The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Introduction

JOANNE MYERS: I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council, I'd like to thank you all for joining us.

Our speaker, Peter Godwin, was born and raised in the breadbasket of Africa, Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe. Along with The Fear, Peter has written two earlier memoirs, both set in his homeland. They are the award-winning Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa and When a Crocodile Eats the Sun. All three are wonderful books which give us a better understanding of the country of his birth and its current state of affairs, and they show journalism at its finest.

It's no secret that dictators, especially those in Africa, will cling to power by any means necessary. Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, who, at 87 years old, began his 32nd year in power this month, is no exception. Since 2000, popular resistance to Mr. Mugabe's corrupt and incompetent regime has continued to grow. Still, with each successive election, this tyrant has managed to maintain his position, but only by resorting to violence and intimidation and by rigging the election results.

However, in 2008, it seemed, at least for a few brief days, that his rule was about to end. In the first round of presidential elections, Mugabe came in second and lost control of parliament. Still refusing to yield power, he unleashed the army, police, security agencies, and party militias to beat the electorate into submission, just in time for the second round of presidential elections. Villagers were beaten en masse and told to "vote Mugabe next time or you will die."

Among the electorate, this attack was known simply as "the Fear"—hence the title of this book. It is this enduring barbarism and its effect on Zimbabwe that is the focus of our discussion this morning.

Peter Godwin is a veteran observer of the ruthless dictator, Robert Mugabe. His book The Fear is an extraordinary narrative of a regime bent on holding onto power no matter how brutal, no matter how deadly.

Peter's reporting, for obvious reasons, has not been to the liking of Mugabe. Accordingly, he was declared persona non grata by this aging despot. Even so, at great risk, he returned in defiance, traveling from New York to Harare immediately after the first round of the 2008 election, hoping to celebrate the defeat of this dictator. But that's not what happened.

As he traveled around the country, our speaker interviewed opposition activists, churchmen, diplomats, and beleaguered white farmers, recording the ordeals of these people in their fight for change and as victims of Mugabe's ongoing rule. Finally, advised to leave the country for his own safety, he did so, but not before documenting the consequences of the last election and the savagery and terrorism inflicted by this ruler.

What stands out from this gripping narrative is not just the scale of death and destruction that Mugabe is willing to inflict on his country for the sake of staying in power, but the extraordinary courage of Zimbabweans, Peter Godwin being one, who defied this tyranny to give us an eyewitness account, knowing full well the consequences of doing so.

Now, as Mugabe supporters call for another election, an event viewed with dread rather than hope, no one doubts that he will employ the same methods of murder, torture, rape, and arson once again. The Fear serves as an invaluable, urgent dispatch from the throes of a country facing an international humanitarian crisis and as a wakeup call to the international community to pay heed.

To learn more about Mugabe and his reign of terror, please join me in giving a warm welcome to our courageous guest, who, at great personal risk, has catalogued Zimbabwe's descent into horror, Peter Godwin.

Thank you for joining us.

Remarks

PETER GODWIN: Thank you very much. Thank you for coming.

I feel a little intimidated, having heard who your previous speakers were and, in fact, having read through the guest list this morning. But I am bolstered by my appearance last night at a PEN gathering, which, to my horror, was entitled "The Role of Public Intellectuals." So I want you all to know that I indeed am a public intellectual and to show me due deference, which is something that I have tried unsuccessfully on my nine and 12-year-old sons, as they routinely disrespect me. I keep saying, "I am a public intellectual. Show me due deference." It's not working so far, but I live in hope.

That was a very comprehensive introduction. What I would like to do is to, first of all, tell you how this book happened, and why, and then to go back a little bit.

I have become completely fascinated with dictators and dictatorships. Over 25 years as a foreign correspondent, I seem to have ended up, for whatever reason, in more than my fair share of authoritarian regimes. One of the very few benefits of age is that you start to recognize patterns, because you have been around for long enough to have seen things before. So maybe I will make a few remarks about that, too. Then, obviously, I'm more than happy to answer any questions you might have.

I wrote this book by accident. What actually happened was that I was sent to Zimbabwe by Vanity Fair, a very late commission that was intended—literally, Graydon Carter said, "Go and dance on Mugabe's political grave." That's what I thought I was doing, and I was very happy to take that commission.

Mugabe is not as other dictators. He is an extremely educated man. I think at last count he had six graduate degrees. He is, actually much more than I am, a public intellectual. He is an oddly fastidious dictator. He's not of the ilk of Idi Amin, the heavyweight boxing champion of the King's African Rifles, or even some Nigerian general with medals strewn across their shoulders. He's intellectual. He wears the cape of the liberator. I spent three or four months in Cuba making a documentary for the BBC, and I found instant echoes between Zimbabwe and Cuba.

Mugabe was a liberator, there's no doubt about it. He served his dues. He was 11 years in prison under Ian Smith. He then headed up his organization ZANU [Zimbabwe African National Union]in exile during a Bush War that took six or seven years.

