The Iraq war has totally overshadowed the horrors in Zimbabwe. Day after day, hour after hour, the BBC, CNN, and Sky television tell of the moment by moment developments in Iraq. We [in Zimbabwe] scream of murder, torture, beating, abductions, and gang rape of schoolgirls as young as 12, but no one is listening.
Night after night, Short Wave Radio Africa interviews ordinary men and women in Zimbabwe who tell of horrors so barbaric that they belong in 16th-century history books. —Catherine Buckle, online letter from Zimbabwe, Saturday, April 5
I am still the Hitler of the time. This Hitler has only one objective, justice for his own people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people, and their right to their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be a Hitler tenfold. Ten times Hitler, that is what we stand for. —Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, March 21
On September 12 last year, at City Hall, members of the New York City Council welcomed one of the most ceaselessly brutal dictators on the grim surface of the earth—Robert Mugabe, the liberator of Zimbabwe, who has become its ghoul. He had been invited by Councilmember Charles Barron of Brooklyn. Mugabe, basking in the respectful attention, did not actually have blood on his hands. He has thugs to do that work, as has been documented by human rights organizations around the world (“Land of Fear, Rape, and Hunger,” October 4, 2002; “Hell Is a Real Place,” October 11, 2002).
There was no member of the City Council with the minimal courage to confront Mugabe or Charles Barron with the thanatology of Mugabe’s reign. Sure, Mugabe was entitled to freedom of speech, but so were members of the City Council. Were they more afraid of Charles Barron than of Mugabe?
Later, when I heard that the vivid Mr. Barron was heading a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe, I called and asked him to send me the report when he returned. He cordially said he would. When he came back, I called again, to no avail. I have a copy from the International Freedom to Publish Committee of the Association of American Publishers.
In a letter to Barron, that committee wrote, “We are disturbed that the report in general seems to echo the Zimbabwe government’s official position on the various matters discussed.”
The International Freedom to Publish Committee was unduly kind in saying “seems.”
From the conclusions of the Barron report (also signed by New York City councilmember James Davis, New York State assembly member Adam Clayton Powell IV, and Illinois state senator Donne Trotter):
“We found the media accounts [of Mugabe’s record] to be exaggerated in many respects when dealing with the modalities of the land reform program, freedom of the press, and human rights conditions.”
However, Mr. Barron, this is the country, as reported in The New York Times of December 26, 2002, where “several white farmers and dozens of black farm workers have been killed by government-backed militants, while thousands of other black farm workers have been evicted and left homeless [by those Mugabe-supported militants].”
In its 2002 report, Amnesty International noted—though this was omitted by Mr. Barron and his colleagues—”forced evictions, arbitrary arrests, beatings, torture, and political killings amounting to a pattern of deliberate, state-sponsored repression of opposition to the government or its policies. . . . Journalists and lawyers were arbitrarily detained, beaten, tortured, and threatened for reporting on political or human rights issues or representing the victims of human rights violations.”
The Charles Barron report concluded that “Zimbabwe remains one of the most stable countries in Africa.”
From an April 5, 2003, article in The Economist: “In the past two weeks, hundreds of [the leading opposition party] MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) supporters have been picked up and tortured . . . by special army units, the police, or by Mr. Mugabe’s youth militia. Harare’s casualty wards groan with the victims, some with broken bones, others with burns.”
For more about Mugabe’s murderous youth militia, see “Mugabe’s Recruits Flee Brutal Zimbabwean Past” (The New York Times, April 15). That report is about Mugabe’s “green bombers,” members of the National Youth Service, characterized by human rights groups, the Times adds, as “violent thugs” unleashed by Mugabe and his official accomplices “on political opponents.”
Said one green bomber: “For me it got too bad. There was too much beating—old people, young people, our own aunts and uncles. I had to run away.”
The Times story added, “At the University of Witwatersrand [in South Africa] last week, researchers held the premiere of a documentary called In a Dark Time, about sexual attacks by the green bombers against women and girls linked to government opposition groups.”
In an April 1 New York Times story about what Charles Barron and his “fact-finding” companions call “one of the most stable countries in Africa,” Ginger Thompson told of what happened after a two-day strike by the Movement for Democratic Change demanding the disbanding of government militias:
“Mr. Mugabe responded to the strike with a violent crackdown against the opposition. . . . Human rights advocates and foreign diplomats have reported hundreds of people tortured by state security forces, and they said an estimated 1,000 people had fled their homes in fear.”
In a future column: Excerpts from the weekly online letters from a white woman in Zimbabwe, Catherine Buckle, and from her book, African Tears. The introduction to her book is by a black independent journalist much harassed by Mugabe’s goons—Trevor Ncube, publisher of the Zimbabwe Independent and the Standard.
In his introduction to African Tears, Ncube has severe criticisms of those of the white landowners in Zimbabwe who, for 20 years, profited from their “century-old access to land” and “were prepared to do nothing that would radically alter their access to this critical means of production.” There should have been, he writes, “a just and properly planned land reform program.”
But, Ncube emphasizes, the horrors Mugabe has inflicted on blacks and whites “was not about land at all but about one man’s [Mugabe’s] fear of losing political power. . . . And about one man’s racial bigotry [and] desperation to leave behind a legacy at whatever cost.”
When Charles Barron next celebrates Robert Mugabe at City Hall, I wish he would invite me to ask some questions.