002 to 2009. Second, I assume most people haven't read the book so I thought I would give a brief plot summary of the novel. Third, I wanted to discuss what the novel means, what it is I actually wanted to say in this story which I've titled We Are All Zimbabweans Now.

There are three forces that drove me to write this book. The first one was a simple factor of the lack of activity options when you're incarcerated. Since I'm not a big fan of the major social activities in prison - dominoes, weightlifting, card games, and I'm a little bit too old for the daily grind on the basketball court - I needed to find an activity that would keep my mind alive and fill a lot of time. Writing was a good choice.

The second was, I'd lived and worked in Southern Africa for 20 years. My family and friends were there. Writing a novel based in Southern Africa was a way to connect, to maintain some kind of emotional tie to that experience and all those people from 9000 miles away. Last, Southern Africa went through incredible changes during the time I was there. I lived through much of 1980s Zimbabwe, the period right after independence. I was also was in South Africa during the run-up to democracy and eight years of post-democracy. I did a lot of education and research in schools and colleges, with social movements, community groups and trade unions in the region. All this meant I had a few things I wanted to say. A novel felt like the perfect platform. I had one problem though, I'd never written a novel.

So one morning I sat down in front of the 40-year-old Olivetti manual typewriter in the day room at the Federal Detention Center in Dublin, California, and started writing. Within a few weeks I managed to put together a draft and send it to a friend who'd just finished a PhD in literature. I expected her to give me glowing reviews. She wrote back and told me politely that it was worthless, lacking all the essential elements of a good novel like plot, character, setting, tension, etc. She actually gave me what I thought was quite patronising advice: "read more novels." I fumed for a few days, then swallowed my pride and started to read more novels. And I kept writing. For the next couple of years I was bounced around to various penitentiaries and prisons, but that novel was always with me. At one point I even had access to a computer with a hard drive, but by the time I got to my final draft, I'd lost all access to technology and had to write it out - all 595 pages with a ballpoint pen. From there I mailed it to my friend Stephen Morrow in Sydney. He assembled a wonderful group of friends in Australia. They deciphered my dreadful hand writing, put it onto computer and sent it to the publisher Umuzi, in Cape Town, who agreed to publish it. Without friends in life, where would a person be?

The plot of the novel

Now I'm going to briefly summarise the story for you. The story takes place in early 1980s' Zimbabwe, right after independence. The protagonist is a young American graduate history student named Ben Dabney who travels to Zimbabwe with a totally idealised picture of Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwean notion of racial reconciliation. He places Robert Mugabe in the same category as people like Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King. As a researcher, Ben wants to tell the story of the Zimbabwean miracle of reconciliation to the rest of the world. When he arrives in Zimbabwe he is greeted with a very warm reception by some fairly high-level players in the government and the ruling party. Plus, he has a romantic involvement with a disabled former guerrilla, Florence Matshaka. So things are going quite well for him... Then he starts a side research project - inquiring into the death of a liberation war leader, Elias Tichasara, who died in a mysterious car accident right before independence. There had always been rumors about political plotting behind his death. As Ben begins to probe this death he finds layers and layers of mystery, of reticence, of distortions, of out and out lies of - all kinds of power plays by people to protect their own interests relative to Tichasara's death.

At the same time, Ben also takes a trip to Matabeleland - the south of the country. He goes there to interview a former guerrilla comrade of Florence's, Nomonde Dube. She's a teacher in a rural school. While Ben is at the school the army comes in and parades all the teachers out onto the soccer field in the name of searching for dissidents. The soldiers beat the headmaster; one of the teachers disappears; Ben has to get out of there as quickly as possible. When he gets back to Harare he tries to raise the issue with people; tries to get some publicity. He's convinced Mugabe doesn't know about this and Ben's trying to inform his hero so that the government will see the light and stop what in Ben's mind looks like senseless violence.

So, I think you can see what is generally happening here - we have this idealistic student whose notions of Mugabe and reconciliation are kind of unraveling. His research becomes very complicated, his relationship with Florence becomes even more complicated, and he also comes under pressure from the Central Intelligence Organisation, who don't like his research. He has to find a way to battle out of that. Does he succeed? Does he live happily ever after in the end? I won't spoil it for you so I'll stop there.