In 1980, when Mugabe came back in from exile and Zimbabwe had its first free and fair elections, where all races and genders indeed could vote, he won an overwhelming mandate. At that point, if you bear in mind that we were still in the middle of the Cold War, there was a huge sigh of relief in the West when Mugabe turned out not to be what we thought. He didn't turn out to be a communist. He didn't turn out to be bent on racial vendettas. He made an astonishingly reconciliatory speech in 1980, his first speech, which we have now sort of forgotten about.

If you think about it, since Nelson Mandela came out of prison in 1990 in South Africa—up until that point, Mugabe had a good decade himself of being the primary liberation figure in Africa. He stood astride the African stage like a colossus and earned enormous respect.

In his first speech in 1980, he reached out to the white farmers, most of whom, frankly—I was there at the time—were getting ready to leave. They were packing up and going, because they thought their goose was well and truly cooked. Not only did he ask them to stay, he pleaded with them. He appealed to them and said, "If you want to contribute to the new Zimbabwe, this is what I want you to do. Go back to your farms and produce food. I want you to feed not only Zimbabwe, but the region. That's how we can do this."

This is a very important point because the land issue has become the primary aspect of spin for Mugabe. The way the Zimbabwe story has been told, you would be forgiven for thinking that one of the primary aspects of it has been the matter of land inequality, because that's what it looks like. If you read the press, if you absorb the media, the international media only tends to get interested in Zimbabwe when white people are involved. It's quite interesting.

There's a racial element to the way that we look at Africa. It's one of the reasons that apartheid was such a preeminent story. The end of apartheid was certainly the preeminent story of my career. It was the perfect story, because it literally was color-coded, you could explain it to a child, and you had whites behaving badly. You had all these perfect elements of a story.

Other stories are very under-cover in Africa. Congo—who even understands it? You have tribes and you have different black African groups, and it's very hard for foreign audiences to figure out the arcane minutiae of it.

Mugabe knows this. He played up the land issue later. It's important to remember that there absolutely is a land issue in Zimbabwe. A disproportionate amount of land was held by white farmers. Absolutely no doubt about that. There was an historical inequity.

But in 1980, I would posit this: If you have a democratically elected leader who is put there by an overwhelming mandate, who at that point says to a group of white farmers, "This is what I want you to do in the name of the Zimbabwean people. I want you to stay and I want you to farm," it seems to me at least that at that point you have a social contract. You have something that supersedes the original inequality, at least for the time being.

So the white farmers did stay. They were very productive, and they got wealthy. In fact, many of them supported Mugabe and his party and helped fund him, which is something you don't read much about.

If you fast-forward to 2000, when he starts to finally move against the farmers, again you would be forgiven for thinking this is a primarily racial thing, that he feels that the whites have withdrawn their support from him, that they are helping the opposition in some ways, that they are helping to fund the opposition even, and so he decided to get rid of them.

In fact, his real targets, interestingly enough—and again you won't read this a lot in the media—were the 500,000 black farm workers, most of whom are members of GAPWUZ [General Agricultural Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe], which is a farm workers' union, and are supporting the opposition. They are the biggest single voting bloc that is voting against him. What he wants to do is break them up and get them off the farms.

For various historical reasons, many of those black farm workers families came to Zimbabwe three or four generations ago from neighboring states to work on those farms. Many of them were originally from Malawi, Zambia, or Mozambique, in particular. So what he does is, he also, at the same time, passes legislation to disenfranchise them.

It's a very curious piece of legislation that a lot of us got caught up in, and it's probably illegal anyway. It says that if you have the right to another nationality, even if you have never taken it up—in other words, if one of your parents or, in some cases, grandparents was born in another country that would accept that as a claim to nationality of that country—you automatically lose your Zimbabwean nationality, and certainly your right to vote, unless you can produce a letter from the embassy of that country saying that you don't want to ever claim that right in the future.

In practical terms, it was almost impossible to do that. A lot of us tried to do it, but an extraordinary thing would happen. For example, in my case, my mother was born in England, so I had a right to a British passport. In fact, I had a British passport. You were supposed to return the British passport to the British Embassy and they were supposed to give you a letter saying, "We hate you. You can never be a Brit again. I spit on the queen. And I'm not going to the royal wedding, even if I was invited." Then you are supposed to present that letter, along with your British passport, to the Zimbabwean Home Affairs people, who would then give you a passport.

Now, if you read on the inside of any passport, the British passport included, it says that the passport is the property of that embassy. Under international protocol, the Zimbabweans then have to take that British passport and give it to the British embassy, who then return it to you. So there was a ridiculous merry-go-round.

But the real purpose behind the original farm attacks was that. The reason Mugabe moved on it, the reason that it all went bad in 2000 for Mugabe, was that—a bit like Bloomberg, I suppose—he had run out of his term limits, and he needed to fix that by passing a new constitution. So there was a referendum on that.

They had become just blasé. The government had got more and more authoritarian. There had been no opposition at all. (I'll go back in a minute to how that happened.) So they just didn't prepare properly, and they were completely blindsided when they lost the referendum. They hadn't even bothered to put in place the normal cheating mechanisms because they had been told there was really no problem. So suddenly this thing spun out of control. It was a fairly low turnout.

