“Letter from Harare – May 8, 2008”
The following letter was sent out May 8, 2008 from an NGO worker living in Zimbabwe, who offers an eyewitness account from the capital city of Harare as news of political violence began to be heard from individuals, news sources, and rumor. The letter captures well the anger ex-patriates often feel as they hear from their Zimbabwean colleagues of political killings and torture and realize how implicated so many of the “big chefs” are in this violence, how the police and military along with their paramilitary “green bombers” and “war veterans” operate with impunity. Such a realization is jarring and disturbing, scary and depressing. Zimbabweans have no need to be told of this, but those of us outside the country may want to consider the costs such a state and society exact from its people. Zimbabweans have learned to cope with a now-familiar cycle of periods of calm followed by a brutal reaction from a state controlled by forces who know they have everything to lose should they be forced to concede power. — TS.
“Letter from Harare – 8 May 2008”
Since the elections on 29 March, I have been trying, without success, to find suitable words with which to convey to those outside the country the experience of being here in this dreadful moment.
Some of my inability to construct a lucid account is surely attributable to the ever-changing rush of events that seems to shift the terrain of what is happening – or what I think may be happening, or what is reported to be happening, or what an army of experts believe to be happening, or what is rumoured to be happening – from hour to hour. The election results will be released tomorrow, or next week or not at all. The Chinese arms ship will dock in Durban, in Beira, in Luanda, or return to China and the weapons will be trucked, or flown to Harare or not. Sixty white-owned farms have just been seized, or 160 farms, or no farm invasion shave occurred. Morgan has won two-thirds of the vote, or a bare majority of the vote or a mere plurality of ballots. Bogus ballot boxes stuffed with phony ZANU-PF votes are seen delivered to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to steal the election, the ZEC has been seized by security forces, the police are arresting ZEC personnel. Mugabe and wife have flown to Malaysia or are happily relaxing in their Harare mansion. Mbeki has secretly arranged for Mugabe to step down, or share power or maintain control. There was almost a military coup, or there will be a coup or there has already been a coup and we are under military rule but don’t know it. There will or won’t be a run-off. It will happen in thee weeks, in three months, in a year, not at all. We will be saved by Jacob Zuma, by SADC, by the African Union, by the EU, by no one. On and on and on it goes, baffling, impossible, and we are left dazed, disheartened, flabbergasted.
The Government propaganda machine is in overdrive. “Farmers Attack War Veterans” was Tuesday’s headline. The story told the tale of a white farmer attacking with pepper spray, a band of war vets who happened to “visit” his farm and of three white farmers driving a truck with an improper licence plate. Such lawlessness by whites won’t be tolerated a police official is quoted. The ZBC radio news tells us that MDC thugs are attacking innocent villagers, that MDC leaders are trying forgo the proper legal process and to delay the run-off, that MDC agents have been aiding the return of deposed white farmers to retake the land and restore the old colonial master. I must confess that I find a certain morbid fascination in these ludicrous accounts, brazenly inverting reality, openly reversing victim and perpetrator, mobilizing the rhetoric of sovereignty, rule-of-law, racial-solidarity and patriotism to justify brutal oppression.
Make no mistake: at its core, the story of post-election Zimbabwe is all about violence. Overwhelming, intimidating, sadistic violence unleashed upon the rural black population; anyone – children and the elderly, women and men – perceived to have voted for the MDC, or to be a relative, friend or acquaintance of someone who may have voted for the MDC or to reside in an area that supported MDC. From our Harare island of relative calm and safety, we sit by, helplessly, as their stories trickle and then flood in from the countryside.
Here are some of the accounts that I have heard directly from local sources in the past few days:
• On Sunday evening, one of our local staff described his just-completed visit to his family in the rural Eastern Highlands. When he arrived the village Headman was in hiding, threatened by a roving gang of ZANU-PF youth led by the so-called war veterans. Many young people, he said, had been dragged from their homes, beaten and forced to chant ZANU-PF slogans. They were then told that they were now recruited into the ruling party and were forced to become part of the youth patrol terrorizing the district each night. If they refused they were beaten. The bus on which he traveled back to Harare on Sunday was stopped several times at impromptu ZANU-PF roadblocks. Youth and War Vets clambered on board beating those suspected of supporting the opposition and demanding that everyone chant ZANU-PF slogans and sing “patriotic songs.” Those who resisted were dragged out and beaten, as the police calmly watched from the sidelines.
• On Tuesday a colleague at work came into my office to show me a text message she had just received on her cell-phone. It announced that Monday night the younger brother of her recently diseased fiancé, suspected of being an MDC supporter, had been beaten to death by a group of naked ZANU-PF militants. Naked! Apparently, many others in the village had been beaten and terrorized.
• A friends’ daughter who broke her arm in a playground accident on Monday afternoon was scheduled to have a pin inserted and the bone set on early Tuesday. The parents told us that the operation had to be repeatedly delayed, as the medical staff rushed to attend to numerous seriously-injured victims of ZANU-PF violence who continuously streamed into the private clinic.
• Yesterday an NGO colleague reported seeing thousands of people on the Mazoe road – just north of Harare – carrying what possessions they could and apparently fleeing towards the city. Today VOA reported that eleven people had been murdered and at least twenty more seriously injured in Mazoe North, all victims of ruling-party assault.
• Here is a widely-published account from about two weeks ago, confirmed by several sources. While not directly reported to me, I have found particularly disheartening, as I have a professional link to the key perpetrator, David Parirenyatwa, M.D., the national Minister of Health and Child Welfare and a ZANU-PF Member of Parliament. Together with two other ruling-party politicians, the good doctor, brandishing an AK-47, is said to have invaded a peaceful MDC meeting, threatening and intimidating those in attendance and demanding that they attend a ZANU-PF rally instead. “There is no place in this district where MDC supports will be safe”, he reportedly told the crowd. This from the senior most Government official charged with safeguarding the public health and the well-being of Zimbabwe’s children.
Since my arrival in Zimbabwe fourteen months ago, numerous people here have referred to the apocryphal tale of the frog blissfully swimming in a pot of water as the temperature gradually increases to the boiling point, as perhaps a fit analogy descriptive of our own adaptability to an ever-worsening scene, an ever more menacing and manifest evil. We are well and still quite safe, but we can definitely detect the heat of the water.
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