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Menings | Opinion > SeminaarKamer | Seminar Room > English > Essays

Remove Robert Mugabe: Appeal for a worldwide reading on September 9, 2007


Uli Schreiber Elinor Sisulu - 2007-06-13

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends

The International Literature Festival Berlin is requesting authors to sign the appeal for a worldwide reading against Robert Mugabe - see our previous worldwide readings which took place on March 20th of 2006 and 2007 – the Anniversaries of the Political Lie - at www.peter-weiss-stiftung.de.
 
The following have already signed: Edgardo Cozarinsky, Argentina; Ariel Dorfman, Chile; Ingrid de Kok, South Africa; Nuruddin Farah, Somalia/South Africa; Enrique Fierro, Uruguay/USA; Natasza Goerke, Poland/Denmark, Jorie Graham, USA; Hannes Heer, Germany; Jabbar Yassin Hussein, Iraq/France; Drago Jancar, Germany; Ekkehart Krippendorff, Germany; Zakes Mda, South Africa; Abdelwahab Meddeb, Tunisia/ France; Hagar Peters, The Netherlands; Peter Ripken, Germany; Peter Schneider, Germany; Abdourahman Waberi, Djibouti/France; Herbert Wiesner, Germany; and Eliot Weinberger, USA. It would be wonderful to add your name to the list. May we? Perhaps you can forward this appeal, the texts, and the poems to other authors and your friends. They should send the signed appeal to me: ulrich.schreiber@literaturfestival.com.
 
I will publish it worldwide in two weeks. 

Warmest regards
Uli Schreiber

 

 

Remove Robert Mugabe

Appeal for a worldwide reading on September 9, 2007

 
Mugabe’s human rights abuses go back to the early 80s, when he implemented the Gukurahundi operation - the bloody murder of more than 20 000 Ndebele people.

Since 2000 he has been responsible for the eviction of white farmers from their land, actions which have led to a shortage of corn and consequently to horrible famines.

During the Murambatsvina (filth removal) campaign of 2005, Mugabe reacted to the demonstrations of the opposition by having several slums bulldozed.

Hundreds of opposition members and dissidents have already been arrested, kidnapped or tortured.

Since February 2007 demonstrations have been generally prohibited. The freedom of the press is extremely limited and there is discrimination against foreign media. Mugabe influenced the election using violence and absolute control in such a way that fear was imposed on all who voted for the opposition.

In mid-March 2007 Zimbabwe’s most important opposition party leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was arrested during a protest rally and afterwards severely beaten in custody.

Only a decade ago Zimbabwe had been one of the richest and best developed countries in Africa, with the highest educational standard on the continent and a literacy rate of almost 85%. Over recent years Mugabe has led his country to economic downfall and his people into bitter poverty. Officially Zimbabwe’s inflation rate is 3 700%, the highest in the world. The unemployment rate is 80%. With an average life expectancy of 34 years for women and 37 years for men, Zimbabwe has become the country with the lowest life expectancy rate in the world.
 
Through this reading the International Literature Festival Berlin would like to help draw attention to the situation in this post-colonial country. This reality has been concealed long enough – unfortunately also by members of the political class in South Africa, which holds a special responsibility concerning this matter.

We would like to ask for your support for our project and we appeal to radio stations, schools, universities, theatres and other cultural institutions in Africa and all over the world to read the foreword by Elinor Sisulu which she wrote for the book Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe: A Report on the Disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands 1980-1988 (Johannesburg 2007) and the attached poems by Chenjerai Hove, Chirikure Chirikure and Dambudzo Marechera. It also attacks the silence, caused by a false sense of solidarity, which is one of the bases for Mugabe’s power.


Please sign here:

 

 

Elinor Sisulu


Foreword for Gukurahundi report

All that is needed for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

(Edmund Burke, 18th-century British statesman and political thinker)

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

 (Martin Luther King Jnr, African-American civil rights leader)
 

All humanity is one individual and indivisible family and each one of us is responsible for the misdeeds of all the others. I cannot detach myself from the wickedest soul.