In fact, Mugabe ignored it and moved on and changed the constitution anyway. But that was the beginning of this last ten years of destruction.

What's interesting is, if you go back to 1980—so there's Mugabe. He has come in. The things we were scared of —that he would nationalize everything, that he would be mean to the whites, that he would be pro-communist—none of these came to pass. The West thought, "Great. He's in our camp. He's one of ours."

Again, it's worth remembering, when we look at dictators in Africa, in particular—I have covered a lot of them, and they are primarily to blame for their own actions. There's no doubt about that. But we in the international community—and indeed in the West probably more than anywhere else—have our fair share of contributory blame.

If you take Africa as a continent, first of all, without going back to the Congress of Berlin, where we divide the country up into these bizarre states, which aren't organic at all—some of them aren't nations. Others of them can't possibly be working economic entities on their own. Many of them have lumped together mutually antagonistic tribes. There are all sorts of reasons for ongoing African instability that still have their origins in colonialism and indeed in the map of Africa.

It's one of the abiding ironies of modern Africa that if you look, for example, at the founding document of the Organization of African Unity, the OAU, which is now being supplanted by the AU, the African Union, one of the very first things they agree on is the sanctity of colonial borders, which they sign up to.

There are some wonderfully interesting exercises where people have looked at Africa—cartographers, anthropologists, politicians—and said, what might the continent look like if it developed organically?

Remember that in Europe it took hundreds and hundreds of years of bloodthirsty wars. It didn't go swimmingly there. So that's not necessarily a great alternative. Nevertheless, you can sort of see where the borders are culturally. You can see how they are developed. There are obvious things like mountain ranges and rivers. But it's quite an interesting exercise to have a look at some of these models that have been developed.

So there's that colonial legacy.

There is also the fact that, from 1957, which is when sub-Saharan Africa begins to be independent—Ghana, in 1957, is the first one—we are already deep into the Cold War. The Cold War essentially started with the end of the Second World War—even before, we now realize.

From the very beginning, the message that we in the West—and indeed, in the East—send to this nascent group of African leaders, who, for the first time, are becoming national leaders of independent African countries, most of which didn't exist in their current shape before that, is that we are not over-bothered by whether you are democratic or not. We're not even that fussed about human rights. Here's what we care about. We care about whether you're in our camp or their camp. Are you pro-Moscow or are you pro-Washington? Are you communist or are you free enterprise? That's really the defining thing. As long as you stay on the right side of that, you'll get support from us. You'll get aid, you'll get investment, you'll get whatever is necessary.

We helped to condition those entire first generations of African leaders in that binary worldview. It's not like we can sit on our hands and say, "Tut-tut, Africa, what a mess." We play into why it's such a mess. We do have some contributory blame for it. There are other issues, too, but that's the one I wanted to just mention in passing.

Really, right up until 1990, that's the way the game is played. Suddenly in 1990, the Berlin Wall comes down, the Cold War is over, and we turn around to this group of African leaders, who, since they existed as leaders in 1957 have been used to one way of operating, and say, "Uh-oh, the rules of the international game have changed entirely. Now, if you want to qualify for aid and to be in our good books economically, we want this thing called democracy. We want transparency. We don't want corruption. We want open society." There's this whole roster of things that we have never been fussy about before.

Before, for example, we were happy to support people like Mobutu in Zaire, as it then was, who was not democratic—bloodthirsty—but even lots of authoritarian leaders, Houphouët-Boigny in Cote d'Ivoire—the list goes on. Siad Barre plays both sides against each other. He moves from one to the other to the other, basically ransoming out to see who pays the most. We were happy to do that. We weren't fussy. But suddenly in 1990 the whole game changes.

The reason this is relevant to someone like Mugabe is that in 1980, when he comes in, primarily what we see is that he's on our side. One of the reasons for that is that there was a wrinkle in the Cold War game partially through the Non-Aligned Movement. But, really, it's about China.

China plays this rather ambiguous role in all of that. In Zimbabwe, the two guerilla groups, Mugabe's and Nkomo's, ZANU and ZAPU [Zimbabwe African People's Union]—Mugabe was supported by China, Nkomo and ZAPU were supported by the Soviets. In fact, Mugabe wasn't part of the actual Soviet bloc, which is why it was easier to bring him away.

It's interesting—again, skipping forward—that right now the big player in not just Zimbabwe, but the rest of Africa, is obviously China. They are moving in. It's absolutely astonishing. At the moment, the Zimbabweans are bringing in very controversial indigenization legislation, which basically states that any business of any size at all—anything beyond a mom-and-pop business—has to be 51 percent indigenous-owned. The definition of indigenous is PDP, previously disadvantaged people. So anybody who was once discriminated against is—they are defined the same way in the new South Africa. But somehow the Chinese are exempt from this, it seems. The Chinese can come in and buy chrome and diamond mines, and they don't seem to be affected by this legislation.

The China thing is crucial to our understanding of where we go now. But in 1980, the Cold War was the primary lens through which we saw Mugabe and the new Zimbabwe.

