COLUMN: MARY REVESAI
Mugabe never makes idle threats
This is because the ostrich mentality that calls for the burying of heads in the sand and pretending that insulting and denouncing imagined enemies will resolve problems now pervades all spheres of government policy.
Quite simply, the Zimbabwean government is so clueless as to how to tackle the myriad economic and social problems it has brought upon the country that it now places all its faith in the power of its totalitarian form of propaganda to do the trick.
On the question of sanctions, government officials and spin doctors now harp endlessly on the theme that these sanctions are hurting ordinary Zimbabweans but conveniently neglect to mention what caused the sanctions to be imposed in the first place and what needs to be done for them to be lifted.
The targeted sanctions were imposed in protest against Zimbabwe’s descent into tyrannical rule and the only way to convince the EU and its allies to drop them is for the authorities to address the governance and human rights abuses they have been accused of. The onus is on the individuals against whom the personal sanctions have been imposed to examine their consciences and their role in the events that have obliged the international community to resort to these measures.
If President Mugabe and his cronies in government really cared about the plight of the ordinary people as they pretend to do, they would make a genuine effort to address the concerns voiced by the international community about the closing of democratic space and the crushing of dissent through draconian and repressive laws such as those pertaining to freedom of expression and assembly.
The government’s trademark reaction to these concerns as shown by its current crackdown on opposition groups has always been to turn the tables on its critics and project them as the villains responsible for the country’s problems and the people’s suffering. To hear the head of state speaking, a visitor from Mars would be forgiven for concluding that rather than rampant official corruption, record unemployment , grinding poverty affecting the majority and record- breaking inflation, the biggest challenge for the country was safeguarding its sovereignty.
This sovereignty is supposed to be under threat from western imperialists personified by British prime minister Tony Blair and American president George Bush who are regularly denounced for plotting to effect regime change in Zimbabwe.
to this favourite theme while addressing thousands of revellers who
turned up in Gweru at the weekend to partake of the sumptuous food and
drink laid on by the 21st February Movement to mark his 83rd birthday.
Unable as usual to resist the temptation to grandstand, the octogenarian
blamed everyone else but his government for the country’s troubles.
The culprits included homosexuals, the British and Americans, economic
saboteurs and leaders of the opposition.
Mugabe’s cousin, the late respected nationalist James Chikerema, once gave a useful insight into the chararcter of Zimbabwe’s head of state when he told of a pattern of behaviour he noticed when they were both growing up. Chikerema described how his cousin dealt with conflict while they were herding cattle with other boys. Whenever things did not go his way, Chikerema said, the young Robert Mugabe would round up his animals and spend the rest of the day sulking a distance away from the rest of the group.
Alas, Zimbabwe’s leader has not outgrown these juvenile quirks and character flaws and the sovereignty he harps on so relentlessly refers to his right to do as he pleases regardless of national interests and aspirations.
He is still someone who needs to display a bravado that proves his infallibility and invincibility’ hence his inability to negotiate, compromise or back down. This is shown by his often suicidal all-or-nothing rhetoric and decisions.
The tragedy is that Mugabe has been so adept at dispensing favours and patronage that vast numbers of people in the establishment who are supposed to positively influence the course of national discourse and events have become spineless “yes” men and women only too eager to do the leader’s biding to keep their lucrative sinecures. This is how Mugabe’s idiosyncrasies have been allowed to become the determinants of national policy and actions.
Ordinary Zimbabweans continue to pay a heavy price for Mugabe’s foibles. More than 20 000 civilians were massacred in Matabeleland in the 1980s in what Mugabe himself once described as “a moment of madness” but he has neither apologised for the episode nor taken the trouble to atone for the atrocity by promoting healing and reconciliation. If anything, his continuing heavy-handed crushing of dissent is a constant reminder in the nation’s collective subconscious mind that this man’s threats to deal ruthlessly with his opponents are anything but idle.
Those who accuse Zimbabweans of being too docile in the face of Mugabe’s tyranny often miss this point .Supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change who were on the receiving end of Mugabe’s fury a week ago when the police were ordered to scuttle MDC rallies in Harare and Bulawayo, including one that had been sanctioned by way of a court order, will attest to the gruesome reality of official brutality.
The weekend orgy of violence against the people was followed by a blanket clampdown on the holding of rallies in urban areas that are considered to be opposition strongholds after which reports have surfaced of widespread abuses by the police. This rampage by the police came as opposition to Mugabe’s plans to extend his tyrannical rule to 2010 apparently mounted within his own party and on the heels of the extension by one year of EU targeted sanctions.
Mugabe’s new Minister of Information and Publicity, the otherwise level-headed and humane Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, was obliged to act as his master’s voice when he dismissed the EU measures as a non-event. This is vintage Mugabe. Before the EU announced the renewal of the embargo, the government propaganda machine had gone into overdrive to show how ruinous the sanctions were and to denounce those who were falsely blamed for campaigning for them to be imposed. This desperate subterfuge enabled Mugabe to maintain a veneer of being right all the time.
The prevailing record-breaking inflation that has turned hardworking ordinary Zimbabweans into paupers who can no longer feed, clothe or educate their children can be traced back to the violently and vindictively implemented land reform programme which has destroyed agricultural productivity. A lot that was not done correctly when farm invasions were instigated at the highest official level could have been corrected along the way without abandoning the initiative or compromising production.
All that would have been required was to implement the exercise in phases. If this had been done, the government would by now, seven years later, have acquired all the land it needed without causing all the disruptions, acrimony, violence and loss of human life that has been witnessed since 2000.
Above all, the economy would not be in such a shambles. But, admitting that mistakes had been made would have wounded Mugabe’s pride and so the debacle has to be touted as a resounding success. How long can this continue? Past 2010?
Mary Revesai is a New Zimbabwe.com columnist and writes from Harare. Her column will appear here every Tuesday
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