(Mahatma Ghandi, Indian freedom fighter and philosopher)


The Shona expression Gukurahundi, meaning “the first rain that washes away the chaff of the last harvest before the spring rains” used to have pleasant connotations. For farmers in water-scarce environments there are few things more pleasurable than the smell of the first rains on dry dusty soil, the coolness and freshness of the air afterwards and the promise a new season of bountiful harvests. 

In the 1980s the term Gukurahundi assumed an entirely new meaning when the notorious North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade murdered thousands of people in the Zimbabwean province of Matabeleland and parts of Midlands. Both the Fifth Brigade and the period of mayhem and murder they caused were called Gukurahundi, which is why, since then, the word Gukurahundi invokes nothing but negative emotions among Zimbabweans, ranging from indifference, shame, denial, terror, bitter anger and deep trauma, depending on whether one is a victim, perpetrator or one of the millions of citizens who remained silent. 

When I was asked to write this Foreword, my first reaction was to refuse. “What right do I have to be given such a platform,” I asked myself. “Surely such an honour should be accorded to one of the survivors?” But then I recalled a writers' conference a few years ago where I listened to the testimony of Yolande Mukagasana, a Rwandan woman whose husband and three children were murdered in the 1994 genocide. In the aftermath of that catastrophe, Yolande has worked on healing herself and finding a purpose in life by taking care of Rwandese orphans and writing. I was profoundly distressed by Yolande’s testimony. The title of one of her books, Les Blessures du Silence (The Wounds of Silence) comes to mind whenever I grapple with the capacity of human societies to ignore gross human rights violations even if these happen right in their midst. Nelson Mandela commented on this tendency with reference to Rwanda: “The louder and more piercing the cries of despair - even when that despair results in half-a-million dead in Rwanda – the more these cries seem to encourage an instinctive reaction to raise our hands so as to close our eyes and ears.” (Nelson Mandela, In the words of Nelson Mandela by Jenny Crwys-Williams, Penguin 2004.) 

It is no coincidence that this report is entitled “Breaking the Silence”. Indeed one of its main intentions is to get national acknowledgement of a “chunk of Zimbabwean history which is largely unknown except to those who experienced it first hand.” The report points out that one of the most painful aspects of the Gukurahundi massacres was that the plight of the victims and survivors was and continues to be unacknowledged. They are still suffering from the wounds of silence. And who is responsible for inflicting these wounds? The perpetrators obviously have a vested interest in maintaining this silence. But what about the rest of us who lived through those years and continued our lives as if nothing was happening? Are we not equally responsible for the wounds of silence, both while the horrific events of Gukurahundi were unfolding and in their aftermath? Even today many of us continue to be silent.
 
As I read this report I feel a deep sense of shame about my own silence. There are many in Zimbabwe who would give the excuse that they did not know what was happening and indeed many of them would be speaking the truth. Emergency regulations designed by the Mugabe regime ensured a total media blackout of the affected areas. The activities of the dissidents were reported in much detail but the operations of the army were a no go area for the media. Consequently large parts of the population remained ignorant. But those of us who had family in Matabeleland had no excuse. Right from the start of the Fifth Brigade campaign, news filtered out through family and community networks that there was something horrendous going on. When I visited my grandparents' home on the outskirts of Bulawayo, I recall the lowering of voices when there was discussion about relatives who had been forced to flee the terror in the rural areas, arriving in the city with little more than the clothes on their backs. We did what we could for them and shut our mouths. 