There was one other crucial factor that helps to provide a smokescreen for who Mugabe becomes, and that is apartheid. In 1980 apartheid still looked insurmountable. It looked like it was going to be there for another generation or more. Mugabe's role as the newest liberation leader on the African block was to be chairman of the Frontline States and to be the cheerleader of anti-apartheid forces—not forces; anti-apartheid diplomacy, I should say. I overrule the use of the word "forces" because I don't want you to misunderstand.

It seems to me that at the time—and I can't prove this, but I have worked both sides of the story. I have talked to South African intelligence operatives and politicians, who were sort of coy about it, too.
If you look at the evidence, from 1980 until 1990, when Mandela is released from prison—and then in 1993, South Africa becomes post-apartheid South Africa—in that time, Mugabe does a lot of talking, a lot of grandstanding, rushes around the world saying apartheid is horrible; but unlike Mozambique, Zambia, and even relatively conservative little Botswana—he won't let ANC [African National Congress] insurgents base up in Zimbabwe and infiltrate into South Africa from Zimbabwe. He won't do that.

If you look at the statistics—the armed wing of the ANC, which was called Umkhonto we Sizwe, MK, the Spear of the Nation—they didn't cross the border. And, really, that Limpopo border, as we now know—because there are millions of Zimbabwe refugees crossing it every year—is a really easy border to cross. This whole thing of, as Kipling called it, "the great, green, greasy Limpopo River"—in the dry season, you can get across it, and it doesn't get up to your knees. It's not this enormous barrier that one thinks of it as. And there wasn't even a decent fence.

Nevertheless, Mugabe wouldn't let that happen. I think there was a deal that the South Africans would stop destabilizing Zimbabwe if he signed some kind of secret protocol that he wouldn't let the guerillas go in.

But what Mugabe was able to do was—if you criticized him, he would say that you are an apologist for apartheid, which is what he said to me, for example. The reason this is important is that the trajectory of Zimbabwe—without being condescending, I'm sure if I went around the room now and asked you what your general impression was of how Mugabe became the man he is today—he was a good leader to begin with. Zimbabwe had this early enormous success. It was seen as this great beacon on the hill, this example of how Africa could really succeed.

It's so ironic that the two countries that we thought that about in their respective regions were Cote d'Ivoire and Zimbabwe. Through the 1980s and1990s people said that these two places feed themselves, and they were seen as wonderful examples for what could be done in Africa. Both of them have richly become failed states in the interim.

If I canvass the room, it would be that Zimbabwe went through this great decade or so, and that sometime in the late 1990s, Mugabe has a sudden rush of blood to the head. If you were doing this as a Hollywood script, the trajectory would be that good leader turns bad. He would be the liberation leader who then reconciles with everybody and is very magnanimous. The country is a great success. Then sometime in the late 1990s, he has a sudden rush of blood to the head, with the factors being that his steady, cautious Ghanaian wife, Sally, has in the meantime died—she had been on kidney dialysis and she dies—that he gets older and loses advisers, and South Africa changes.

There is a certain amount of jealousy on his part when Mandela emerges, for example. I have gone back and looked at some of the newsreels. There are shots where you see Mugabe in the same lineup or interacting with Mandela, and Mugabe looks as though he's smelt a bad smell. He's so palpably irritated and jealous of Mandela's appearance.

I have interviewed Mandela on several occasions. He admits as much. In fact, he cracked a wonderful joke about it. He said, "Yes, Mugabe was the star and then the sun came out." [Laughter] And you know what happens to stars when the sun comes out.

These factors somehow played into a kind of psychological degeneration or psychological change in Mugabe's makeup and he becomes more authoritarian.

That's the generally accepted conventional wisdom for what happened in Zimbabwe. But there's one problem with all of this. It doesn't stand up to any real chronology. That has been my problem with it all the way along.

I was one of the people who went back to Zimbabwe in 1980. We were the Rainbow Nation before South Africa became that. A lot of so-called white liberals returned in 1980 because Mugabe put out this announcement and said, "Come back and help." He didn't just say it to the farmers. He said it to all of us.

We thought, "Fantastic." We all went back, and there was this diaspora that came back—black, white, Indian, and colored. We all went back, and for a couple of years, it seemed amazing, although now that I look at even those early times, you realize how much you were damping down your critical powers, because you wanted it to succeed so much.

One of the irritating aspects is that often the people who know most about a country are the people who are most emotionally involved, and therefore whose advice is least reliable, because they want to cherry-pick the facts to end up with the good results. You come to a real conclusion, not just by one leap, but by hundreds and hundreds of little binary calculations that you are making all the way. But if you are constantly taking the 1 instead of the 0, you end up with—I'm facing that situation in South Africa at the moment, where I want it to succeed, but the more honest I am about those little binaries, the more I realize that more of them are turning up 0s instead of 1s.

In Zimbabwe, I had drank the Kool-Aid, like everybody else, in that very early stage. I had come back from Oxford. In fact, I had bought an old army truck—1957—two of them in fact, and made one workable one. We drove from Oxford. It took a year. It was incredibly difficult. You hit a wall and you had to kind of go around it. We crossed the Sahara in mid-summer, which I wouldn't recommend.