The meaning of We Are All Zimbabweans Now

Now what did it all mean? I'm trying to address three main issues in this book. In a broad way I'm revisiting some old questions: Who makes history? Who writes history? I'm consciously trying to counter some of the mythology that has grown up around Zimbabwe, particularly post-2000 after the land seizures and the descent of the Zimbabwean economy into hyperinflation and chaos. A new history of post-independence Zimbabwe has emerged in the wake of those land seizures. Conservative Western reporters and white Zimbabweans who view themselves as the ultimate victims of Zimbabwean independence are writing that history. Their project is to re-resuscitate colonialist historiography, take us back to bosses, madams and "natives". The following quote is illustrative, an example of what I tried to respond to in my novel:

The final arrival of the former insurgent leader Robert Mugabe in the new Zimbabwe, heralded a new form of warfare against white and black alike - the result of naked megalomania. The rule of law became redundant. Tyranny replaced the democratic process. National self-sufficiency gave way to drastic shortages and malnutrition. Through all this sorry history one thing stood out - the indomitable spirit of the white and black Zimbabweans who were the victims of this insanity. -- Eric Harrison, author of Jambanja

Apart from the absurd notion that colonial oppression and exploitation represented some kind of democracy, there are two things in this quote that I tried to contest in We Are All Zimbabweans Now. I'd call them historical myths. The first of these is that Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) from day one has been at the helm of a ruthless unchanging, totally repressive dictatorship; that for nearly 30 years now the Zimbabwean people have suffered under the yoke of a leader who is some sort of combination of Idi Amin and Ceausescu. Some people have even tried to parallel Mugabe to Hitler because his mustache looks something like the Fuhrer's.

I want to clarify that I'm not a Mugabe-phile, but I think it's important to look at the 30 years of post-independence Zimbabwe in a nuanced fashion, particularly the 1980s. Because the 1980s had a very different set of problems and tensions than today, a different dynamic, a different balance of forces if you like. In the 1980s, authoritarianism coexisted with a broad program of social reform. One writer called it a "schizophrenic state". Repression coexisted with hope. There was a horrible offensive by the army on innocent civilians in Matabeleland, yet at the same time, vast expansions of social services were taking place. A large percentage of the people also believed in the future, that their children would live much better than they were living

There was a concrete reason for this optimism. The Zimbabwean government made good on a lot of its promises. For example, the demands of people for the expansion of education, for the expansion of healthcare facilities, for better access to land and inputs for small-scale farmers and a range of other services - the demands of women for some form of a redress of the inequalities in both legal and social status. The government addressed these in a substantial way in the 1980s.

For instance, there was not a single government high school in the rural areas for black Zimbabweans at the time of independence and that is where 70% of the people lived. Within two years the government had opened 613 high schools in the rural areas, plus another 117 in urban areas. Many of them were built with the participation of the parents. Secondary school enrolment rose from about 75,000 in 1980 to 470,000 by 1985. Primary school was free; secondary school was very inexpensive. For those who were able to gain access to the University of Zimbabwe, there were also full bursaries. So there was an incredible expansion of education.

Similar things happened in health - clinics sprouting up across the country - 163 built in the first four years. There were massive campaigns to inoculate babies against childhood diseases. Infant mortality fell by nearly 40% in the first five years after independence.

In agriculture, although there was a minimal land redistribution, support went to small-scale black farmers. Seeds, pesticides, fertilisers and other agricultural inputs were made available - access to credit improved and an extensive education program for small-scale black farmers enabled them to improve their farming methods and to begin to take part in the production of cash crops - cotton, coffee, tobacco that were previously the preserve of whites.

So the government made serious changes. In other words, with all its problems, the decade of the 1980s was nothing like what would happen in the early 2000s. The schizophrenia of the 1980s brought reform (but clearly not revolution). The madness of the 2000s boasts no meaningful reform. There is no optimism at the grassroots level, only the fear that things can always get worse.

Why did this type of reform happen at that time? During its first years of rule, Mugabe and ZANU-PF maintained some connection to their popular base, to the people's demands and needs. Lest we forget, the liberators of Zimbabwe mostly came from a rural background. They were not wealthy people. Their life experiences pre-1980 was not that different from the vast majority of disenfranchised black Zimbabweans. As the 1980s moved on and these new rulers became more accustomed to wielding power and more used to living a certain kind of lifestyle, the distance between them and the ordinary rural citizens and the ordinary people living in the townships grew enormously. But in the early 1980s that relationship was very different. People expected the government to meet their needs. The government even at times conducted campaigns against corruption in its own ranks, the most famous of which was the Sandura Commission in 1988, which investigated corruption by leading government officials around a government-owned car factory. As a result of that commission a number of cabinet ministers resigned. One even committed suicide. So I'm trying to give in this novel a flavor of what the 1980 was like - that it wasn't like the 2000s. That's the first point on where my novel rejects from Harrison's view of history.