As a young civil servant in Harare, I was conscious of the divisions between those who would engage in whispered conversations about this awful thing called Gukurahundi and those who would simply pretend it did not exist. I recall an oft-repeated conversation, or various versions of it: “Does Mugabe know what is going on? His people cannot be giving a true picture of what is happening otherwise he would not allow it.” What a naïve and ridiculous belief! The Fifth Brigade did not fall within the army chain of command but was directly answerable to the highest office in the land. With hindsight we know without a doubt that President Robert Mugabe was fully aware and part of the campaign of mass murder in the Matabeleland hinterland. 

At the time many of us were too enamoured of our great liberation hero to allow ourselves to confront all the evidence of his direct complicity. Zimbabweans were not prepared to see the fly in the ointment of their newly-found peace. The ZANU PF government did well in the first years of its rule, investing massively in education and health. A world of new opportunities had opened for the black middle class and black peasant farmers for the first time had access to credit and extension advice. They made the most of these opportunities and the first few years of independence they dramatically increased their agricultural production. 

The eyes and ears of the international community were also closed. In contrast to the propaganda image of the radical Marxist leader, Robert Mugabe was moderation itself during his first few years in office. There was no nationalisation of industry and he won accolades for handing an olive branch to the white population. Zimbabwe was a problem that had been solved and no one was prepared to open a Pandora’s box. The cries of the Ndebele people fell on deaf ears. 

Reading the report after all these years, I am amazed by my own ignorance about a period that I thought I knew. The stories of physical and psychological torture, rape and other forms of sexual abuse, starvation of the population, burning of homes and granaries, disappearances, bodies thrown down mineshafts and murders are all familiar and consistent with what I had heard described by relatives. However, I was taken aback by the account of the mass shooting of 62 young men and women on the banks of the Cewale River in Lupane on 5 March 1983. The silence that greeted this massacre is in direct contrast to the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, news of which reverberated around the world. 

The Gukurahundi operations came to an end with the 1987 Unity Accord between ZAPU and ZANU. As at the end of the liberation war in 1980, all those guilty of violations were covered by a general amnesty. The Report notes the important fact that once more in Zimbabwe’s history, those responsible for the most heinous acts against unarmed civilians were not held accountable for their actions, thus strengthening the culture of impunity that prevails in Zimbabwe. The human rights violations since 2000 are a product of this culture of impunity. The same tools of intimidation, physical and psychological torture and murder have been used, albeit on a lesser scale, in the recent violations. The difference is that they are targeted not at a particular ethnic group but at opposition leaders throughout the country.
 
The 2005 Operation Murambatsvina campaign in which the government deployed police and army units to bulldoze or burn down the homes and business of people in urban areas around the country has echoes of Gukurahundi. Once again the imagery of cleansing is used, murambatsvina literally meaning "to remove filth". Once again people are defined in terms that justifies their removal – just as the Ndebele were the “chaff” to be washed away by the first rains, so the poverty-stricken urban masses are described by the police chief Augustine Chihuri as a “crawling mass of maggots bent on destroying the economy”. 

Some survivors of Gukurahundi have reacted cynically to the furore around Operation Murambatsvina. They comment that Murambatsvina “is absolutely nothing compared to Gukurahundi. They (implying the Shonas) are making a fuss because they themselves are affected. When it was happening to us they said nothing.” This reminded me of German anti-Nazi theologian, Rev. Martin Niemoller’s prophetic statement in 1945: “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak.” 

Far from being a closed chapter, Gukurahundi has left a festering wound in the psyche of the Zimbabwean nation. As anti-apartheid campaigner and bomb survivor Father Michael Lapsley has pointed out: “The poison of hurt that has happened over generations continues to infect the present. The present has been infected by the past.” (Statement made in a presentation at Symposium on Civil Society and Justice in Zimbabwe, August 1983.) The Zimbabwean people are speaking out and as much as they would hope to bury the discussion, ZANU PF leaders are forced to respond. President Robert Mugabe came as close as he could to an apology when he described Gukurahundi as “a moment of madness” that must never be repeated. A long moment indeed. 