But for me it was a very interesting trip. Normally, literally, everybody is just flying up and down, even old Africa hands. They mostly get in planes and go from one part of Africa to another. But if you do that trip all the way down, you get this understanding. I still draw on it now. You see how one area kind of morphs into another. It's fascinating. You see how the continent works as a complex matrix.

I came down and I was a human rights lawyer for a bit. I was trying to finish a Ph.D. at the time on the Rhodesian war. I was defending Nkomo's generals, who were all accused of high treason. This really was the beginning of the authoritarian regime. I worked on the case for a year. It was a fascinating case. I had to go to Lusaka and interview the KGB station chief, who would only be identified as "Comrade Max." In fact, I have tried to get hold of Comrade Max post-Cold War, but I haven't managed to.

I did all the political research, and we got them off. There were six and they weren't all generals. They were rearrested by Mugabe's emergency regulation, which was actually under Ian Smith's legislation. That's the other important thing: Mugabe inherits this legislation from Ian Smith, emergency powers, the way that you can get around Parliament by gazetting things. Most of those are still in place. That's what he uses. They were all there.

I resigned from the bar at that stage and said, "We're just window dressing." I became a freelance journalist. Barely a year on the job, I got the first hints that in Matabeleland, in the south of the country, there was something going on. I snuck in there, and what it turned out to be was the Matabeleland massacres. The military operational name for it was Gukurahundi, which means "the rains that wash away the rubbish."

We now, to the best of our ability, think that probably 20,000 civilians were killed in that. Bear in mind, this was 1983. This was in our "isn't Zimbabwe happy, shiny, smiley people, lots of full stomachs" phase. And there are 20,000 people killed. But guess what? They are black people and they are killed by other black people. I wrote about it. It did end up on the front page of the paper I then principally worked for, The Sunday Times of London. We ran a series of three articles. We had pictures. I had eyewitness accounts. I was an eyewitness myself. Nothing.

In the UN, nothing, no demarches. Nothing happened to him, because he was still on our side. He was being nice to whites. Zimbabwe was a success story. We can be very selective in what we want to see. Right then that wasn't the narrative. That wasn't the trajectory we wanted. So we just ignored it.

It seems to me you sow the seeds there. As you sow, you shall reap. We sowed the seeds there by saying, "You know what? You can kill 20,000 people." It's survivable politically, internationally. He went on after that. He got dozens of honorary doctorates from very good universities, including Edinburgh University. He got knighted by the queen in 1990 for services to Zimbabwe-British relations. He got all sorts of international accolades, after his North Korean-trained 5th Brigade had killed 20,000 civilians.

Much later on, I got into a furious public row with Edinburgh University when I wrote an editorial in The Times saying it was ridiculous that we had taken away his knighthood, but he still had this honorary degree. I said, "How could Edinburgh have given him this honorary doctorate?"

They took it away. But then, in the letter, as they withdrew it, they tried to say, "Well, we didn't know at the time. It was all hidden. Nobody knew."

I said, "It was on the front pages of the bloody newspapers. You didn't have to be some arcane researcher to dig it up. You're a university."

So the message we sent to Mugabe all this time was, "You can get away with this stuff." Indeed, if you even go back, I find that Mugabe has behaved completely consistently throughout his career. What has changed is the world around him. This is not a man who suddenly had a rush of blood to the head in 1999.

Just briefly, to finish up, if you go back, what you see—and there are explanations for a lot of this—he's not an irrational man. What you see is, initially—and I tried to make this point when Ian Smith finally died, and I was writing obituaries and appreciations of what role he played in history. Ian Smith is confronted initially with a generation of what now look to be utterly reasonable, moderate black nationalist leaders, just saying, "Give us the vote," and he is intransigent. There are lots of reasons for that, and the British play a role. I won't go into that now. Eventually, the leadership moves more and more radical, to more and more militant people, and it comes to Mugabe.

If you look at Mugabe's history then as a political leader and then as a guerilla leader, although he has never been trained—he's not a military man. You realize that if you spend 30 seconds in his company. There were ferocious leadership struggles within his organization, ZANU, and multiple assassinations and a very bloodthirsty style of management. And he came out on top of that. He was a real Jacobin in that sense. So you see him already learning the lesson that if you want to come out on top, this is what's going to happen.

But for me the crucial thing, which I recognized at the time, and I did write about, but not as strongly as I should—again, because if you wrote about it, it was very easy to be cast in the role of sour ex-white Rhodesian wishing Mugabe ill, which, given my background, even though I'm from a so-called white liberal background, is easy to be typecast as at the time—was that in those first 1980 elections, what happened was that we were coming out of a war, and you had to demilitarize the electoral field.

The three armies—Mugabe's army, ZIPRA [Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army], Nkomo's army from ZAPU, and the Rhodesian forces—all had to pull back to barracks or to assembly points. Then there was supposed to be this marvelous free and fair election.

What in fact happened was that the Rhodesians pretty much pulled back, as did Nkomo's men, but Mugabe kept his best men, thousands of them, out in the field. They sent other people in so the numbers tallied. The way that the monitoring forces were supposed to prevent this was that you had to be able to strip and put back an AK-47 within a certain minimum time, to prove that you were a real guerilla. So they sat around teaching a whole lot of people who had never been in the army just to do one thing, which was to strip and put back and AK-47, so that they could get their numbers right.