The second issue concerns the role of whites in the 1980s. Today's rewritten Zimbabwean history present an image of white farmers as completely innocent victims in the process of land seizure by an evil African tyrant. While I am not at all in support of the way in which the government of Zimbabwe has gone about redistributing land, accounts like Harrison's would have us believe that from the moment of independence in 1980 all whites were fully on board with this notion of reconciliation. And as the myth goes, throughout the ensuing two decades these beleaguered "European" warriors did everything in their power to make a non-racial, democratic Zimbabwe work. There have been some suggestions that white farmers themselves were trying their best to redistribute land and share the land with the black majority.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing.

For those who arrived in Zimbabwe from other countries in the 1980s, one of the most striking facets of Zimbabwean society was how the white population clung to racist ideas and the extent to which they tried to win over white ex-patriates to their to their notions about "primitive natives" and so forth. The local whites maintained separated social clubs; in many cases they opened up separate schools so their children would not have to be in the same classroom with blacks, particularly poor blacks.

A look at the actions of the major force that represented white agricultural wealth and power, the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU), will dispel any fantasy that whites bought into reconciliation. The CFU fought tooth and nail to block land redistribution and to maintain white ownership of the lucrative commercial farming sectors in Zimbabwe, particularly tobacco, the biggest cash crop in Zimbabwe. The CFU often did this by making alliances, often quite corrupt alliances in fact, with the ruling elements in the government. To say that these white farmers were in any way actively trying to deracialise Zimbabwean society be would be a total distortion. Moreover, the government did very little to pressure them to do so.

Reconciliation was powerful during this period. It may not have contained the spiritual motivations of forgiveness that inspired Ben Dabney to come to Zimbabwe, but reconciliation was put into practice in a serious way. The 2% white population maintained a guaranteed 20 of the 100 seats in parliament until 1987. Ian Smith, the last white prime minister of Rhodesia, a man who said the country wouldn't be ruled by a black in "a thousand years", campaigned openly and sat in that parliament. (On one occasion he actually collapsed in the parliament building and the government saved his life.)

During this period, the whites voted on reconciliation with, well, the ballot. In 1985, after half a decade non-racialism, whites elected members of Smith's racist party to 15 of the 20 seats reserved for them. They couldn't have made a clearer statement in rejection of reconciliation.

These unchanging attitudes of whites become important down the road because in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Robert Mugabe and the war veterans began to openly attack the whites of Zimbabwe for their racism and lack of transformation, such comments had a certain resonance within the black population. Everyone certainly didn't support the steps the government took but what Mugabe said was not a far-fetched pack of lies, as it has been portrayed in the Western media.

Why does this matter?

Those are two myths of Zimbabwean history that I've tried to use the story of Ben Dabney to counter. I'm contesting the way in which that history has emerged in the media today because I think it's a history that's informed by some very racist and colonialist notions about African societies and the role of whites in Zimbabwean society in particular. And it's disturbing to such ideas once again gaining credence.

Moreover, re-writing the history of the 1980s obscures the real roots of today's problems - the structural adjustment policies Zimbabwe implemented in the 1990s. The government's Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) of 1991 removed the momentum of reform of the 1980s and put the country on the course where structural adjustment usually leads - the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. By the late 1990s the working class, the war veterans and rural citizens were mounting strikes, demonstrations and land occupations on a scale never seen in Zimbabwe. Mugabe's rule was under threat. He needed a ploy to defend his power. He chose buy off the war veterans and turn them into a paramilitary force. He paid them $50,000 each and a monthly pension of $2000 for life. With this maneuvre Mugabe successfully divided any potential united front of the oppressed classes and bought himself some very competent enforcers, the war veterans. He then could reward those enforcers and his close political allies with land.

Ultimately then, the reason behind the land seizures was not Mugabe wanting poor peasants to have land but the president's need to have some carrots to provide to his sycophants. In hindsight, buying off the war veterans was a brilliant political ploy, perhaps the only step Mugabe could have taken to defeat the groundswell of opposition and keep himself in power.

