Having spent the first ten years of my life in Zimbabwe, and still feeling a somewhat deep sense of loyalty to the country of my birth, my ears prick up when the news turns to our troubled closest neighbor. Understanding the broader issues around what has gone down in Zimbabwe during the past 25 years is crucial and helpful in trying to get into the previously brilliant mind of the current dictator. That Britain has played a controlling hand regarding land issues, patronizing the first democratic government and isolating President Robert Mugabe in the process, cannot be ignored. That there was no significant process of truth and reconciliation, as happened in South Africa, to draw a line in the political sand; that nothing significant in the way of restitution on a national level took place – these issues cannot be seen in isolation to the current mess. That being said, what is happening just north of our borders is unjustifiable on any grounds and affecting the lives of thousands of Zimbabweans in unimaginable ways.
Even more puzzling than the spiral of a beautiful and successful nation into its current demise in a relatively short space of time, is South African leadership’s well-publicized “quiet diplomacy” in the face of despotic behavior that smacks of our condemned previous regime. Having given up trying to get into Mugabe’s mind a while back, I try to get into my own president’s mind. But there comes no further understanding yet. For Thabo Mbeki, and other African leaders, to not only stand back and allow the blatant abuse of human rights, but openly welcome Mugabe into the proverbial fold, is more than mind-boggling to citizens of a nation that prides itself on its high regard for human rights and recent struggle for freedom.
The journalist who shot footage of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai leaving official government hands after severe beatings, was murdered in Harare recently – one of the first glaring signs of a crumbled democracy. Unheard-of inflation rates, increasing poverty and a dictatorship that has some blindly bowing and cheering whilst others are beaten and arrested – on the surface level alone, Mugabe’s regime is slowly sucking the lifeblood out of the once priceless country. The South African Council of Churches has come out in grave opposition to the state of Zimbabwe and her current wave of human rights abuses. The Zimbabwean church holds on during this time of persecution – many seeing it as just that – persecution. And the South African government, for whatever reason, insists that the current foreign policy is the best way forward. In the meantime, people are intimidated, beaten, murdered, and forced to flee their homes because of an old man who clings to power, pulls the race card, and is mildly affirmed for it by his African peers.
Probably one of the saddest twists to this tale is the fodder that this is giving to doomsayers and colonials, one of whom told me to “wash my hand” after I had excitedly shaken Mugabe’s when I was ten years old. As my heart sinks when I hear of another level of downward spiraling in our beloved Zimbabwe, I am reminded to pray for the peace of that nation, for her children, for her churches and for her government.
Linda Martindale is a journalist in Cape Town, South Africa. She is the author of Celebrate Hope (City Mission Press, 2002).