Voices of Zimbabwe

2011-09-21 00:00

AT the time of Zimbabwe’s independence in March 1980, the country’s newly elected leader, President ­Robert Mugabe, surprised many by adapting an unexpectedly conciliatory approach, presenting himself as a model of fairness, and calling for ­stability, moderation and national unity.

It did not take long, however, for cracks to start appearing in the façade, or for Mugabe to reveal his true intentions — the establishment of a one-party system. Determined to consolidate his grip on power and perpetuate Zanu-PF rule, he used all the resources of government to attack his opponents, while ruling through a vast system of patronage.

It was to prove a highly costly strategy as the economy, corroded by corruption and mismanagement, went into free fall.

As the country plunged deeper into crisis, and with opposition to ­Mugabe’s authoritarian rule beginning to mount, the government increasingly resorted to the coercive tactics developed during the liberation struggle. Harassment, torture, rape, intimidation and murder ­became the order of the day.

Desperate to escape the violence and lawlessness, millions fled the country, many seeking refuge in neighbouring South Africa. It has been estimated that up to a third of the population has left Zimbabwe.

Don’t Listen to What I’m About to Say is the latest publication from Voice of Witness, a book series that seeks to illuminate human-rights ­issues around the world by recording the stories of those who have suffered persecution because of their political or religious views.

In their attempt to get to the root of Zimbabwe’s ongoing and ethnically fuelled violence, the book’s two editors and their team spoke to over 50 people from a wide range of backgrounds, both inside the country, and from Zimbabwe’s ever-growing ­diaspora.

Most of those interviewed were victims of the political violence of the nineties and 2000s, culminating in the bloody aftermath of the 2008 elections, as the government, backed by the army as well as militia groups, ­targeted those members of the ­population who were perceived as not supporting Zanu-PF.

Poignant and heartbreaking, their stories open up an, at times, horrific vista into a frightening world of party tyranny and paranoia, and lays bare the huge gulf between the official myth which continues to sustain a highly unsaintly, corrupt and brutal elite, and the terrible realities experienced by most ordinary Zimbabweans.

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