Then they left a lot of their real guerillas out in the field, and they went around to the electorate and said, "Listen, vote for us or la luta continua," "the struggle continues." People just wanted peace at that point.

What's interesting, right from that moment, is that—and this may sound naïve—it's clear that what he is really after is power, not democracy. It's interesting. A lot of dictators start saying, "We want democracy, we want democracy," but there is an asterisk and a parenthetical proviso, which is "only for so long as you vote for us. When you stop, we'll go to a different system called dictatorship."

So right from the beginning, in that binary, what he is really interested in is power. At that moment, he probably would have won those elections, but he wasn't prepared to take the risk of a real vote. In fact, he got 57 percent, I think, of the overall vote.

You see violence there. What I'm trying to show is that every time he comes up against a political problem, his default reaction is a violent one. The guerilla war itself, whether morally defensible or not—whatever your views—is a violent reaction to opposition. The elections in 1980, similarly. He puts men with guns in the fields to make sure the vote goes his way. He meets resistance in the south of the country in Matabeleland in 1983-84. He puts down his North Korean-trained 5th Brigade and kills 20,000 civilians.

After that, what happens is that he forces Nkomo's party into a so-called Unity Accord. He swallows it up and it essentially ceases to exist, and Zimbabwe becomes a one-party state. For about a decade, there is no opposition, so he doesn't have to go and beat people about the head, because he has all the power to himself. Then in the late 1990s, when an opposition begins to emerge again, this time from the Movement for Democratic Change, the MDC, which morphs out of the trade union movement, his default again is a violent one, as we have seen.

For me, it was just interesting, because he has been completely consistent. It behooves us in the international community to be really more watchful and call things as we see them early on. There are lots of examples now, when you look around the world, of that happening, where you have leaders that we have been well disposed to who are starting to push that way.

For a long time, people like me were these voices in the wilderness. If you were against Mugabe, you were swimming against the tide. Since 1999 or 2000, there is a very large consensus that he is what he is; he's a violent dictator. Certainly what I saw in 2008, which you briefly described, was that.

What had happened was that it looked as though he had lost that election in 2008. The reason that he had lost it was that they had screwed up in a number of crucial ways. Their vote rigging and intimidation—there's nothing subtle about it, even when they are not directly beating people up. They control the counting, and whoever controls the counting—at some of the polling stations I talked to electoral agents who had been there. When the MDC won at that polling station, the counters just reversed the results. At other ones, they added a zero. None of it would pass an even very basic audit.

One of the reasons it went wrong, by the way, just as a final anecdote—there were 9,000 polling stations across the country, many of them in very remote, rural areas. The opposition brought in 9,000 plastic disposable cameras of the kind that you find scattered around wedding receptions when people take photos of each other drunk and they end up on YouTube. They gave these to electoral agents. They also got this little concession that the results would be pinned up on the wall. When the results were pinned up on the wall of each place, they took a picture of it.

ZANU-PF suddenly realized what was going on and chased the electoral agents away and stomped on the cameras that they could. But enough pictures had been taken that it cramped their style in fiddling those results. That was one of the reasons it spun out of control.

Another reason was just the sheer turn against Mugabe. The opinion polls at the time showed that he probably had about 10 percent support in the country. To cheat on that level, you have to be very imaginative.

At that point, it did actually look like he was going to go. He was 84 at that point, and he suddenly looked like the steam had gone out of him. His wife, oddly, Grace—we have got these pathetic sanctions against Zimbabwe, which are just against 200 of the elite. All it means is that they can't travel and they can't have foreign bank accounts. But she likes to shop at Harrods and she can't do that. So she sort of thought, "That's enough now. Let's get some money and change the nature of the game."

I arrived at that moment. There was this brief, two-week period when it looked like he really was going to go. In Harare, there was an amazing feeling. It was like 1980. Then he sat down with his generals and they discussed it.

What's interesting about it is that one of the main reasons that they realized that they couldn't go has actually to do with the nature of international law and how that's changing. We are in the very early stages of the ICC [International Criminal Court]. People like Mugabe are ending up in The Hague. So it doesn't matter. The opposition can give you immunity from prosecution locally, but there are more and more ways that you can run, but you can't hide. As that nascent section of the law is coming into sight, as we are moving from one system to another, the law of unintended consequences is that, in the short term, it can end up stiffening the resolve of dictators and their henchmen to stay in power, because the alternative is fairly ghastly.

So the opposition and the diplomats—I saw the deals that were being offered the generals, index-linked pensions and immunity to prosecution locally, and that they would be allowed to keep a farm each, and they would still have public honors. They wouldn't be down and humiliated. Everybody was just desperate to get rid of them. But the generals realized that none of this was really enforceable. Once you have lost power, you have lost your ability to guarantee any of these things.

So in the end, what they did was launch this astonishing campaign of torture.

I will conclude my remarks there. I'm happy to take questions.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: I'm I. K. Cush, with Global Breaking News.

