No Easy Victories
By Joseph Jordan,
20 May, 2007
27 August 1980, I was a graduate student in African Studies at Howard
University. That particular moment was quite different and much more
significant than any other I'd experienced during my studies. I waited
impatiently, along with many others who had also pushed and clamored
for space in the auditorium. Finally, the source of our excitement took
the stage. Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, leader of the Zimbabwe African
National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the newly independent nation
of Zimbabwe arrived and received a standing ovation as he approached
the dais. But he drew the most enthusiastic response when he noted that
Black Americans had supported and worked for the freedom of Zimbabwe.
He followed that pronouncement with words I have never forgotten: "Come
In one movement all in attendance
jumped to their feet and the shouts and cheers were deafening. Mugabe
was at home with his extended family and, in our eyes, he was a hero.
Now, almost 27 years later,
Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party still rule Zimbabwe, but much of the gloss
of the revolutionary struggle has long been dulled by the difficult
work of nation-building and by troubling news of increasing government
repression and intolerance of dissent. Out of Zimbabwe's struggle a
new nation and national identity has been established, ostensibly on
the rule of law and on the idea of the inviolability of the human rights
of its people. Today, however, even the most stalwart supporter of Zimbabwe's
government should be compelled to speak out given the latest evidence
and reports of unprovoked violence on the part of its police and the
"In our eyes back in
1980, Mugabe was a hero."
Mugabe's and ZANU-PF ‘s
rule and leadership recalls the old question of succession in the African
state and the tendency, in some cases, for rulers to cling to power
long after their leadership has been shown to be ineffective. Disturbing
and credible reports continue to pour in from human rights agencies
that have monitored the day to day situation in Zimbabwe. Those reports
highlight random beatings and intimidation of persons who are members
of, or suspected members of, the opposition.
Many have been reluctant
to criticize Mugabe and argue that old enemies in the country and western
nations long dissatisfied with the path Zimbabwe has taken are the source
of most of the criticism. Yet the evidence is mounting and has, for
at least the last year, been clear and unequivocal.
Most will certainly point
to conclusions of the special emergency summit by the Southern African
Development Community (SADC), a 14-nation regional alliance of which
Zimbabwe is a member, reached in March in Tanzania. The communiqué
from the summit rebuffed the most radical calls for Mugabe's ouster
and directed President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa to continue to mediate
between Mugabe and opposition forces.
Yet, Philip Alston, a United
Nations Special Rapporteur joined the growing list of human rights officials
to call Mugabe to task. He called on Zimbabwe's government to immediately
halt the use of lethal forces on members of opposition forces. Alston
identifies several specific cases: "the killing of Gift Tandare,
and the shooting of Nickson Magondo and Naison Mashambanhaka at point
blank range." He states, "Mugabe owes the Zimbabwean people
a speedy and impartial inquiry into these and other instances of violence
and intimidation." Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and a recent victim of in a police
beating, has announced his support for Mbeki's mediation and has indicated
willingness to trust his leadership.
"The Zimbabwe Congress
of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has begun to organize mass stay-aways of workers
to bring more pressure on the government."
Another test for Mugabe and
ZANU-PF looms ahead as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU)
has begun to organize mass stay-aways of workers to bring more pressure
on the government to address wage and other issues. These actions are
likely to further test the already strained relations between the government
and civil society.
What is the appropriate response
of the solidarity community? What responsibility do we have, and to
what historical processes do we tie our response? First, we must be
sure that our response should be a measured one that acknowledges the
difficulty of the transition to stability after centuries of colonial
rule. Second, we must recognize that we have a greater responsibility
to honor our covenant with the people of Zimbabwe.
It is these articles of faith
that require us to speak out directly against the violations of human
rights that have marked the rule of President Robert Mugabe over the
past few years.
Perhaps it was our fault
that we did not maintain the intensity of contact first established
during those long years of the armed struggle. Maybe we could have been
more materially involved. It would be easy to dismiss our critique as
misguided at best, and complicit with western (i.e., US, Great Britain)
powers that have long shown disdain for Mugabe's rule. Neither of these
is as important as the protection of the rights of Zimbabwe's people.
It would be both unethical
and disastrous to remain silent. As responsible and committed activists
we must press ZANU-PF and President Robert Mugabe to restore the full
protection of all agencies of government to all of Zimbabwe's people
without qualification. If we remain silent we break the covenant we
entered 27 years ago in a small auditorium in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Joseph Jordan
is Senior Policy Advisor, TransAfrica
Forum and Director of the Sonja
Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.To contact Dr. Jordan, email
Joia Jefferson Nuri at firstname.lastname@example.orgThis
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