Tag Archives: zimbabwe

Mugabe’s cronies: the new colonialists

According to an investigation conducted by ZimOnline, 40% of commercial farmland seized as part of Robert Mugabe’s so-called “land reform” programme is in the possession of the Zanu PF elite — a group of approximately 2200 people.

This is a powerful indictment on the land grabs that have ruined Zimbabwe. It shows that expropriation had little to do with tackling the inequities created by Zimbabwe’s colonial past, and everything to do with buttressing Zanu PF rule and stealing resources for the benefit of a few.

The amassing of land, diamonds and other resources by this corrupt and greedy ruling cabal represents a new, horrifying colonialism in Zimbabwe: a system of oppression which denies ordinary Zimbabweans basic political and economic freedoms, and condemns the poorest of the poor to the enslavement of poverty and persecution.

Read more about the investigation’s findings at the M&G.

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Impressions of Africa: history and identity revealed

“Impressions of Africa: Money, metals and stamps”, an exhibition at the British Museum till February next year, offers a fascinating prism through which continent’s history, ideologies and politics can be viewed.

What we can easily dismiss as simply day-to-day necessities are revealed to be vital weapons to cement identity, impose ideology, advance propaganda and forge reconciliation.

When Katanga province seceded from a newly independent Congo in 1961, the fledgling nation used the symbol of copper handa crosses, a pre-colonial currency, to differentiate itself and convey a separate identity. The crosses were used both in coins and stamps. A bank note, only half-designed, is on display with the Katanga’s handa-bearing flag. The brutal civil war that ultimately reincorporated the renegade province had ended before the note could be finished, let alone put into circulation.

Another breakaway, the oil-rich Biafra, which seceded from Nigeria in 1967, used postage stamps in its propaganda war against the Nigerian federal government, which brutally deprived the region of food and other vital resources during the conflict. During the province’s short-lived secession, grim illustrations of starving children and injured men were depicted on stamps sent around the world with the aim of drawing attention to the abuses perpetuated by Nigerian army forces, and stimulate international support

In its pursuit of an empire, France used its currency in Africa to psychologically reinforce its dominance over its territories. Many notes in French west Africa featured the French archetype, Marianne, gazing benevolently, if sternly, on a “helpless” African mother and child. Ironic for a nation which was supposedly built on the foundation of “liberty, equality, fraternity”.

Ghana was the first colonised African country to attain independence (in 1957). It was led initially by the intellectual Kwame Nkrumah who steadily devolved into a power-hungry despot. Nkrumah’s pillaging of state coffers and disastrous economic policies brought the once thriving country to the brink of bankruptcy within ten years.

The first coins and notes after independence both feature the new leader. This was, he said, so that people “know they’re independent” and that ordinary Ghanaians, when they saw his visage, would “see an African just like them”.

You can see his point. What does wonder, though, is role this played in fuelling Nkrumah’s megalomania and personality cult. When your face is on every coin, it’s hard not to think of yourself as elevated to immortality.

I never knew that Ethiopia’s currency in the first half of the twentieth century was the Austrian Maria Theresa Thaler. Apparently those dating back to 1780 were particularly prized. During the Italian occupation of the east African country (between 1936 and 1941), attempts to impose the lire on Ethiopians was largely unsuccessful – the Thaler continued to be used as an act of defiance.

Zimbabwe’s currency, of course, offers a devastating comment on the country’s history: the displayed Z$ 100 trillion note offers a powerful indictment of Mugabe’s ruinous reign. But perhaps the death of the Zimbabwean dollar is the most powerful indictment of all: the disappearance of the sovereign currency, replaced by South African rands, US dollars and Botswana pula, is one sign of how Zanu PF has devastated the Zimbabwean economy and brought suffering to millions of people.

For decades, money in South Africa baldly symbolised minority domination, through the use of only two languages – English and Afrikaans – and iconography only from so-called “white” historical narratives. Thankfully, joyously, this is a thing of the past. Now, South African money is a tool for reconciliation: visible in our new coat of arms, and in the use of all eleven official languages. A two rand coin issued in 2004 commemorated ten years of freedom, with a long line of figures (reminiscent of images of long, curving lines of patient voters at the first democratic elections in 1994) following the South African flag, itself a powerful symbol of unity.

Impressions of Africa is free at the British Museum until 6 February 2011. Next week: Afrodissident visits the British Museum’s South Africa Landscape.

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Malema kicks out “bastard” BBC journo with a “white tendency”

The BBC’s Jonah Fisher was booted out of an ANC Youth League press conference by the movement’s president, Julius Malema. Reporting back from his trip to Zimbabwe, Malema criticised the Zimbabwean opposition MDC for making statements from its “air-conditioned” Sandton offices in Johannesburg.