Could you explain how long you worked with the British South Africa police? As a member of the British South Africa police under Ian Smith, just give us a sense in terms of the kinds of laws that you enforced there. Given that unique experience under Ian Smith, if you became president of Zimbabwe, how would you reverse the legacies of those laws that you enforced as a member of the British South Africa police?

PETER GODWIN:
Let me, first of all, explain how this came about. In Rhodesia, as it then was, when I was growing up, white males were drafted. But the way it used to work was that you could get a deferment to go to university. So what liberal families used to do was that you would be educated there, and at sixth form, in your last year of high school, you would then go to university outside the country, and you wouldn't come back. That was the tradition. That's how you dodged the draft in the same way that you got out of Vietnam if your number came up.

In my last year of school, very suddenly, because of the manpower crisis, what they did was they changed the law and said that you could no longer get a deferment to university, so you were drafted. An army truck came up the drive at school and we were all pushed into the back. In order to avoid going into combat, the soft option was to go into the police.

Actually, I didn't directly enforce any laws. What I did was relatively low-grade. If you want to know the details of it, in a book you mentioned, Mukiwa, there's a big chunk that explains exactly what I did.

I was 17 when I went in and 18 when I came out and went to university.

It's very interesting, though. What you see from the inside there is, to some extent, how an authoritarian regime works. You can see how you can do that. Now, the difficulty for me was that quite quickly after I went in—and I was actually posted to Matabeleland, and when I arrived, it was fairly peaceful—shortly thereafter, that area became militarized and the war broke out there.

A very strange thing happens to you when you are trained and you are in one of those units, which is that your world contracts. Bear in mind, you're 17 years old. You don't necessarily have the most sophisticated worldview. But your world contracts to what you can see around you. It was a strange area because it was contested between the two guerilla armies. What happened was that, in general, on the ground, the war was won or lost through the balance of fear. However laudable the aims of the liberation movements were—and they were—on the ground, to get people to support you, if you are in a hurry, it's about the balance of fear in that area.

I saw terrible things being done to black civilians by black guerillas in that area. The black guerillas that were working in that area were from a different ethnic group, and so they had to do that.

That was my war experience. But I won't bore you with it now. If you want to read it in much more detail, I have explained it all in Mukiwa. It's a third of the book.

QUESTIONER:
(Off-microphone—inaudible)

PETER GODWIN:
1976-77, I think. The other thing is, by then, weirdly, what had happened was that the principle of white rule had already been conceded. They were negotiating what ultimately became, initially, the Muzorewa government and then the Mugabe government. The way one rationalized it was that white rule had been conceded and what one was trying to do was to hold the line while these negotiations were concluded and we went into a transitionary stage.

But there is a more important point here than my own bio, which is that what has happened in Zimbabwe—and we are only now reaping this consequence—is that a culture of impunity has developed over the years as one system and one group replaces another. We didn't even have a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission. We didn't have anything. Basically, Mugabe comes in and we draw a line and say, "That was then. This is now. Let's move on with the future." And we move on.

There is not even any kind of self-examination, where everybody sits down and says who did what to whom, who should pay for this, who should be imprisoned, who should be on trial, or who should at least 'fess up. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, if you look at it, was fairly insipid. It didn't go around putting people in prison for hundreds of years. It was about acknowledgement in South Africa. In Zimbabwe, there wasn't even that.

You can see that that has happened again. After Matabeleland there's nothing. There is not a single arrest. No one goes on trial. No one even acknowledges that it has happened. We just walk straight past that massacre.

The 2008 torture, in which hundreds of thousands of people were tortured very severely and hundreds and hundreds of people were killed and many people had their houses burned up—nobody has been arrested. Nothing has happened.

If you keep allowing people to do this kind of thing and pay absolutely no consequence at all, then you can't be surprised that it becomes endemic; it becomes part of the culture. That's one of the things that has happened in Zimbabwe, by the fact that we haven't done this.

We should go back through all of it, all the way. Ultimately, that's probably what will happen. There has to be some national kind of facing up to who we are and who we were and what we have done. However it's agreed upon, it's an important kind of marking and acknowledgment. Only then can you build on it and get out of that frame of mind.

QUESTION:
Don Simmons.

I don't remember reading much about South African policy towards Zimbabwe in Mandela's time. Mbeki was criticized often for his explicit and implicit support, Zuma is now moving perhaps in the other direction.

What do you see as the future of South African policy towards Zimbabwe? Secondly, do you think it will be important in what happens in that country?

PETER GODWIN:
I didn't mention that. Thank you for asking that question. I was relying on someone asking it.

South Africa is completely the key to resolving the Zimbabwe situation. It has always been. There's a precedent for this.

What really brings about the end of Ian Smith is something that happens very far away. It's the end of the Portuguese Salazar dictatorship regime. The Portuguese Revolution was in 1974. That very quickly brings independence to Mozambique and Angola, and with it, the South African strategy of this line of buffer states between white-ruled South Africa and the black-ruled north of it. It's buffered by Angola, Rhodesia, and Mozambique. That whole thing is in tatters, as is southwest Africa, for that matter. South Africa then says to Rhodesia, "You're done." And Ian Smith won't accept it.