Veteran ZANU PF leader Nathan Shamuyarira recently said he had no regrets about the operation because it had been necessary to deal with the dissidents in Matabeleland. Such comments underline the need for this report. It is absolutely crucial for the healing of the Zimbabwean nation to work towards some form of restorative justice. Giving death certificates to the families of all those who disappeared would be a good place to start. It is crucial for all Zimbabweans to read this report not only to understand and acknowledge the grief and trauma of their compatriots but also to understand the violence of the past five years. 

Father Michael Lapsley has noted that “If we have something done to us, we are victims. If we physically survive, we are survivors. Sadly, many never travel any further and remain prisoners of moments in history, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. To become a victor is to move from being an object of history to becoming a subject once more.” It is high time Gukurahundi survivors became subjects of their history by having their stories acknowledged.

The report is important not only for Zimbabweans but for others in the region, especially South Africa, which hosts the largest Zimbabwean diaspora. Speaking about Rwanda, South African President Thabo Mbeki said: "A time such as this demands that the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth should be told. It should be told because not to tell it is to create the conditions for the crime to recur." In the same statement he said: “Because we were preoccupied with extricating ourselves from our own nightmare, we did not cry out as loudly as we should have against the enormous and heinous crime against the people of Rwanda that was committed in 1994. For that we owe the people of Rwanda a sincere apology, which I now extend in all sincerity and humility.” (Statement of the President of the Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki at the Commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of the Commencement of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, Kigali 7 April 2004.)

This statement could easily apply to Gukurahundi. The truth needs to be told “because not to tell it is to create the conditions for the crime to recur". The silence needs to be broken. Hopefully, one day the leaders of this region who have not cried out as loudly as they should have against the enormous and heinous crimes against the people of Zimbabwe that were committed in the past 23 years, will see fit to apologise to the people of Zimbabwe.
 

Chenjerai Hove

Nights With Ghosts - A Child's Letter from the Rubble

(Written after Operation Murambatsvina, the operation in which the Zimbabwe government destroyed 700 000 houses)
 

dear samueri, my friend,
i will never see you again;
maybe i will.
but i shall not know
until father finds us a new address.
addresses!
we have none anymore.
we are of no address.
 
now that i have written this letter,
where do i post it to?
shall i say,
samueri,
care of the next rubble
harare? 

or shall i say,
samueri,
care of all the filth,
salisbury? 

our little street,
you remember?
the one without broken glass,
the one where we urinated freely
behind the small market
and our mothers called us names
with the sweet voices of mothers?
our little street,
with chickens that belonged to no one
in particular,
is no longer there: 

i don't know your address,
you don't know my address.
samueri,
i am standing on a broken brick,
the only survivor
of our home.
what are you standing on,
samueri? 

you see, samueri,
we don't have guns
or spears
or arrows,
or sticks.
tell me,
samueri,
why police,
they bring guns
hammers
anger
blood in their eyes
to destroy our only home? 

even teacher mutawu,
he also has no address.
i saw our school
in the fire.
i saw our teacher crying,
carried away by police
with guns and anger. 

i will continue writing this letter,
samueri
till i know
your address
teacher mutawu's address
my father's work address
my little sister's address
my little dog's address
my mother's address
everyone's address, 

care of spca
care of filth department
care of order
care of caledonia camp,
care of tribal trust land
care of the river bank!
care of cockroach camp
care of maggots
care of crime and grime
care of state house!
 
samueri,
tell teacher mutawu,
i want to learn to write
so i can erase memories
of our home
in the rubble. 

tell teacher mutawu,
we will meet
when i have grown a beard
and drive a car
like the police car
like the soldiers with guns. 

samueri,
i send you only
a broken brick
before they break it again
for the second time
the third time
the fourth time. 

a broken brick
a broken heart
a broken father
a broken mother. 

samueri,
stay strong.
samueri,
beware of falling bricks
and guns. 

 

Chirikure Chirikure

·        

The poems have not been published yet.

