Battered Stevenson’s spirit not broken

By Richard Beeston/Jan Raath



AS she lay in a Harare hospital recovering from severe head injuries and surgery on a broken arm, Trudy Stevenson was still amazed that

she had lived to tell her story.


“They were calling my name: ‘Trudy! Trudy! Get out (of the car),” she told The Times from her bed. “They wanted me. They wanted to kill me.”


The veteran opposition MP is no stranger to the sharp end of African politics. She has survived repeated intimidation at the hands of President Robert Mugabe’s regime and in the 1970s had to flee Idi Amin’s murderous rule in Uganda.


But what makes her closest brush with death so extraordinary is that the assailants were members of her own Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) — once the unified opposition in Zimbabwe, but today a badly divided party in the process of imploding.


Stevenson’s troubles began last year when she and several colleagues split from the MDC, in part over the violent behaviour of some supporters of Morgan Tsvangirai, its founder and leader.
On Sunday afternoon, after she had attended a small political meeting in Mabvuku, her colleagues saw a dozen Tsvangirai supporters.


“They approached us in a threatening way. Most people just ran. I had a car and tried to get in and drive away. But I was not fast enough,” said the 61-year-old American-born politician, recalling her ordeal.


Stones the size of footballs rained down on her car, she was hit by a panga on the back of the head and her attackers tried to drag her out of the vehicle with such force that they broke two bones in an arm.


“I knew I would be in greater danger if I got out of the car. I knew they wanted to kill me. They kept trying to drag me out. They kept hitting my head with rocks. I could feel the blood running down my neck.”


But before the assailants, some of whom were identified as MDC activists, were able to complete the attack they fled, leaving five former colleagues bleeding and beaten.
Stevenson insisted this week that she would not be intimidated and vowed to remain to serve her constituency in the capital.


Despite appeals from her family to move to Britain, she refused to leave her adopted home. To prevent further violence her son confronted Tsvangirai and demanded an explanation.


The former union leader apologised for the “barbaric” attack, which he condemned, adding that if any of his supporters were responsible they would be expelled from the party. But his assurances did little to reassure his former supporters that the movement, once regarded as a symbol for peaceful, democratic opposition in Africa, can be resurrected.


The unravelling of the pro-democracy movement and champion of Harare’s urban poor began in October when Tsvangirai refused to accept a national executive vote to participate in elections for a new senate.


He claimed to have won support to boycott the election. Stevenson then joined the breakaway faction opposed to Tsvangirai.


The controversy brought to a head long-simmering divisions within the party over the former trade union chief’s leadership style.


Two years ago MDC youths tried to murder one of its security chiefs, but Tsvangirai allegedly failed to take action on that and a string of further violent incidents before and after the split. Critics also cited increasingly dictatorial tendencies.


“Did we form the MDC to create another Mugabe?” Stevenson asked.
John Makumbe, a human rights activist, said: “The attack on Trudy is part and parcel of the political culture of violence created by Zanu PF. We in the opposition think we are immune, but we are not. The real enemy is the raw, state-sponsored violence of Mugabe.” — The Times.

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