By Cathy Buckle
THE end of February marks the end of Zimbabwe’s fourth year of chaos and it is a month which will always be remembered as the time when the madness began.
ONT face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>For exactly four years I have been writing weekly from Zimbabwe and on this anniversary I thought it would be appropriate to take a few sentences from my articles in each of Zimbabwe’s first four February’s in the 21st century to show that it is political power and not race or land that took us from breadbasket to begging bowl.
Shortly after the referendum in 2000 in which the people of Zimbabwe voted against constitutional changes proposed by President Mugabe’s government, I described the invasion of our Marondera farm.
“The war veterans had come. My son was barely out of the driveway. My hands were shaking so badly that it seemed to take me forever to clip the padlock closed. I ran into the house, begging my dogs to follow me. And then they started, hondo, hondo, hondo (war) the war veterans shouted, again and again. Then they started whistling and singing. The dogs were going mad, barking and howling and scratching at the doors to get out. I closed all the curtains and locked myself in my study, sat down on the floor and put my hands over my head, sobbing and shaking.”
In February 2001, journalists protested the bombing of the printing presses of the Daily News, pressure mounted on Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay to resign and foreign correspondents Mercedes Sayagues and Joseph Winter were declared prohibited immigrants and thrown out of Zimbabwe. While this was happening, I was witnessing the agonising death from Aids of my ex-farm employee Emmanuel. Neither he nor I could afford anti-retroviral drugs and Emmanuel’s quality of life had collapsed since we had been forced to leave our farm.
Saying “goodbye” to Emmanuel is not something I want to remember. As I embraced him, I could feel every rib and hear his gasping struggle for breath. I knew I would never see him again. “Go well Manuel,” I said, as his father and I lifted him into the car. “Stay well Mrs Cathy,” he whispered in response. That was the last time I saw Emmanuel and although he died shortly afterwards, his memory will always be a part of me.
In February 2002, two weeks before the presidential election, political violence and intimidation had engulfed the country. At least 15 people had been murdered in January, electoral laws had been changed, priests had been arrested and militant youths manned road blocks country wide demanding that people prove their allegiance to Zanu PF by showing ruling party membership cards. One night my neighbour’s house was petrol-bombed because he was an opposition activist and I wrote: “I ran out of my back door to see a huge fire consuming the house three doors away. A massive orange glow lit the sky and there were continuing explosions for the next hour as windows and other items heated and exploded. I ran inside to call the police and the fire brigade, but they would not come.”
In February 2003 hunger was widespread, the shops were empty of staple food and the petrol stations were dry. Queuing was a part of everyday life as were attempted protests, riot police and tear gas. World Cup Cricket matches began in Harare and I wrote about the death of 29-year-old Edison Mukwasi who was an opposition supporter and had been beaten and tortured whilst in police custody, first in 2001 and again in February 2003.
“Edison and others were arrested by police for protesting at a cricket match in Harare and allegedly tortured whilst in police custody. He was released without charge and died shortly afterwards. Edison is survived by his wife Gladys and their two-week old daughter Nyasha.”
That takes me to February this year. Life expectancy in Zimbabwe is now 37 years. Well over half of the population need food aid, inflation is over 620%, the daily free press has gone and every month judges in our courts resign from the bench.
President Mugabe has just turned 80 and when asked how close talks were with the opposition he said: “The devil is the devil, we have no idea of supping with the devil.”
Looking back on it all, I can hardly believe Zimbabwe has survived, but we have, secure in the knowledge that nothing is forever. Those of us that can, have stayed, waiting for the time when we can pick up the pieces of our shattered country, heal the wounds, and start again. I write this letter in memory of Emmanuel and the hundreds of others who should not have died.
* Cathy Buckle is an author and human rights activist based in Marondera.