U.S. Black Leaders Confront Mugabe


Police in Harare [forced] about 50 people, some of them women, to lie on the street while they beat them with batons and whips. . . . Police stopped thousands of University of Zimbabwe students from marching into the city. They then stormed the campus, forced some students to lie on the grass and pavements, and beat them with whips. —Zimbabwe’s The Independent newspaper, June 3, reporting on a week of protests to oust President Mugabe

Having written of the silence of most American black leaders about the oppression of Zimbabwe’s black citizens by President Robert Mugabe, I can now report on a powerful, insistent message sent to that dictator on June 3 by one of this country’s leading labor union figures, William Lucy, international secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (the other influential signers are named below):

“We have strong historical ties to the liberation movements in Zimbabwe, which included material and political support, as well as opposition to U.S. government policies that supported minority [white] rule. . . .

“At the same time our progressive ties have grown with institutions of civil society, especially the labor movement, women’s organizations, faith communities, human rights organizations, students, the independent media, and progressive intellectuals. . . . We stand in solidarity with those feeling the pain and suffering caused by the abuse of their rights [and] the increasingly intolerant, repressive, and violent policies of your government over the past three years, [and] the devastating consequences of those policies.” (Emphasis added.)

Among many recent illustrations of those violent abuses, there is the report in the June 7 Economist of demonstrators lying on the pavement “with policemen’s feet on their heads. . . . Police even burst into a private hospital to drag out injured protesters. According to the Movement for Democratic Change [the opposition party], one of its activists, Tichaona Kaguru, died after being tortured by the security forces.”

The letter from American black leaders to the brutal source of this devastation speaks of the famine in Zimbabwe “triggered by the recent southern African drought and exacerbated by the economic policies and food distribution practices of your government. . . . Land redistribution in Zimbabwe [should] be used to fight the poverty of the majority and not to promote the narrow interests of another minority”—the cronies and other supporters of Mugabe who have taken over the farms and badly mismanaged them.

Moreover, the new Amnesty International Report 2003 points to “widespread reports . . . [of] the deliberate denial of food aid by [Mugabe’s] ZANU-PF officials to Movement for Democratic Change members and supporters. Youth militia stationed outside long queues to buy grain reportedly targeted MDC supporters for assaults and intimidation to prevent them from getting food.”

The letter to Mugabe by William Lucy and his fellow signers tells Mugabe: “We have communicated clearly [to Mugabe’s representative in Washington] that we view the political repression underway in Zimbabwe as intolerable and in complete contradiction of the values and principles that were both the foundation of your liberation struggle and of our solidarity with that struggle.” (Emphasis added.)

In addition to being secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, William Lucy is president of an international body, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. The other signers of this urgent letter to Mugabe—which I doubt will get much, if any, coverage in the mainstream American media—include:

Willie Baker, executive vice president, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; Salih Booker, executive director, Africa Action; Bill Fletcher Jr., president, TransAfrica Forum; Horace G. Dawson Jr., director, Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center, Howard University; Patricia Ann Ford, executive vice president, Service Employees International Union (SEIU); Julianne Malveaux, TransAfrica Forum board member; Reverend Justus Y. Reeves, executive director, Missions Ministry, Progressive National Baptists Convention; the Coordinating Committee of the Black Radical Congress.

In their letter, they ask Mugabe to “initiate an unconditional dialogue with the political opposition in Zimbabwe and representatives of civil society. . . . We call upon you to seek the diplomatic intervention of appropriately concerned African states and institutions, particularly South Africa and Nigeria . . . and the African Union.”

The problem with that approach—as the new Amnesty International report points out—is that “efforts to promote Zimbabwe as a potential test case for the efficacy of the newly launched African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development failed, following reluctance by most African leaders to condemn the Zimbabwean government’s human rights record. The UN Commission on Human Rights passed a ‘no-action’ motion on a resolution criticizing Zimbabwe.”

Zimbabwe, believe it or not, is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Commission! And have you heard anything lately from Nobel laureate Kofi Annan about state terrorism in Zimbabwe?

What hope is there for the black citizens of Zimbabwe? In the June 3 issue of The Independent, a spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Paul Themba Nyathi, told the newspaper—as resistance to Mugabe rises at grave peril to the resisters—”We are humbled by the strength and resilience of our people in the face of this naked brutality.”

And an editorial in another Zimbabwean independent newspaper, The Daily News, roared, “Freedom is coming tomorrow.” These are brave people, but what is to become of them?

At the end of his widely lauded book, Our Votes, Our Guns: Robert Mugabe and the Tragedy of Zimbabwe (Public Affairs), Martin Meredith writes that Mugabe’s “sole purpose has become to hold on to power. Whatever the cost, his regime was dedicated towards that end. Violence had paid off in the past; he expected it to secure the future.”

The future will become much bloodier. As The Economist (June 7) foresees, “Larger [demonstrations] may follow. As people get hungrier, they may feel that they have nothing to lose by confronting the regime.”

Will any of the corpses be shown on American television?