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Zimbabwe: Once Again,
No Easy Victories

By Joseph Jordan, PhD

20 May, 2007
Black Agenda Report

On 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 home, therefore".

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 military.

"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 jnuri@transafricaforum.orgThis email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it .

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