From further back in the room, Fisher pointed out that Malema also lived in Sandton. And so, a torrent of abuse was unleashed in which Malema called security, labelled the journalist a “bastard” and “bloody agent” and accused him of displaying a “white tendency”.

Watch Malema’s mesmerising performance, filmed by the Sowetan, here.

Read Sapa’s report on the incident on Politicsweb.

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Is Tsvangirai an anti-gay bigot like Mugabe?

The BBC recently reported that Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s prime minister and head of the opposition MDC, had declared support for Robert Mugabe’s refusal to protect gay rights in Zimbabwe’s new constitution. If his comments are accurate, they represent yet another step backwards in the long walk towards tolerance and respect for human rights in Zimbabwe.

According to The Zambia Post, Tsvangirai said, “The President has spoken about gay rights, about some men who want to breathe into other men’s ears. I don’t agree with that. Why would you look for men when our women make up 52% of our population? Men are much fewer than women.” The two leaders were sharing the platform at an International Women’s Day celebration. Mugabe had declared that protecting gay rights in the constitution “is not debatable, it’s not up for discussion”.

As in many African countries, homosexual activity is still illegal in Zimbabwe and gay and lesbian Zimbabweans have faced decades of repression, persecution, blackmail and assault. Mugabe has had a long history of homophobia, describing gays as “worse than pigs and dogs” in 1995. His recent pronouncements on the constitution, while inexcusable, are therefore unsurprising.

Tsvangirai’s endorsement of Mugabe’s view, however, is bitterly disappointing. He is, after all, the leader of an organisation supposedly fighting for constitutional democracy and a respect for human rights.  Showing contempt for sexual minorities and the suffering they face in Zimbabwe on a daily basis, his comments undermine the credibility of his stated commitment to human rights, and reinforce an already bleak climate of discrimination and intolerance.

Tsvagirai’s remarks also contradict his very own party’s stance on sexual orientation rights. According to the Post:

Under the Bill of Rights section, the MDC position paper states that: “In addition, the right to freedom from discrimination, given our history of discrimination and intolerance, must be broad to include the protection of personal preferences, that is gays and lesbians should be protected by the constitution.”

I’m curious about the man’s motives. Did he think a spot of gay-bashing was an easy way to reach common ground with his [not so] erstwhile foe? Or does he really believe that gays are fair game, and that depriving them of their rights is the best way to ensure they conform to prevailing cultural “norms”. Perhaps he believes by letting persecution flourish – a good beating, the occasional raid, and some punitive fines – they will be “cured” of what he apparently sees as an “abnormality”.

One would have expected more empathy from a man in charge of a movement whose members face ongoing harassment – including arbitrary torture, kidnappings and arrests.

Tsvangirai has let the Zimbabwean people, and not merely its gays and lesbians, down. This is because, a country cannot be truly free unless the rights of all those who live in it are respected and protected. The first step towards that, albeit by no means the only one, is to have those rights enshrined in a constitution. He should be ashamed.

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Zuma – Mugabe’s messenger

According to the Financial Times, President Zuma will ask the UK to drop its targeted sanctions against key figures in Robert Mugabe’s kleptocracy. EU and US sanctions have been a serious inconvenience to the opulent, tax-funded lifestyles of the Zanu PF — it’s little wonder why it’s screaming for them to be dropped.

Zuma apparently argues that the sanctions are standing as an impediment to the implementation of the Global Provisional Agreement, the plan which sets out the coalition deal signed between Zimbabwean parties last year. I personally believe Zanu PF would obstruct implementation of the agreement regardless of whether sanctions were in place or not — and that the moaning about sanctions is merely an excuse for Zanu PF’s contempt for the GPA’s obligations — which require a respect for human rights and a relinquishing of illicit power.

The cynic in me says Zuma’s merely doing this as a favour for a “friend”. Sadly, it would seem that the bonds between the ANC and Zanu PF — ironically both considered “liberation movements” in their day — seem to strong. It is this relationship that has rendered South Africa’s approach to Zimbabwe pathetically reprehensible and completely ineffective.

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Helping Cape Town’s refugees

Adonis Musati Project was established in 2007 commemoration of a Zimbabwean refugee who died of starvation on the doorstep of the government office in Cape Town where he was trying to apply for asylum.

The project provides vital humanitarian support to refugees in Cape Town, including the provision of food and clothing, and even accommodation. On Wednesday it celebrated its official launch as a registered non-profit organisation as well as the premiere of a film about it.

Watch it here:

Part 2 is below:

For more info visit the project’s website.