 

Salt 

 

Asking for salt doesn’t mean I am poor
Borrowing salt doesn’t mean I am broke
Our salt ran out unexpectedly
Our salt got finished unexpectedly 

If the tuck-shop was still there
The kids could have gone to buy some
Now the tuck-shop is no longer there
It was destroyed by the tsunami 

The sadza is ready
The relish is ready
The family is waiting
But salt is not there 

Don’t think that I am mad
You and I know who is mad
Don’t think that I can’t plan
We know who the poor planner is
 

Please help me with salt


Even a teaspoon measure will do
Please, it’s not my fault
Our land has been gripped by evil spirits



 Chirikure Chirikure 25/07/05

Let’s cry with hope

We know where we came from
We had some good times
We also had some sad moments 

We know where we are today
Happy moments are rare
Sadness is right on our backs 

We know where we want to be
Let happy moments multiply
Let sadness be a thing of the past 

We should definitely mourn
But let us cry with hope
Tomorrow we shall celebrate

 

© Chirikure Chirikure 24/07/05

 
Dambudzo Marechera 

Oracle of the Povo

(Published in Dambudzo Marechera, Mindblast, College Press, Harare, 1984 and Dambudzo Marechera, Cemetery of Mind, Baobab Books, Harare, 1992)
 

Her vision's scrubland
Of out-of-work heroes
Who yesterday a country won
And today poverty tasted 

And some of the hills hurried their thirst
And others to arson and blasphemy
Waving down tourists and buses
Unleashing havoc no tongue can tell –
Her vision's Droughtstricken acres
Of lean harried squatters
And fat pompous armed overlords
Touching to torch the makeshift shelters
Heading to magistrate and village court
The most vulnerable and hungry of citizens –
Her vision's Drought Relief graintrucks
Vanished into thin air between departure point
And expectant destination –
In despair, she is found in beerhalls
And shebeens, by the roadside
And in brothels: selling the last
Bits and pieces of her soured vision.

 

Rats for Sale
(Published in Dambudzo Marechera, Cemetery of Mind, Baobab Books, Harare, 1992)

You want to buy what?
A rat,
A rat with a conscience.
A rat with a permanent conscience?
That’s the general idea.
Well I have several you can choose from.
This one just ate Grenada,
Ripped it to bits and shat it out
American Girl cleansing lotion.
It’s already started to nibble and salivate at a dainty
Piece of Nicaraguan cheese.
But it’s (wink, nudge) really aiming BIG now in Berlin
London, Amsterdam, Paris
Aiming at Natasha’s tits in Moscow –
Show me another.
Okay. Now, this one is the sly type.
It eats colonialism
So that it can shit in pure malice on its own.
I tried to buy it in Kenya
I tried to buy it in Malawi
I tried to buy it right here
But you know where I got the bastard?
Having dinner with the ghosts of
Malan, Verwoerd, Vorster, and Botha.
Show me the others.
Well this one was involved in the Aquino affair
That one befriended the Shah and introduced him to
That other one called the Ayatollah.
That short clerical one and that fat grey old lady …

 
 

In Jail the Only Telephone Is the Washbasin Hole: Blow and We’ll Hear!
(Published in Dambudzo Marechera, Cemetery of Mind, Baobab Books, Harare, 1992)
 
Write the poem not from classroom lectures
But from the barricade's shrieking defiance
From the mortuary's brightly frozen monocle
From day's gunburst to night's screaming human torch
From bleeding teeth that informed to underground
Perception of black fire 

Write the poem not from the rhyme & reason of England
Nor the Israeli chant that stutters bullets against
Palestinians
Nor (for fuck’s sake) from the negritude that negroed us
Write the poem, the song, the anthem, from what within
You
Fused goals with guns & created citizens instead of slaves 

Do not scream quietly
We want to hear, to know
And forge the breastplate a poet needs against THEM!