The Fear: The Last Days of Robert Mugabe, by Peter Godwin, put a tear in my eye even before I reached the end of its Preface. That’s a first.
Chapter 1 is so well-written that it reads almost like poetry. This chap Godwin has the words, and boy does he know how to string them together! Reading the first ten pages is like watching an epic painting develop before your eyes. The beautiful prose doesn’t last, unfortunately, because there’s inevitably a political account to be told, but what a start to a book.
How about this (describing Mugabe’s portrait that hangs everywhere in Zimbabwe): “Somehow, though, his large gold-rimmed spectacles, the little tuft of starched white handkerchief that winks from his brandished clench, and his toothbrush moustache tell a different story. The story of the prissy schoolmaster he once was, a slight, almost effeminate figure, his small, manicured hands given to birdlike gestures.”
And this (describing the Trinidadian born British ambassador): “His clipped elocution hints at exfoliated traces of a West Indian lilt, and his mufti dress-code, short sleeves and thonged sandals, is more Caribbean than Cotswolds….He’s far from the archetypal Morgan Leafy, William Boyd’s pudgy Britlomat abroad, whose ham-pink brow beads sweat at the first solar glance, whose taupe ‘tropical’ linen suit is contoured with damp creases.”
By chapter 4, however, he spoils it somewhat by lowering the tone to repeat a couple of what sound like urban myths about Mengistu, the overthrown dictator of Ethiopia who still lives in luxury in the Gun Hill district of Harare. The gutters of Addis Ababa “…said other observers, were choked with severed heads”.
Zimbabwe is a lovely place, with some lovely people, but over the last decade it’s been systematically raped and torn apart by the dictator Mugabe and his henchmen. In April 2008, Godwin returned to the land of his birth hoping to “dance on Robert Mugabe’s political grave” following the defeat of the Supreme Leader of ZANU-PF in a reasonably fair presidential election. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way, and The Fear: The Last Days of Robert Mugabe is largely the story of what happened next.
A ZANU-PF propagandist, Caesar Zvayi, wrote in the local newspaper that the opposition MDC voters were not politically mature, so their votes didn’t really count. Mugabe and his generals could not be lured by the offer of fat exit packages and instead stayed on.
Incidentally, according to The Zimbabwe Mail, Caesar Zvayi was later deported from Botswana where he’d been hired to lecture on print journalism, after the students at University of Botswana complained about him. Good for them!
Godwin travels around the eastern and northern parts of the country, recounting tales of beatings and other horrors by ZANU-PF members on anyone who had voted for the opposition MDC. It’s not difficult for them to find out who the MDC party organisers are, and it makes for gruesome reading, especially when Godwin visits several hospitals and recounts what happened to the torture victims. By reading these accounts we somehow share with Godwin as he bears witness to the atrocities. Eventually, Godwin is warned by the police to leave the country immediately, which he does.
Because of the thousands of beatings, the MDC decide not to stand in the run-off election, which would only result in more violence, and Mugabe is once again elected President.
Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, could have chosen to continue the political fight, but his MDC party was battered and intimidated. The MDC might have resorted to civil war, but this would have meant more deaths. Instead, under pressure from SADC, he joined the ‘Government of National Unity’ (GNU).
Godwin returns to Zimbabwe, where things are even more rundown than before. He finds that there has been a cholera outbreak, which is blamed by the government information minister on a biological chemical attack on the people of Zimbabwe by the British. You can watch the video on the BBC website! This is the sort of nonsense that Mugabe’s government has been feeding its people for years.
The discovery of diamonds in the eastern part of the country leads to more oppression, as the Zimbabean army clears out hundreds of miners. Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife is killed in a car accident, and beatings and arrests of MDC supporters continues. Mugabe becomes the world’s oldest national leader. On ZTV, Godwin writes, “Mugabe fiddles with his gold wedding band as he drones on, and his hands flutter and join again with ecclesiastically laced fingers. It is a repetitive, circuitous performance, geriatric maundering, garnished with non sequiturs, the brain-shavings of the dictatorial dotage.”
Godwin spends time in the west of the country, where in the early 1980s the Gukurahundi suppression of the Ndebele people had taken place, resulting in thousands of deaths. He spends a little time-out in Hwange, staying at the Main Camp.
This brings back memories of when Lindsey and I also stayed there, in 1984. We visited the national park again in 1994.
Main Camp, Hwange, 1984, with some Americans and Dutch.
It’s mostly deserted nowadays.
Godwin relates more instances of brutality. Mugabe and Zanu will never give up control of Zimbabwe, and the GNU continues in a perilous state. Mugabe recently stated that the power-sharing deal which expires in four months’ time should not be extended.
At the BBC website there’s a slideshow about the last 30 uears of Zimbabwe.
Here is Peter Godwin’s website.