Of course by now you might be thinking: why does all of this matter? I think it does. If you rewrite that history as a static sort of dictatorship, the vibrancy of the rebellion of the oppressed classes in the 1990s is missing. And the root of that rebellion as a response to the immiseration caused by structural adjustment also disappears.

If I had lived in Zimbabwe in the 1990s, I would have loved to write about that period. But I wasn't there. Since I was writing largely from memory in a prison cell in California, I had to focus on what I knew. But any history that leaves out change, also leavse out struggle and class conflict. That's not the kind of history that teaches us any real lessons, nor is it actually very interesting.

Ben Dabney as protagonist

I've taken a slight detour from my main story line, but that's okay. I've got a little time left to discuss my protagonist, Ben Dabney. His story is that of many outsiders, expatriate researchers if you will, who go to Zimbabwe or other African countries on various missions of "goodwill". When Ben Dabney arrives in Zimbabwe he begins by taking what I would call the path of least resistance for expatriate researchers. He hangs out with foreign academics, goes to their dinner parties, joins in their esoteric academic discussions. He also makes friends with people in high places in government who give him lots of ideas about his research and considerable support. At this point Ben is falling into a ready-made trap for external researchers, following that path of least resistance.

It's easy for an expatriate to stay in the circles of power, whether they be academic, government, corporate or international development organisation circles of power. It's comfortable, especially for a white male, with little need for self-reflection. Ben could have continued on this path and ended up a successful academic, but he didn't. He got sidetracked. He began to delve into the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans and to ask some bigger questions. He didn't allow that narrow circle of power to determine his research path and his lived experience of Zimbabwe. Ben realised that he couldn't make very meaningful observations about Zimbabwe without having some understanding of how ordinary people, especially women, carry out their lives, how they perceive the government, and how they perceive their own history.

So although Ben Dabney arrived with a certain paradigm, a certain focus on Robert Mugabe as hero, he finished with a very different perspective because he was able to interrogate his own assumptions and theories.

This was difficult at times. It left him feeling very alienated, sometimes very foolish but he managed to penetrate the Zimbabwean reality. He went out of the capital city. He went to rural farms. He went to rural schools. He began to have an understanding of what happens outside that circle of power and he developed emotional ties to the people. He went to places where an expatriate white person didn't go and he remained aware of how he was treated there and that his treatment was connected to the history of racism and colonialism in Zimbabwe. He explored all of this over and over and over again. This was not a quick process, not a tourist's guided tour on a luxury bus that takes you past a statue here or to visit a museum. Ben's tour was unguided, long and slow, a journey often complicated by the fact that most of what was going on was taking place in a language or languages he didn't understand.

I offer the Ben Dabney character as a counter to foreign journalists, especially whites, who want to write the complete story of Zimbabwe quickly and simply. It can't be done. History is complicated. Developing an understanding of the culture and politics of another country takes time. And you can't get that understanding by staying in five-star hotels or by not asking difficult questions about your research and about yourself.

Ben asked those difficult questions: How does my research have meaning for the people I'm researching? For whose benefit is the research? Is it for me so I can gain academic fame, is it part of a bigger grand academic project? Is it going to change the lives of the people that I'm researching, is it going to change me and how I live my life when I go back to Wisconsin? These are complicated questions for which there are no easy answers for Ben or for anyone else - but they're questions that Ben Dabney constantly asked himself rather than taking the path of least resistance, rather than staying perched above Zimbabwean society in that circle of power.

Ben Dabney broke out of that circle. He got himself into a whole lot of trouble for doing that, but in the end he was a better researcher for it and he also became a better person. He not only researched Africa but he learned from Africa. He came to understand the importance of ordinary people, particularly women, in the making of history and the importance of ordinary things in his own life. That's where I think good research and a good understanding of history should lead.

I'll stop there and look forward to your questions and comments. Thank you.

[James Kilgore is presently a research scholar at the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. He was a fugitive from US justice for 27 years for political activities related to the Symbionese Liberation Army in the 1970s. He spent two decades of that time in Southern Africa, where he worked as a college director, trade union and social movement educator and researcher under the name John Pape. He was arrested in Cape Town in 2002 and extradited to California, where he spent six and a half years in prison. During his incarceration he wrote the novel, We Are All Zimbabweans Now (Umuzi, Cape Town, 2009).]

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