The Last Goats
From the very start of his political career, the opposition leader, Morgan Richard Dzingirai Tsvangirai, Mugabe's nemesis, has had a torrid time. In 1998, Mugabe's war veterans beat him with iron bars and tried to bundle him out of a tenth-story window. Since then his bodyguards have been murdered, and he's been charged with treason three times, arrested multiple times, imprisoned, and survived two further assassination attempts.
In 2007, he was arrested on his way to a prayer meeting. When his wife, Susan, finally managed to visit him in his cell, she found that he had been so severely beaten and tortured that he had lost consciousness three times, and had to be revived. TV footage of him waiting to appear in court, his head massively swollen, one eye gashed, shocked the world. He was later hospitalized with a fractured skull and internal bleeding.
A freelance cameraman, Edward Chikombo, who distributed the footage of the badly injured Tsvangirai to the foreign media, was himself abducted. His corpse was found a few days later, dumped on waste ground outside the city.
Now, as we wait for the official election results, Tsvangirai is AWOL. The MDC's [Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change] own projections, based on results recorded by their election agents at most of the nine thousand or so polling stations, show that despite all the obstacles placed in his way he has not only won the presidential elections, but has cleared the crucial 50 percent barrier that triggers a run-off poll. So he has jetted off on a hectic series of meetings with African leaders, trying to persuade them to accept him as Zimbabwe's new president.
Tsvangirai's biggest hurdle to regional acceptance is Mugabe's almost messianic reputation as a "liberation leader," Africa's oldest, at eighty-four — nearly three decades older than his fifty-six-year-old rival. Mugabe's propaganda machine portrays Tsvangirai as a sell-out, someone who watched the liberation war from the sidelines. And the hyper-educated Mugabe also derides Tsvangirai as "an ignoramus," because he isn't caped with degrees.
But Tsvangirai's story is one of considerable sacrifice. The eldest of nine children of a poor bricklayer in the southeastern district of Gutu, at sixteen, Tsvangirai had to forfeit a scholarship to a good mission school in order to support his family after his father deserted them — a paternal abandonment he shares with Mugabe. He toiled in a textile factory in Mutare, before moving to Trojan Nickel Mine in Bindura, northwest of Harare. There he rapidly climbed from plant operator to mine foreman, and became the mine's trade-union rep. Initially he revered Mugabe, joining his party.
By 1988, Tsvangirai had risen to head the country's confederation of trade unions, but he soon clashed with Mugabe's over IMF-initiated reforms, and then over huge payments that Mugabe wanted to make to the country's war vets. Tsvangirai transformed the union from a pillar of the one-party state to its main effective opposition. At the time, he said that Mugabe reminded him of his own father, "a stubborn old man."
Soon after he broke with the ruling party, over its "misrule, official corruption and dictatorship," he became the founding leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC. Mugabe has done his best to portray the MDC as the bastard child of revanchist whites and neo-colonial Western governments, a Trojan horse bent on purloining the country's hard-won independence. But 99 percent of MDC supporters are black. From the start, it was more movement than party. A grab bag of opponents to Mugabe's increasingly autocratic and dysfunctional rule, it attracted support mostly from the black urban working class, but also from the educated elite, churchmen, academics, industrialists, ethnic amaNdebeles, and white farmers.
The latter only really threw in their lot with the MDC once Mugabe announced his plans to confiscate their farms without compensation. The MDC, like virtually everyone in Zimbabwe, agrees that land reform is necessary, but done in a planned, coherent way, not by the chaotic government-encouraged farm invasions that decimated agriculture and ushered in famine.
The "land issue" was about so much more than land. It was about breaking up the million-strong voting bloc of black employees who worked on the farms, and who had voted for the MDC. Mugabe wanted to shatter that bloc. And they became the main, though largely unsung, victims of the land takeovers. Many of them had originally migrated from neighboring countries, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, but now, after three or four generations, they were chased off the farms, and had nowhere to go. Homeless, and reduced to dire poverty, they perished in large numbers. The farmers' organization JAG (Justice for Agriculture) claims that more than half a million displaced farm workers and their dependents have perished in the decade since their expulsion, of starvation and disease.
The farm takeovers have now entered their final, mopping‑up phase. "We're in the crosshairs, straight in the firing line, we're the scapegoats, but there are fewer and fewer of us goats left." John Worsley-Worswick, who heads JAG, is talking to a couple of sun-charred white farmers in shorts and desert boots, at JAG HQ in Harare. Worswick is the designated mourner at the protracted death rattle of the white Zimbabwean farmer.
He answers the phone and immediately begins briefing: "Masvingo's hot, Centenary's hot, there are only ten farmers left there — but all will probably be off by tomorrow. It's flaring up all over the place. Karoi, Chinhoyi are heating up — they're driving farmers off there too."
It is Monday April 7th, and it seems that Godfrey Chanetsa has correctly predicted his old boss Mugabe's next move.
"The worst scenario is a military junta, but then we've effectively been under military rule anyway," sighs Worswick. He pauses to allow a jet fighter to scream overhead. For the last few days now, they have been constantly buzzing the city. Ostensibly they're practicing for the country's twenty-eighth annual independence celebrations due in a couple of weeks, but most see it as something more sinister, a signal from the old man that he still has the big guns on his side, he can still blast his rebellious people into submission.
"They're a law unto themselves," continues Worswick. "There's bugger all you can do except document and publish what they're up to."
He hangs up and turns to me. "We've been cataloguing human-rights violations on the farms since 2000, electronically mapping them and collating them with political events, building an international case to take to the Hague, to the Southern African Development Community [SADC] Tribunal, to the African Court of Human Rights, to the International Criminal Court of Rome.
"Amendment No. 17, passed in 2005, basically says white farmers are dirt, and need to be swept away. It makes it an offense to be on a farm — your own farm — without permission, you are trespassing on state land. In a country that's starving, it basically makes it an offense to farm! An offense to grow food!
"Our commercial national herd is down from two and a half million to a hundred thousand. Maize production is the lowest ever since land reform began. Tobacco is down from two hundred and forty million kilos to fifty million."From six thousand five hundred productive farms in 2000, there are now only four hundred left," says Worswick. "Seventy-eight of those have investment-guarantee protection, as foreigners. We've lost another hundred farmers off the land in the last eighteen months as Operation Maguta [‘Full Stomach'] was launched, when soldiers arrived to evict farmers and replace them with military personnel, promising ‘the mother of all agricultural seasons.' They pledged to put in fifty thousand plows. But still there's been a greater decline in output this year than any other. Instead of being the mother of all seasons, as they proclaimed, it turned out to be the mother of all disasters."
He leans back heavily in his chair and lights up another cigarette to give me time to catch up with his torrent.
"The party elite who take over farms have access to U.S. dollars at the official rate of thirty thousand to one when the black market rate is eighty million to one. They can get loans at 25 percent per annum when hyperinflation is 200,000 percent, so they can make huge profits on the difference, buy forex on the street, generating income without actually farming."
This is the alchemy of the famous "US$500 Mercedes," where Mugabe's favored can take just US$500 and, in four black-market currency deals, turn it into enough to buy a brand-new Merc.
Excerpted from the book The Fear by Peter Godwin. Copyright © 2010 by Peter Godwin. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company.