Eventually, Jon Vorster, who was then the South African prime minister, called Smith in and said—the goods trains that are going up and down suddenly developed mechanical problems. It's made clear that South Africa can throttle Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is landlocked. It has Mozambique there. The lion's share of everything goes through South Africa in one way or another, the imports, exports, and everything else.

Nothing has changed. South Africa is still a regional power. But it also has this overwhelming importance to Zimbabwe. Many people are perplexed as to why South Africa wouldn't want Zimbabwe to be democratic. South Africa has behaved shamefully in the Zimbabwe situation. Thabo Mbeki provided cover and a rationale for Mugabe's continuing in power well after he had lost the support of the Zimbabwean people.

It's for a number of reasons. Mbeki was based in Harare when he was in the ANC for a period after 1980 and had his own problems while he was there. But Mugabe didn't go out of his way, as I explained earlier, to really support—he supported the idea of the end of apartheid. He was anti-apartheid. But he wasn't particularly helpful to the ANC and had different backers. They were supported in material ways by the Soviets, not by the Chinese. Mugabe's organization, ZANU, was much closer to the PAC [Pan Africanist Congress], to a different South African liberation movement.

In general, what has happened is that you have this liberation solidarity. All of the countries in southern Africa that fought liberation, anticolonial wars—the movements that fought those wars, that were political movements that morphed into guerilla movements that then became incumbent governments, are all still in power. So the MPLA in Angola, SWAPO in Namibia, ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe, FRELIMO in Mozambique, and the ANC in South Africa are all still in power. It's not in the interest of any one of them for any other of them to lose power, because what it does is it diminishes the liberation aura, this sense that no one else has a right to rule except we who freed you.

That's the Cuban analogy. If you travel to Zimbabwe, if you read the state media, it feels like the war and liberation happened last week. It's kept very much alive. It's this font of holy revolutionary water that you can go back to and dunk yourself in and say, "We rule by right. We freed you, and therefore we rule," in this generation at least. It's a way that you can delegitimize any opposition. Any opposition that emerges in Zimbabwe is always a tool of the West, a tool of the whites, a tool of something, because it's antirevolutionary.

You could move between Cuba and Zimbabwe in terms of state media and you could interchange the articles. You wouldn't have to change much at all.

You can see how perplexed Mugabe is when he is looking at this electorate and realizing that they have rejected him in enormous numbers—"How can you vote against me? If it weren't for me, you wouldn't have a vote." His party has morphed into a very authoritarian party. It doesn't have much in the way of internal democracy at the moment.

That was one of the main reasons that Thabo Mbeki—what he really wanted, it was clear—he realized that Mugabe had gone too far. He realized it was time for another generation. But his plan, to give him credit, was to somehow manage an internal reform process within ZANU-PF to bring up young technocrats within the party, to have a ZANU-PF Lite, if you like, that still had the name ZANU-PF and still reaped the benefit of the whole liberation history, and that wasn't an opposition party. That clearly didn't work. I don't think ZANU-PF is reformable in that respect. It is what it is.

With Jacob Zuma, there is another wrinkle. Jacob Zuma had an internal power struggle with Thabo Mbeki to be head of the ANC initially and then consequently president of South Africa. The ANC was the main group that supported him, that changed its allegiance—remember, the ANC is a tripartite organization. It has the SACP, the South African Communist Party, and it has COSATU, the Confederation of South African Trade Unions, and then the ANC itself. They are a three-pillar organization. COSATU moved its support from Thabo Mbeki to Jacob Zuma, and that's what got him the job.

COSATU was enormously well disposed towards the Zimbabwean opposition, the MDC, which itself morphed out of the Zimbabwean trade union movement, the ZCTU, which is COSATU's equivalent in Zimbabwe. They have been helping it in a number of ways and have been very supportive of it.

So when Jacob Zuma comes in initially, everybody is hopeful. Jacob Zuma has been brought in with COSATU support. COSATU is very important in South Africa. Surely, South Africa's policy to Zimbabwe will change.

But then COSATU fell out of love with Zuma very quickly, because they felt that he hadn't done what he promised to do. He has replaced them, in terms of his internal support, with Zulu nationalism. That used to be Buthelezi's and Inkatha, and it has come to Zuma. He is Zulu and he has that as a constituency.

COSATU, in the last two years—but in the last year in particular—has been discussing whether to actually pull out of the ANC and has been discussing openly the possibility of going into opposition, of forming an independent political party, which is exactly what the MDC did. Zuma doesn't want that precedent. That's an extra reason why he hasn't been doing much.

Recently, to give him credit, in the last two weeks at the summit in Livingstone, the South Africans made some of the toughest statements they have made. Mugabe made some statements back. They have all quieted down since then. Mugabe has reeled back a bit.

But we've been there before. The South Africans have said strong stuff before and not acted on it. But we'll see. There's a very important meeting to discuss it in mid-May. We'll see what happens there.

That's my reading of it anyway.

JOANNE MYERS:
I thank you so much. Unfortunately, our time is up. But there's so much interest, you have to come back.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Read MoreRead Less