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Zimbabwe heading towards a Rwandan genocide

Once upon a time there was an African country that after several years of instability seemed to be moving shakily towards reform and democracy. Its ageing despotic president had signed a power-sharing deal with the opposition that created a unity government that would precipitate a new constitution and elections.

Sounds rather like Zimbabwe, doesn’t it? But I was actually describing Rwanda in early 1994 – only months before a genocide that would claim almost a million lives. While the Arusha Accords were being haphazardly implemented (but more often than not being ignored), fanatics in the countryside were setting up militia training bases. Arms and military advisers were being flown in to train and equip these ragtag groupings. President Habyarimana’s assassination in April 1994 was the catalyst for a hundred days of massacres, rape and torture.

Zimbabwe is in an eerily similar situation to the one that Rwanda was experiencing before its genocide.  After a decade of brutality and economic devastation, it is tempting to hope that Zanu PF’s “partnership” with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) shows that Zimbabwe is irreversibly on the road to recovery.

Sadly, however, what we see in Zimbabwe is nothing but a false dawn: a Potemkin peace designed to lure us into the same indifferent complacency with which the world viewed Rwanda in 1994.

The violent repression that has characterised Zanu PF’s rule continues, flouting the provisions of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), the power-sharing agreement signed with the opposition in September. Zanu PF considers the unity deal after its defeat at the March 29 polls last year as a mere speed bump in its path of continued authoritarian rule – a speed bump which creates the illusion that it is prepared to accept reform and genuine democracy.

Don’t be fooled. Activists, lawyers and MDC supporters continue to be unlawfully harassed and detained. Senior opposition leaders face death threats. Opposition members of parliament are being targeted with ridiculous criminal charges by a brazenly partisan police and judiciary. Five have already been convicted (MPs have to resign if they serve a jail-term longer than six months).

The Zanu PF militias that unleashed a wave of brutality on suspected MDC supporters as punishment for the 2008 election result, have been accused by teachers of setting up “terror bases” at schools.

Even more frightening (and chillingly reminiscent of the prelude to Rwanda’s genocide when French weapons were despatched en-masse to Kigali) is the build-up of weapons in Zimbabwe.

Last month the International Peace Information Service (IPIS) revealed that in April 2008, Chinese arms (including several million rounds of ammunition as well as RPC7 rockets and mortars) destined for Zimbabwe reached to Luanda, Angola. It has been confirmed that the arms have subsequently reached Harare. Later, in August, an additional 53 tons of ammunition were flown to Harare from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in August 2008.

There’s more. David Maynier, the Democratic Alliance’s defence spokesperson, has revealed that South Africa is seeking authorisation from its National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) to export ammunition to its neighbour. Maynier has been subsequently vilified by the ANC ruling party which seems more obsessed by how the opposition MP found out about the application than about what the arms will be used for should they be authorised for export.

President Mugabe has unleashed his military on innocent civilians before – in 1982 he used North Korean-trained troops to torture and massacre thousands in Matabeleland for their alleged support for Zapu, a rival anti-colonialist movement that he eventually forced to merge with his own party.

His army’s abysmal rights record continues, with Human Rights Watch recently exposing the army’s invasion of the Marange diamond fields in November 2008 where it has subsequently subjected locals to forced labour, torture and murder.

Two South African MPs, Wilmot James and Kenneth Mubu, who returned earlier this month from Zimbabwe on a fact-finding mission reported, “There are reports from credible sources of increasing paramilitary activity in the countryside…”

They explained, “Under his [Mugabe’s] personal control he has a paramilitary machine consisting of soldiers, thugs, the so-called war veterans and ZANU political commissars. There are the hit squads. The police also collaborate…” They also have reason to believe that in addition to the arms exports uncovered by IPIS, “Mugabe is talking to Venezuela, Cuba and Korea to fund a war-chest in preparation for the referendum and election following on the implementation of the GPA.”

While Rwanda’s genocide was powered by ethnic hatred, this was merely a pretext: the tragedy was deliberately orchestrated by a shadowy ruling clique which knew its power was in jeopardy, and which refused to sacrifice it at all cost.  So while ethnic tensions in Zimbabwe are no where near the levels of those in Rwanda in 1994, a similar intensity of hatred exists, as does the same desperate willingness for its rulers to do whatever it takes to remain in power.

The arms flooding in and the paramilitary training in the countryside are deliberate preparations for war – a war to be inflicted by homegrown postcolonial imperialists on an innocent and undeserving citizenry so that Zanu PF’s rapacious supremacy can continue.

We cannot ignore the warning signs. We know what happened in Rwanda in 1994. The world looked away while almost a million people were slaughtered. Will we let this happen in Zimbabwe?

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