A human document of Zimbabwe

2008-10-02 08:05

JUDITH Todd is the daughter of Sir Garfield Todd, the one-time Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia who, to use her own blunt phraseology, “had been turfed out of government and parliament by the white electorate for working towards a democracy that would embrace the entire population of four million instead of just the quarter million who were white”. An outspoken critic of Ian Smith's government, she was arrested along with her father in January 1972, and placed in solitary confinement.

After six months in detention - in the course of which she embarked on a hunger strike - she was allowed to leave the country on the understanding that if she ever returned she would immediately be re-arrested.

In 1980, having, in the interim, continued to campaign on behalf of the disenfranchised black majority, she was welcomed back into a newly liberated Zimbabwe and got swept up in the joyous celebrations. In recognition of his contribution towards the armed struggle her father was appointed a senator in Robert Mugabe's government while she went on to establish the Zimbabwe Project, a charity organisation helping with the rehabilitation of returning refugees from the bush war.

It was not long, however, before her initial excitement at being back in the country of her birth and her optimism over its future began to give way to a growing concern over the direction in which Robert Mugabe seemed determined to take Zimbabwe and, in particular, his ruthless intolerance of any form of dissent.

Despite all his rousing talk of reconciliation at the time of independence, Mugabe had, behind the scenes, moved swiftly to neutralise the power base of his former liberation struggle co-leader, Joshua Nkomo. Among other things, this involved the unleashing of his now notorious Fifth Brigade on the province of Matabeleland, the Ndebele heartland.

When reports of the atrocities being committed against the civilian population began to filter through, Todd decided to raise the matter with the relevant military authorities whom she, somewhat naïvely, thought might not know what was going on. For her troubles she was subjected to a singularly unpleasant ordeal at the hands of a brutish brigadier.

Undaunted she would continue to raise her voice against the injustices being perpetrated around her, making use of her famous family name to gain access to political prisoners and to work tirelessly for the release of those (mostly members of Nkomo's Zipra) she felt were being unfairly detained. Feisty, principled and courageous, her opposition towards Mugabe - who she had come to realise was concerned with only what was necessary to keep himself in power - and the country's relentless slide into a bankrupt, one-party despotism had the inevitable result.

In an ironic twist of fate she was stripped of her citizenship and for the second time in her life exiled from the country she loved, her impeccable Chimurenga credentials notwithstanding.

Todd writes about her experiences in a post-independent Zimbabwe in a loose, anecdotal style. Although deeply concerned with the deepening political crisis the book is obviously not intended as an in-depth analysis of precisely what went wrong. What she has done is produce a very human document - sensitive, compassionate and also very disturbing.

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